Ideal Beach Hotel LIME CHICKEN CURRY

 

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Yesterday afternoon I was pouring through my collection of Indian cookery books looking for something different to do with a chicken breast languishing in my fridge. As often happens on these occasions, after ten minutes or so of not finding quite what I was looking for,  I was about to revert to my trusty old Madhur Jaffrey butter chicken when a piece of paper being used as a bookmark caught my attention.  Frayed and food-stained, it turned out to contain a barely legible biro-scrawled recipe for a chicken curry. After further examination, I noted that it contained some unusual culinary bedfellows for an Indian chicken dish – things like  olive oil, ground caraway seed, lime juice, and most particularly, both bay and curry leaves. Then suddenly I remembered a swelteringly hot and sticky afternoon spent in a hotel kitchen in southern India in the autumn of 2003.

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We were guests at the aptly named Ideal Beach Hotel, in Mahabalipuram, on India’s Tamil coast, resting up for a few days before travelling inland to Coimbatore (where my wife Dido was to help in the establishment of a clinical education centre for children with autism).

I think it was on our first evening there, during supper, we got chatting with a very affable American couple at the next table who turned out to share our enthusiasm for the delicious local cuisine. At some point during the meal the four of us were invited by the maître d to visit the kitchen the following lunchtime to watch our food being prepared. Cathy – the lady of the American couple and a veteran of the Ideal Beach Hotel – chose the menu, including the lime chicken curry which turned out to be as delicious as it was unusual.

The rare blend of ingredients and spices was explained by the fact that our young head chef, although a Tamil, had been trained in Bengal and enjoyed fusing the two distinct culinary traditions.

2003 India Lunch with Cathy & Richard
Cathy, Richard, Dido and yours truly enjoying our curry lunch

Fortunately Dido had the presence of mind to record the preparation of the curry and – albeit thirteen years late – I was able to decipher the recipe and apply it to the chicken breast in my fridge.  And, it was absolutely delicious! The caraway, lime, bay and curry leaf are a group marriage made in heaven – a complex and unctuous harmony of savoury, fragrant bitter sweetness that transforms humble white chicken meat into a thing of olfactory delight.

There are two ways to sample this fabulous curry – either follow the recipe below, or better still, go and visit the Ideal Beach Hotel. I can recommend both.

(Chapatis and a hot lime pickle are excellent with this curry also, if using fresh curry leaves, add at the same time as the lime juice.)

 

RECIPE

Ingredients

¼ cup:                             olive or coconut oil
200gm / 8oz:                       diced chicken breast

SPICE MASALA I 

5cm / 2” stick:                                cinnamon
2 – 3:                                           cloves
2 - 3:                                    cardamom pods
1:                                             bay leaf
1:                                onion – finely grated
5cm / 2” piece:    ginger – peeled and coarsely chopped
6 cloves:          garlic – peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp:                                           water
1:                           large, ripe tomato chopped

SPICE MASALA II

½ tsp:                                        turmeric
1 tsp:                                    chili powder
1½ tsp:                          ground coriander seed
1 tsp:                                     groud cumin
1 tsp:                                    garam masala
1 tsp:                             ground caraway seed
1 tsp:                               whole fennel seed
1 tsp:                                            salt
3:                                        curry leaves
½ ltr / 1 pint:                                  water
To taste:                                         salt
¼ cup:                                      lime juice

METHOD
  1. Blend the ginger, garlic and water into a paste
  2. Heat the oil in a kadai or a heavy skillet on a medium high heat
  3. Brown the diced chicken thoroughly, then remove from kadai and put aside (retaining the juices)
  4. Add masala I to the kadai and sweat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly until well browned
  5. Add onion to kadai and stir-fry until browned
  6. Add the tomato to the kadai and fry for 2 minutes until oil separates from the masala, onion and tomato paste
  7. Add the ginger and garlic puree to the kadai and stir for 1 minute
  8. Return the chicken and its juices to the kadai and stir well
  9. Add masala II and the curry leaves to the kadai and stir well, making certain the chicken is well coated
  10. Add the water, making sure to deglaze (scrape) the bottom of the kadai
  11. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for half hour
  12. Remove cover and cook over a high heat for about 10 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken
  13. Add more salt (if necessary) and the lime juice, stir well and remove from heat
  14. Remove cinnamon, cloves and cardamom pods before serving

    Two Chefs
    Our chef (right) and an assistant
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PHOTO-CURIOS

I’ve been making greetings card designs and images for decades now – initially doing freelance work for greetings card companies and poster publishers and more recently producing images for my own Moody By Nature label. Over the years I’ve done everything from cartoon smut (professionally referred to as “erotic humour”) to soppy Christmas and birthday penguins and polar bears (yes, you can probably blame me for the proliferation of penguin cards from the 90’s onward). Lately though, I’ve been busy with more photographic based themes and images.

Here is a small selection from a series I somewhat blandly titled curiosities, for obvious reasons.

“Bolt Masala” is from a photo I took in a metal engineering factory reception office in Coimbatore in southern India – hence the “masala” connotation.

Bolt Massala

I spotted the old boots suspended by their laces for “Good Use” in the delightful artists village of Ein Hod on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. It’s proven popular both as a retirement and as an anniversary card…

Good Use

…as has “Growing Old Together Gracefully” (as an anniversary card that is!) which displays two venerable phone boxes in Hampstead.

 

Growing Old Together Gracefully

“Pond Life” was snapped in the exquisite Alcazar gardens in Seville.

 

Pond Life

I was struck by the image of “The Blue Cup” in the unlikely setting of Sherwood Forrest – more famous for hosting the “merry men” in Lincoln Green.

The Blue Cup

Finally, I saw the yellow balloon languishing in a puddle on the Regent’s Canal  towpath (north London) on “New Years Day” 2011 – having lost my dear mother barely three months before it seemed like a poignant metaphor for the past year…

New Years day