An intimate archaeology: Chicken curry

curry Somewhere, packed away in a cupboard, I have a box of letters and diaries from my child- and early adult- hood. Every time I move house they come with me. They contain things that are too painful to look at: acute reminders of the person I was, letters, mixed tapes and drawings from someone I loved who is now dead, mementos of joyful times I hardly remember. I only look at them sometimes, but will never discard them. I have a cookbook like this too, black bound A4 with a red – bound spine.  I started this cookbook nearly 20 years ago now when I began recording and developing recipes. The pages are falling out and it’s full of yellowing sticky tape. It’s a fragile artefact and every time I flick through it I am excavating my own past.

The first recipes are for Ichiban Dashi and Shabu Shabu. They transport me at not yet 20 years of age to Akita, the Japanese restaurant in North Melbourne, savouring perfect sea urchins and blissing out on their amazing green tea ice-cream. There is a chili vegetable soup with whole coriander seeds that sees me in a flat in Acland Street, St Kilda in a Melbourne Winter and a dish called Phillip Island Cous Cous from a particularly fine weekend away with friends. A chicken soup with tonic “chicken soup” herbs marks the moment when Traditional Chinese Medicine completely transformed my life. An uncharacteristically simple steamed eggplant dish from Cheong Liew takes my mind to his far more complicated quail pastry that made a couple of appearances during my culinary baroque.

Beef and Guinness Stew. This needs to be cooked slowly and then left to sit before eating, so an early start is best. This always makes me think of frying bacon and drinking Guinness at breakfast time, covered in flour and slightly drunk. Sticky lamb shank soup with orange peel, star anise and turnips, and now I’m a mother standing at the stove in the kitchen in Hurstbridge. Again I’m cooking to principles of Chinese Medicine to maintain my strength during those long years of breastfeeding. Things from my past, things that brought me to this point. These things, to me, are dark, sweet and a little bit melancholy.

One of these things I share with you now – a chicken curry with a paste I put together from bits of a lot of other pastes. I think it may be the first curry I ever made. It’s pedigree is primarily as a vindaloo. Vindaloo is Portuguese in origin and you can tell this by the inclusion of vinegar in the paste. But I love potato in my curry and a vindaloo is typically just a bit too dry to handle potato so I needed to tweak the ingredients accordingly. Also, its not hot like a vindaloo but it is warm and deep and rewarding. If you’ve never made a curry from scratch, this is a good place to start. It is where I started. It’s one pot cooking, nothing is sealed or fried off before hand – you just throw it all in and let it go. Perfect for a slow cooker if you have one.   It really is best to make it a day in advance and let it settle in. I usually make this curry in the massive claypot given to us as a wedding gift from Pete’s first Kendo sensei. Last time I made it I smashed the lid of the pot – I was devastated. Like so many archaeological artefacts it would not be pieced back together. Another moment in my personal history.

Chicken curry

  • About the equivalent of 1 chicken’s worth of largish Chicken pieces. Some breast pieces are OK but make sure there are plenty of bony bits.
  • Around 4 potatoes, peeled and quartered.
  • 4 fresh tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 – 3 onions, quartered
  • Tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 cardamon pods, bruised
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 heaped desert spoon of  good quality hot curry powder (I prefer to use a Malaysian brand)
  • 1 tablespoon of tamarind puree

Then to make the paste you will need:

  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 1 heaped minced teaspoon of minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of fenugreek
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground tumeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder (more if you like)
  • 2 teaspoons of ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 4 -6 coriander roots
  • 1 heaped teaspoon mustard powder

To make the paste, blend up all the paste ingredients in a small food processor or by hand in a large mortar and pestle. Then it’s simply a matter of placing the paste and all the other ingredients in a large oven proof dish and mixing them together well. Cover and place in the oven. I like to get it going on around 200 degrees c for about an hour and then drop it back to around 140 depending on your oven. Cook for a least 6 hours. Sir once or twice in the first couple of hours and then leave it alone. If possible, make a day in advance.Serve with chopped coriander, rice, roti, even crusty baguettes.


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One Response to An intimate archaeology: Chicken curry

  1. Fen Prokop says:

    God i LOVE this blog. What more can i say? You have melded writing and food so perfectly!!!! In life, what is more beautiful than simple ingredients, love, music and our nearest and dearest to share it with? Love, family, music and food, who could ask for more? And can i just say, myself, being of european decent, i cook the wog-way…no measurements, no guidelines, no recipes (not to say i would not use your gorgeous recipes as a guideline) it’s all to the eye and taste only. And would you believe, Lib, somone as appreciative of food as you are, i get canned and laughed at because i deviate from recipes lolol!!! I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!