Friday, 2 May 2014

Chicken Balti

"Those were the best days of my life"...yes literally. My university days in the United Kingdom. I have probably mentioned this before but the serious job of acquiring a Masters degree landed my of all places in Brighton in South East England, a quaint beach resort famous for its shingle beaches and the famous Brighton pier and the flamboyant parties and Brighton rock,a kind of confection peculiar to this place and of course the annual gay pride. So there I was amid all the temptation life could offer trying to graduate with distinction...woof. Ah the best days of my life. 
Anyway, so I stayed on campus, at one the university residence halls East Slope, Flat 60. It was my home for a year and I haven't yet completely detached myself from that room of mine. I dream about it, still, 4 years later. I had the coolest flatmates and a few of them are now my best buddies. However, our flat was known as one where something was cooking all the time. Ummm...I mean the pots and vessels and stove top kind of cooking of course. And yes the fire alarm went off the most at our flat too. So we cooked a lot, I cooked mainly, others helped but it was some fun. 

But there would be times when everyone got busy with their course work, few afternoons when I would be in the flat alone, (my room mate would be away in London most of the time) while other flatmates were attending there classes. On those days elaborate cooking was no fun, and it's a drag cooking just for yourself. That's when the Student Union Store just down the slope came in. I had a few favourite frozen food stuff I always got from there , Frozen Batter Fried Fish,  Chicken mini Kiev and Southern Fried Chicken. Oh and there was the ready to eat couscous salad and those yummy chocolate muffins I was crazy about. And the tuna and pasta salad...oooo...I am drooling sitting here. My comfort food when I most needed comfort thousands of miles away from home. 
   It was at the Union store that I first discovered Balti Chicken, or should I say the Balti Sauce.They came in glass jars with a label that read Patak's , of course the brand's name and you needed to do it shallow fry a few pieces of chicken, pour in the sauce once the chicken is half done and let it simmer for about 10 minutes or until chicken was cooked through. There was the chicken tikka sauce too, and I would alteranate between the two. Sometimes I have seemly brought the sauce to a boil and had it with rice and potato crisps on hungover mornings. Well....what do think we do at university? 
Honestly I had no clue what Balti Curry is. Of course the first thing that came to my mind was a bucket, those aluminium ones. But I wasn't sure. I have never seen a Chicken or lamb balti feature on the menu of an Indian restaurant, but I soon figured that in UK it was rather popular. I had had it once in an Indian restaurant in Edinburgh too, but mostly it was the Patak's sauce that I ate. And loved. There is much debate regarding the origin of the dish, while some say it originated in Baltistan in Northern Pakistan, others swear it was born in a humble kitchen of Birmingham! That's what I got from my reading. And yeah there is a bucket connection, the Balti dishes are supposedly cooked in a Balti (metal bucket). 
Anyway I was reminded of the Balti Chicken again when someone posted a picture of a social network site. And I wondered why I haven't tried replicating it at home. I went through numerous recipes, some how none seemed to excite me.So I visited the Patak's website and tired reading the label on the sauce bottle, lol...well they had a section for the ingredients used. Of course, they are smart and had terms likes spices on the list...hah...but I had an idea alright. And for the first time I made my balti chicken right at home today, and though it wasn't an exact imitation, it was very close and rather delicious. I say read up about the Patak's too here, some interesting stuff there. 
 As for the goes!


Boneless chicken - 1 kg 
Sliced onions - 11/2 cups 
Red Bell Peppers - 2 (diced )
Garlic paste - 1 tbsp
Ginger paste - 2 tbsp 
Tomato puree - 150 ml 
Coarsely ground coriander-cumin  - 3 tbsp 
Coarsely ground black pepper - 1 tbsp 
Salt to taste 
Sugar to taste 
Garam masala powder - 1 tsp 
Kasundi - 1/2 tsp


Heat oil in a pan and add the onions. Fry until golden.

Add the diced bell peppers and fry for some time before adding ginger, garlic and black pepper powder. Fry some more, all the while on high heat.

Add the tomato puree and coriander-cumin mix, fry until oil separates. Add the chicken and salt and fry on high flame until the meat is seared sealing the juices and oil separates.

Add enough warm water to cover the chicken completely, add garam masala powder and sugar. Bring to a boil and a few minutes later  lower heat and let it simmer until chicken is tender. Adjust seasoning.The gravy should reduce and once oil separates, stir in the Kasundi and remove from heat.

Serve with rice, pulao or phulkas.

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