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Chicken Chettinad pepper masala (Milagu masala kozhi)

Chettinad, the land of the Chettiar community, is a collection of 76 villages and 2 towns in Tamilnadu, in Southern India. The Chettiars are a very successful community due to trade, which also exposed the community to new spices and cooking techniques that they incorporated. The cuisine is complex, loaded with a wide array of spices, some specific to the region, and loaded with pungent flavors.

This dish is the most famous of the Chettinad cuisine and the most ordered in restaurants. Variations of this dish are also made with mutton or beef.

This recipe plays to all the characteristics of the cuisine. The gravy is thick and pungent with local Tellicherry or Coorg black pepper, and goondu chilies, but balanced and flavorful. The goondu chilies are from Salem and pack a fiery heat that is sharp and pungent. If you cannot use them use any dried red chili of your choice. The chicken is fork tender and the thick gravy that clings to it heavily erupts in complex flavors, spicy, fiery and delicious on your palate. The spice from the black pepper is immediate followed by a slow burn from the chilies that linger.This is a dish that will make your nose run and make you sweat, but so good for those of us who like spicy food. Perfect with that glass of beer to wash down the heat.

This South Indian cookbook brings to my shelf the unique cuisine of the Chettinad Tamils in South India. This, now popular cuisine, is known to be extremely spicy, complex and distinct. This book is a wonderful collection of recipes that makes this cuisine accessible to us at home.

For more recipes from this cookbook click here.


For the masala:

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2-3 teaspoons black peppercorns

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

3-4 dried red chilies, preferably goondu milagai

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced

1 teaspoon ginger paste

for the chicken:

4 tablespoons oil

1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick

4 green cardamom pods

1 1/2 medium onions, finely minced

2 medium tomatoes, puréed

1/2 kg chicken, drumsticks, breast meat or cut of your choice

2 cups water

Salt, to taste

To make the masala, dry roast all the whole spices on a frying pan till toasted and lightly colored. Cool, mix with the turmeric and grind to a fine powder in a spice mill. Mix with the garlic and ginger and set aside.

Heat the oil in a dish and add the cinnamon stick and cardamom and sauté for 30 seconds. add the onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes on medium heat till the onions have taken on a light golden color.

Add the tomato purée and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the spice masala and mix in well. Cook the sauce for 5-8 minutes till the sauce has thickened and oils begin to come out to the surface. Be careful as the sauce may stick to the bottom of the pan and burn, stir often dislodging the stuck masala if any.

Add the chicken and cook till the meat is sealed and no longer looks raw. Add the water and salt and mix in well, scraping the bottom of the pan to dislodge any stuck masala. Simmer gently for 35 minutes, turning the dish ever so often. Towards the end of the cooking time make sure you have enough water, if not add a few tablespoons. Cook till the meat is fork tender and the sauce is clinging heavily to the meat.

Serve immediately with rice.

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