The curry of my childhood was chicken legs, onions, carrots, potatoes, and a few raisins in a highly spiced, tomato-based sauce. We ate it over steamed brown rice to sop up the juices and with plenty of garnishes like yogurt, diced apple, and fresh cilantro leaves.
It wasn’t until I was well into my second decade of life that I discovered that our curry wasn’t the only version. Throughout my teens and twenties, I took great pleasure in exploring the curries of the world and tried every one I could.
These days, though I appreciate and enjoy the many disparate versions of curries out there in the world, I find that this time of year, when there’s a chill in the air and it’s dark out by 6 PM, I want nothing more than a bowl of the curry my mom always made.
All year long, as I’ve been writing these recipes for the Whole Chicken Project, I’ve been dedicated to keeping the chicken mostly intact. However, for this recipe, you’re going to need to do a wee bit of butchering. I actually broke down my whole bird into eight pieces, but if that much knifework leaves you uncertain there is another option.
Using a pair of washable kitchen shears, divide the chicken down into two halves. You do this by cutting out the backbone and then cutting along the breastbone. You’ll have two flat pieces of chicken that should fit into your pan well enough. When it comes time to serve the curry, the chicken should be tender enough that it will slip off the bone with just a gentle prod.
One thing you’ll note about this recipe is that it doesn’t use a pre-made curry powder. Instead, there’s a list of spices that you mix up and cook for a while with the onions. Don’t be intimidated by its length. Most should be pantry staples and it really does stir together quickly (just be careful with the turmeric. It stains).
This curry is best served over a grain of some kind. I tend to opt for a scoop of lentil rice (I’m abashed to admit that it’s a trick I learned from Rachael Ray), but you can also go with plain rice, quinoa, or steamed millet.
I find that this curry is best served with an assortment of toppings. In addition to the yogurt, apples, and cilantro we always had when I was young, I also like a little minced red onion and a scoop of a sweet and tangy chutney.
Finally, like so many other stews out there, this is one that improves overnight in the fridge. If you think you’d like to serve it at a dinner party, try to make it a day before and reheat it just before the meal.
Curried Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Swiss Chard
1 3 to 4 pound chicken
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 cups peeled and chopped sweet potato cubes (about 2 to 3 small sweet potatoes)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 bundle Swiss chard
freshly ground black pepper
Place the chicken on a large cutting board. Using a pair of sturdy kitchen shears, cut out the backbone and cut along the peak of the breastbone, to separate the chicken into two parts. At this point, you can either butcher the chicken halves further, or proceed as-is.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. When the oil shimmers, place the chicken pieces skin side down in the pan. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, until the chicken has browned enough to release easily from the pan.
Flip the chicken and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes on the second side. When both sides are browned, remove the chicken from the Dutch oven and put it on a plate.
Quickly add the onions, ginger and garlic to the pan. Stir to combine and then add the chili powder, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, along with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Cook, stirring regularly, for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onions begin to soften. If you notice that the spices are starting to stick, add a splash of water to keep things moving.
Once the onions have softened and the spices are fragrant, add the sweet potatoes and the can of tomatoes. Stir to combine, taking care to scrape the bottom of the pan well, and let simmer for 5 minutes.
While the pan simmers, wash the Swiss chard and cut out the crunchy stems (save these, they can be used as a celery replacement in another recipe or can be pickled). Cut the chard into small squares and stir it into the onion, sweet potato, and tomato mixture.
Once all those ingredients are in the pan, tuck the chicken pieces down into the liquid. Put a lid on the pot and turn the heat down to medium. Let the chicken cook for 45 to 55 minutes. It is done when the sweet potatoes are tender and the chicken is ready to fall off the bone.
To serve, ladle generous scoops of chicken, vegetables, and sauce over lentil rice (recipe follows).
1 cup brown basmati rice
½ cup brown lentils
2½ cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Measure the rice out into a fine mesh sieve and rinse it well under cold running water. Put the rice in a small saucepan that has a tight fitting lid and add the lentils, water and salt.
Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, turn the heat back to medium. Cook over medium heat for 40 to 45 minutes, until the rice is fluffy and the lentils are tender.