Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Easy Chicken Pepper Fry

The past few days I have been thinking about a trip I took years ago. A whirlwind tour really. It was such a mad rush of a tour that I have a hard time digging up the memories or merely the residue of it, typically random, mostly fuzzy impressions. The reason why I was forced to take this trip is something I am yet to wrap my brains around. So, I was accompanying a friend and her family on a trip to South East Asia, yes the standard Thailand-Malaysia-Bangkok circuit, a package tour by the way conducted by a local travel agency who promised us authentic Indian food every day on the trip, much to my disdain and many of the others relief. This was back in 2007. However, it was my first trip abroad and boy was I psyched. However, my friend’s father was a banker and the group we were travelling with comprised his colleagues and their family. Now apparently some weird rule requires employees of nationalized banks to touch the furthest tip of the country before they can leave the country. So our travel agent had crafted a six day itinerary for a hurricane trip of South India.

After what I am convinced was the worst train journey I will ever take, we reached Chennai at 4 in the morning and were greeted by hammering rain - thunder bolts, lightening, the entire package. We waited in the not-so-inviting waiting room for a few hours, 4 precisely, fighting fatigue, boredom and irritation with a vengeance, and finally boarded our bus to Pondicherry at 8:30. Pondicherry was delightful, the French quarters charming, the food delicious, but we only had a night designated for this stop, besides we were dead tired, so exploration was at a minimum. I do remember the evening by the sea, it was windy and we sat there somewhere along the promenade chomping on bhajiyas and sipping on coffee. Next day we took a trip to Auroville and the same evening we had a train to catch from this small station called Villupuram. I shall never forget that episode. The train stops at the station for a minute and a half and we were forty of us, and each one of us with a truckload of luggage. We waited at the platform, relieved that we had strategically parked ourselves exactly where our compartment would grind to halt. When the train came an hour later we all watched shocked, our mouth agape as our compartment swooshed by, moving away, further and further away. I have never ran like that in my life. No one has seen me run like that. I don’t want to think about it. It was nothing short of a miracle that all of us finally managed to tumble into the compartment.

Next morning we reached Kanya Kumari and I was besotted. I have never seen such colours of the ocean before. For me the visit to the Vivekananda Rock was by far the highlight of the tour. I will never forget sitting along in a corner of the temple courtyard looking out into the deep blue sea only to shift my head just a little to see its brilliant green glory, further up it seemed a dark, steel grey. That evening I spent hours on the hotel balcony watching the Vivekananda Rock in it resplendent glory amidst a sea of pitch black.
Next morning we drove to Kovalam. The beach was unusually (or is it) deserted except for a few fishermen tending their boats and nets. I was down with a pitiful stomach ache which unfortunately the otherwise moving sound of waves crashing against the shore could do little to soothe. Later we drove back to Chennai. Or did we take a train. Next day we did a half day tour of Chennai followed and the same night, exhausted and tanned beyond recognition we boarded our Thai Airways flight to Bangkok.

In retrospect, the one thing I regret about this tour is the fact that I couldn’t sample much of the food there. And my soft spot for South Indian flavours is no secret. Yes I did have a couple of memorable meals in Pondicherry and one thali meal in Chennai I still drool thinking about, but I can’t wait to take a trip down south sometime soon to sample the extraordinary fare. What I am getting at with this recollection is today’s recipe inspired by Southern flavours. I love Kerala mutton pepper fry and this dish Chicken Pepper fry takes inspiration from the dish, at least in essence. In my verson, which is a quick and easy version of the iconic dish, I use fewer spices but with maximum results. In this recipe I wanted the coarsely ground black pepper to enjoy the glory spot. It is done in 15 minutes plus time for prepping (which isn’t much either) and is one of my favourite doses of fiery goodness.


Boneless chicken diced into small pieces – 700 g
Whole red chilies – 4-5
Finely chopped onions – 1 cup
Garlic paste – 2 tsp
Ginger paste – 1 tbsp
Curry leaves – 10 + 5-6
Coarsely ground black pepper – 2.5 tbsp
Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Yoghurt – 100 g
Vegetable oil as required 


Heat vegetable oil in a deep bottomed pan. Once oil is hot add the garlic and ginger paste and fry until a deep golden.
Now add the onions, 10-12 curry leaves and whole dry red chilies.
Fry on medium heat until the onion is translucent and soft.
Turn up the heat, add the chicken, turmeric powder and black pepper powder and fry until all the juices from the chicken have dried up and chicken is almost tender. Oil must separate at this stage. Adjust heat along the way.
Cover and cook chicken for a few minutes until absolutely tender.
In a bowl beat yoghurt, remaining curry leaves and salt to taste along with a pinch of sugar.
Add this to the chicken and stir until the yoghurt is well blended, crank up the heat for the last two minutes to dry up any trace of liquid. Keep stir frying all the while.

Serve with plain rice or paranthas. 

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