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Badaga chicken curry

The Badagas are one of the original aboriginal tribes who have lived in the Nilgiris for close to 5000 years. These tribes have a unique culture, language with no written script and distinct cultural aspects that bring them close to agriculture and farming.

My stay at Suresh Belliraj's (Bison) house was filled with warm hearted kindness and generosity from the whole family. They all shared a passion for cooking that was perfect for my curious mind. This recipe was taught to me by his sister, Chitra, with joy and patience.

This is a spectacular recipe that is very traditional to the community. This dish is generally made for celebrations, but I was glad they made this exception for me.

The secret to this dish is to get the charred spices just right. Take time to slow roast the spices on a very slow flame, too hot and they burn, low and slow allows them to cook, releasing flavor and aromas that are the base of this curry. The curry is spicy and complex, they linger on your palate and make this dish addictive. We enjoyed this with both rice and fresh baked bread from the ovens in the house, it is a meal that I will remember, and savor, for a long time.


For the Badaga masala:

1 cup coriander seeds

Boriya chilies 1/2 cup1/2 cup boriya

1/2 cup cumin seeds

2 tablespoons cup green cardamom

2 tablespoons cup cloves

2 tablespoons black peppercorns

For the chicken:

1/2 cup oil

3 cups shallots, whole

1 cup Badaga masala

Salt, to taste

4 tablespoons ghee

3 cups water

1 whole chicken including neck, liver and gizzard, cut into 8 pieces

6 hard-boiled eggs (optional)

To make the masala:

Toast all the dry spices together in a frying pan on low heat till the spiced are very dark and fragrant, but not burnt. This is a slow process but critical to getting the right flavors for this dish. The spices should get to a very dark color, this gives the dish its characteristic color and flavor. Cool and grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder of coffee mill. The masala can be stored in an airtight container.

To make the curry:

Heat the oil in a wok and add the shallots. Fry on a low flame till the shallots have charred. And turned a very dark brown, about 30 minutes. You should do this on a low flame so the inside of the shallots are also cooked down and caramelized.

Add the Badaga masala and salt and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes taking care not to burn the spices. The trick is to cook this on a very low flame and have patience. Cool.

Grind the shallot-spice paste and mix into the chicken and marinate for 15-30 minutes.

Heat the ghee in a pot. Add the marinated chicken and fry on a low flame for 5 minutes till the chicken is sealed, and the spices smell aromatic. Add the water and bring to a boil. You can pressure cook the chicken but I prefer to slow cook the curry on the stove so the spices have time to flavor the chicken. Simmer for 40 minutes on the stove taking care the liquids do not dry out and adding water as needed. Taste and adjust salt as needed.

When the chicken is cooked remove from the heat. The general rule is that if you are serving this curry with rice you should keep it runny . However, if you are serving it with bread or dosas, it should be thicker.

Serve hot in a traditional Badaga platter called the gunguwa with either rice, dosas or bread.

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