Curry is a contribution to Guyanese cuisine by the Indian population of Guyana and is a fundamental dish in our food culture. Chicken curry is a typical curry you'll find on the table for weekend or weeknight dinner, parties and other gatherings. It is generally made by simmering medium sized cut up pieces of chicken in a sauce made from a blend of madras curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, and geera. The chicken is first cooked with the spices until it dries onto the meat. Water is added to make the gravy or surwah as some Guyanese people call it, along with whole spices to heighten the flavors of the ground spices. It boils together to form a beautiful pot of succulent meat packed with flavor and typically served with roti or rice.
Every Guyanese person has that one auntie or uncle in their family who makes "the best" curry and in my family, it's my mother. Mom's curry always had the perfect balance of spice and flavor. It was never watery and always boiled down to the right amount of gravy. It was the type of curry that made you take your finger and swipe it across the plate to lick up every last bit. She frequently served her chicken curry with dhal and rice or homemade dhal puri.
Mom's curry turned me into what many West Indians call a "curry mouth"- someone who loves curry for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Why it's important to bounjay your chicken for a great tasting curry
Bounjay also bunjay, stems from the Hindi word bhunao and is used to describe a style of cooking. Bhunao involves a technique of stir frying and sautéing at the same time. In this case you'd sauté the onions, garlic, pepper, and spices, then add the meat and stir fry it- moving it around consistently so the spices can coat the meat. The heat is regulated during this process from low in the beginning to medium high later on.
As the cooking process continues, the chicken will release its own water. Once the water simmers down the spice paste will begin to coat the meat and start to look dry. Essentially you are searing the the meat with the spice mixture. This is the part Guyanese refer to as bounjay. This step is what imparts great flavor to the curry because of the Maillard reaction.
The bottom line is, do not skip this step. Bounjay your chicken.
So what makes a good curry for me?
- The gravy must be thick, not watery.
- It must contain the right amount of salt.
- It must have a spice balance- good ratio of masala to curry powder.
- The chicken must have color (not white and washed-out looking).
- The curry must not be overwhelmed with too many unnecessary herbs and spices.
- The masala and curry powder spices must be fresh and great quality. It makes all the difference.
If I am having it with rice, I prefer it without dhal-I really like to taste the curry. I wait until I've eaten all the rice to enjoy the meat on its own and my favorite piece is the neck. If I'm having it with roti, I'll break off pieces and scoop up more curry than the roti can handle. Oh! And how could I forget- there always needs to be a sprinkle of pepper sauce on my plate! This is what I call my comfort food. How do you enjoy your curry?
Make seasoning base for the curry
In a blender or food processor combine one medium onion, one head of garlic, leaves of a few sprigs of thyme, and desired amount of wiri wiri or scotch bonnet peppers.
You will have extra seasoning left over. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to one week and use to season other meats, seafood, soups, or rice. You may also parcel this in a silicone ice cube tray and freeze for future use.
WASH YOUR CHICKEN, THEN WASH YOUR COUNTER
When my mom would buy chicken from the halal meat store in Queens, NY, they would roast the skin of the chicken and chop it up in curry/stew size pieces. Roasting the chicken skin helped burn off any small feathers, but mostly gave the meat another layer of flavor when cooked. When she brought the chicken home, she would "wash" it with a little bit of flour, salt, and vinegar, or lime and water. She'd let it sit for ½ hr to 45 minutes then rinse it off piece by piece and pat it dry. This method of cleaning the meat is a way to remove any slime off the chicken and tenderize it. Acid from the citrus or vinegar helps to break down fibers in the meat.
I know washing meat is a contentious topic, but I'm here to say that when I wash meat I do everything to ensure contamination isn't an issue in my kitchen. I make sure there is nothing else in the sink or nearby and there aren't any dishes in the dish drainer either. After I've washed, pat dried, and seasoned my meat, I cover it with aluminum foil and place the bowl on the stovetop. The next step is to wipe everything down with an antibacterial cleaning product.
In a bowl, mix seasoning the seasoning. Add the masala, curry powder, and geera and form into a paste. She also adds turmeric here, but I did not get a picture. My mom makes her own masala mixture, but see below for a recommendation of brands you can buy at a West Indian grocery store.
Add 6 tbsp oil to a cast iron pot, add masala mixture and fry 2-3 minutes until paste darkens and dries slightly. Be sure not to burn the paste or your curry will taste bitter. Turn frequently while frying.
Add chicken to the pot and stir to coat with masala-curry powder mixture. Add a small cinnamon stick and cloves here. Cover the pot and let chicken cook for 15-20 minutes on medium heat stirring every once in a while. Remove lid and allow water from chicken to reduce.
Chicken will then start to look "dry" after 15-20min. It will look like the spice paste is seared onto the meat- this is the part where we bounjay the chicken. This step is what imparts the most flavor. Add salt and more hot pepper if desired. Mix it all up.
Once chicken has bounjayed, add enough boiling water to just cover the meat, tomato paste, potatoes. Stir and cover pot to allow potatoes to cook. Curry is done when liquid reduces by ⅓ and gravy looks thick.
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 head of garlic, peeled
- leaves of a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1-2 wiri wiri peppers or 1 small scotch bonnet pepper
- ¼ cup water
- 4 lbs chicken, cut into large chunks, 3 inch pieces
- 2 tbsp fresh seasoning
- 1 tsp madras curry powder
- few pinches of salt
- 4 tbsp fresh seasoning
- 4 tbsp garam masala
- 3 tbsp madras curry powder
- ½ tsp ground geera (cumin)
- ⅓ cup water
Remaining ingredients for curry
- 6 tbsp cooking oil
- 4-6 whole cloves
- 1 small skinny cinnamon stick about 2 inches (not pictured)
- 2 tsp salt (or salt to taste)
- A kettle ready with boiling water, as needed
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into large pieces
- Few pinches geera
- 1 scallion, finely sliced
- Make the fresh seasoning: In a blender, combine onion, garlic, thyme leaves, pepper, and ¼ cup water. Blend until smooth and thick like a smoothie.
- Wash and clean chicken (see below). Remove excess pieces of fat, chop into 3-inch pieces. Pat dry with paper towel, set aside.
- Season the chicken: Add 2 tbsp of the seasoning to chicken plus 1 tsp curry powder. Massage into meat, let it rest for ½ hour minimum. Store remaining seasoning in a container in fridge for use in another recipe.
- Make the seasoning paste: In a small bowl, mix 4 heaping tbsp of the fresh seasoning, 4 tbsp masala, 3 tsbp curry powder, ½ tsp geera, and ⅓ cup water into a paste.
- Fry masala paste: Heat a heavy bottomed pot on medium heat, add 6 tbsp oil. Add masala-curry powder paste and fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly until mixture looks darker and not watery .
- Bounjay the chicken: Add chicken to pot and stir to coat with masala-curry powder mixture. Add salt, cinnamon, and clove here. Cover pot and let chicken cook for 15-20 minutes on medium heat stirring every once in a while. Chicken will spring its own water. Remove lid and allow water from chicken to reduce until there is only a little gravy. Let the masala dry cook onto the chicken.
- Add water and continue to cook the curry: At this point, add just enough boiling water to cover the chicken.
- Add tomato paste, and chopped potatoes, cover with lid.
- Let curry boil on medium-high heat until gravy has reduced by one-third and thickens to your desire, about 15 minutes or a little more.
- When curry is done, sprinkle a little geera on top and garnish with fresh scallions.
Make sure chicken has bounjayed (meat has been seared with the masala and looks dry) well before adding the boiling water. If water is added too soon, it will wash the masala off the chicken and you will end up with a watery curry.
Pat meat dry before adding seasoning. The meat will absorb the seasoning better.
Brands- these are the brands my mom has used in the past and yields a great taste:
Curry Powder - Chetty's or Lalah's
Garam Masala - Guyanese Pride or Maywah (Couldn't find an image)
HOW TO CLEAN MEAT:
When my mom would buy chicken from the halal meat store in Queens, they would roast the skin of the chicken and chop it up in curry/stew size pieces. Roasting the chicken skin gave it another layer of flavor when cooked. When she brought the chicken home, she would "clean" it with a little bit of flour, salt, vinegar or lime, and water. She'd let it sit for ½ hr to 45 minutes then rinse it off piece by piece and pat it dry. This method of "cleaning" the meat is a way to remove any slime, rank smell, or off taste that the chicken might have. This is the way we always cleaned meat, but feel free to use your own way.