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New Jewish Holiday Cookbook
This deliciously spiced dish originated with the Jews of Calcutta, India. Most of the founders of this unusual community emigrated from Baghdad, Iraq, during the eighteenth century. Their cuisine is a curious combination of Middle Eastern-style dishes and Indian spices and vegetables. The Calcutta Jewish community flourished until the latter half of the twentieth century, when most members left to go to England and Australia, as well as the United States due to political unrest in India. The gradual dispersion of this unique group is now almost complete.
Though there are a number of spices in this curry like harikebab, it is not "hot" like many other Indian stews, just very flavorful. The turmeric tints the chicken and potatoes a brilliant yellow color (and will do the same to light-colored plastic cooking utensils).
Although this dish is usually prepared with chicken, the same spices are sometimes used for a similar lamb or beef stew. Following is my adaptation of this dish based on several different recipes. Traditionally, several whole spices would be used, but I have used only ground spices for convenience.
This stew is usually cooked on top of the stove. I have also given a technique for using the oven based on directions for this dish in Indian-Jewish Cooking, by Mavis Hyman, a Calcutta-born Jew who now lives in England. Her book contains one of the most unusual collections of Jewish recipes that I have ever seen.
For the stove, put the oil into a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven or 12-inch-wide deep skillet over medium heat, and saute the onion and garlic until tender. Add the ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and pepper to the onions in the skillet, and stir to mix well. Then stir in the water, and bring the sauce to a boil. Add the chicken and potatoes to the skillet and simmer, covered, turning the pieces occasionally, for about 40 minutes, or until all is cooked through. Remove the cover for the last few several minutes of cooking to thicken the sauce.
For the oven, grease well a large roasting pan or line it with heavy-duty aluminum foil, and place the chicken pieces and potatoes in it in one layer. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the above onion-spice sauce in a skillet or medium saucepan. Pour the heated sauce mixture over the chicken and potatoes, and gently turn them so that they are coated. Cover the pan with foil, and place it in a 350-degree oven. Bake for 40 minutes; then remove the foil and baste the chicken and potatoes with sauce. Continue baking, uncovered, basting and turning the chicken and potatoes occasionally, about 10 to 20 minutes longer, or until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are tender (but not mushy), and the sauce is thickened. If the sauce gets too dry before the end of the cooking period, add small amounts of water as needed. If necessary, adjust spices or seasonings before serving.
Note: This recipe can be prepared on top of the stove with 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of the meaty chicken pieces. But the potatoes in half or fourths so that they will cook faster. Prepare as directed above, but cook for only about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are tender but not mushy. Uncover the skillet toward the end of the cooking period to allow the sauce to thicken.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
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