Sometimes, the best meals emerge from the strongest memories—comfort foods you took for granted.
As you grow up, some memories become so hazy that you start wondering if they were ever real.
I wonder if I ever lived at 99, Broadway Road, Bangalore, a two-storey stone house with a sprawling compound that held 20 hens, a rabbit and two dogs.
I wonder if I ever lived in Hulme Park, Belgaum, an 18-room colonial bungalow with two tree houses atop gargantuan banyan trees and a banana plantation of its own.
I wonder if I ever lived with Curly, an adorable lamb that grew up to be a massive sheep, traipsing in and out of the living room in Gulbarga.
I wonder if I actually rode around Delhi on a red motorcycle with a big, red helmet box. I wonder if a Sardarji on a scooter actually pulled up next to me at a red light in the late 1980s and said: “O paisaab, aapke persnalty me kami hain; aapka halmet bhi red hona chahiye!” (Sir, there’s a shortcoming in your personality; your helmet too should be red.)
Memory lane: Food one grew up eating has rich associations.
And then, there are some things you know for sure.
Despite a life spent sampling everything from six-course meals of Vietnamese snakes, Hyderabadi curries of goat’s blood and fried ox tongues in Bandra, the meals most firmly imprinted on my mind are my mother’s versions of Goan fish curry, Coorgi pork and her signature stove-top chicken.
I’ve previously posted recipes of the first two in this column and my blog, but somehow the humble chicken-with-no-name has always been forgotten. I guess this is because it is a simple recipe, it’s something that has always been there on the table, and chicken isn’t really synonymous with creative cooking, is it?
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was in Bangalore recently visiting my parents, and I realized my mother’s old recipe is still a hot favourite at potluck lunches with their friends. The family has always liked it, and my cousins often ask for it when they’re here. The chicken-with-no-name is great comfort food; it’s quick and very easy to make, and you can vary the ingredients endlessly.
When my mother first made it more than 10 years ago— like so many things we take for granted, she can’t remember when—she flavoured it with only ginger-garlic and black pepper.
In later years, when Western ingredients made their way into India, and the age of healthier cooking became a part of our lives, she started cutting back on oil and using red-wine vinegar when sautéing the chicken. Sometimes, she uses onions. Sometimes, she does not.
You can, doubtless, take this recipe to another level using whatever you think is right. If you do, let me know what emerges.
The Chicken with No Name
(it’s actually a chicken roast)
1kg chicken, cut into small pieces
1 tsp ground pepper
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
K cup red-wine vinegar
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tsp dhania (coriander) powder
Salt to taste
Wash chicken pieces, drain water. Marinate with salt, pepper, ginger-garlic paste and red-wine vinegar. Make sure it’s enough to coat the chicken with a little left over. In a non-stick pan, brown the onions in 4 tsp of oil (vegetable or olive). Add the dhania powder to the browned onion. The paste must look dark brown.
Add the marinated chicken. Sauté on slow flame till coated with the onion and dhania powder mixture. Taste for masalas and salt. Cover and cook on a slow fire. Stir occasionally till done.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread,at Htblogs.com.He is editor-at-large, Hindustan Times.
Write to Samar at firstname.lastname@example.org