I would walk by Akasa Boutique Homestay every morning in lovely Manali, Himachal Pardesh, and eventually got to know the young couple who own the property. Karan and Tanushree Singh invited me for lunch one afternoon and I was completely drenched in a sweat enjoying this curry. Karan was kind enough to walk me though cooking this delicacy in his kitchen. This chicken curry is built for the deep and cold winters of Kashmir. The rich oil, spices and explosion of chili on your palate warms your belly and soul. The slow cooking process flavors the meat and the oils, and the creamy yogurt curry is luxurious. The bright, beautiful red color is either an invitation or a warning from the curry, depending on your tolerance for heat. But yes, this curry will leave you in a sweat, your palate on fire and your soul satisfied.
Akasa Boutique Homestay is a quaint stone built house just past Shanag village. It rests on the crook of a hairpin bend with spectacular views of the valley and snow capped peaks. There is a small cafe tucked away at the back that has amazing food. What makes this boutique home stay wonderful are its hosts and wonderful cuisine.
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1 cup oil
A pinch of asafoetida
1 large chicken, jointed and cut into 16 pieces
3-4 black peppercorns
1 black cardamom
2-3 green cardamom
1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
A pinch nutmeg
2-3 tablespoons spicy chili powder
4-6 tablespoons Kashmiri chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
1 +1 tablespoon ground anise seeds
1 + 1 tablespoon dried ginger powder
2 cups yogurt, whipped smooth
Salt, to taste
Cilantro, to garnish
Ghee to drizzle on top
Heat the oil in a deep wok or pot and add the pinch of asafoetid, followed immediately by the chicken. Fry the chicken on very high heat till well browned, about 10 minutes. The heat needs to be high, otherwise the chicken will stew and not fry.
Turn down the heat to low and add the whole spices, cloves, black peppercorns, black cardamom, green cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, and the nutmeg powder and stir well to fry the spices in the oil. Cook for 5 more minutes.
Add the spicy and Kashmiri chili powders and cook on low heat frying the chili powders to extract the color and the slickness into the oil. After 5 minutes add the first tablespoons of both the anise seed powder and the dried ginger powder. Fry for an additional 10 minutes coating the meat with the chili and spices.
Add the whipped yogurt and the second tablespoon of the anise seed powder and the dried ginger powder and stir well to mix in. At this point you need to stir the curry continuously so that the yogurt does not split. Simmer gently, stirring for 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes you should have a smooth curry with the oils floating on the surface. Taste and adjust chili to a level of spice you can just about tolerate.
Add the salt and mix in and simmer gently covered for an additional 15 minutes. Taste and adjust spice and salt.
Serve hot garnished with fresh cilantro and a light drizzle of ghee, accompanied by plain or jeera rice or naan bread.