Thursday, December 13, 2018

Murgi'r Jhol - Bengali Everyday Chicken Curry

Jhols are thin stews that a big part of the repertoire of any decent Bengali cook. From the rojgere or sadharon (everyday or ordinary) to the Robibar'er (Sunday) jhols there are many versions of this spiced stew. Usually non vegetarian, the jhol will feature seasonal fish, chicken, or goat meat, and often features seasonal vegetables in addition to the meat or fish that is the star of the dish. Jhols are easy to put together and cook quickly too. Given their inherent simplicity they are a part of mundane everyday menus though their variety is wide.

Murgi'r jhol, a thin chicken curry, would appear regularly on Sundays and occasionally in the middle of the week to perk up our bored palates, tired of the monotonous daily machch'er jhols that appeared with stubborn regularity at very lunch. Goat meat was the ultimate treat for us while chicken was compromise, a relief from the relentless bowls of fish curry. A typical meal during the week would comprise rice, daal, a seasonal vegetable, an occasional bhaja or fry to go with the daal, and some form or the other of fish curry or machch'er jhol.  In spite of there being a variety of fish in the jhols, they were all perceived as a boring continuum and the occasional blip in the menu with chicken was warmly welcomed!

After Baba passed away Moni had to go to work daily and there was no time for elaborate meals with multiple courses. Very often she'd just cook a large pot of chicken curry and that would stretch over a couple of meals with plain steamed rice. My brother and I were quite happy to eat just curry and rice without vegetables, etc., cluttering up our plates. Slowly Moni started instructing me to prep for meals and keep things ready for her to cook once she get home from work. Apart from chopping veggies and washing rice, I also started marinating chicken for the jhol.

This is how, like thousands of other girls, I started to learn cooking. Murgi'r jhol is one of the first things I learned and now I too cook it quite often as it is easy and convenient, and makes for a deliciously simple meal.

Murgi'r Jhol

1 chicken, curry cut
2 onions, sliced finely
4 potatoes
3 carrots
fresh corainder

for marinade-
1/2 cup curd
kashmiri chilli powder
jeera/cumin powder
garam masala powder
ginger garlic paste
mustard oil

3 inch piece cinnamon
4 cardamom
6 cloves
2 star anise
3 Indian bay leaves
mustard oil
1/2 tsp sugar
water as required

In a large bowl mix the washed chicken pieces with all the ingredients listed under 'for marinade'. Mix well and evenly coat all the pieces of chicken. Leave aside for a couple of hours at least.

Peel and cut potatoes into thick wedges. Peel and cut carrots into thick batons. Slice onions as finely as you can. Pick the fresh coriander leaves and separate leaves and stems.

In a large kadai or wok heat a generous amount of mustard oil. Fry the potato wedges till they start to lightly brown. Remove and keep aside, draining as much oil as possible. You should have a decent amount of oil left behind in the kadai. Heat it again.

Once the oil is nice and hot drop in the whole spices and cook on medium heat for a minute. Add the sliced onions and the sugar and fry till the onions begin to brown. Keep the heat at medium. Add the marinated chicken and braise for 10 to 15 minutes till all the pieces have turned opaque. Keep stirring so all the pieces cook evenly and cook covered for another 10 minutes. 

Add the fried potatoes, carrots and coriander stems and mix well. Cook for a few minutes and then add enough water to make plenty of a watery gravy. Cook this further till the potatoes are done. Once the potatoes are cooked through the jhol is ready. Taste the jhol and adjust salt if required.

Scatter fresh coriander leaves and let it sit covered for five minutes and then serve with plain hot rice.

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