Ink on my Apron: Chicken Jalfrezi Roast with Skin-on Potatoes
It was, however, the rogue element of the potatoes that inspired me to give this dish an interesting spin and try my hand at an Indian chicken roast with a dry jalfrezi masala, complete with skin-on spuds.
A few days ago, I got back from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it weekend trip and found myself craving something warm and familiar that tasted of home minus the fuss and excessive washing up. Some people have to unpack literally the minute they put their bags down after a holiday, others need to do a few loads of laundry before they feel completely like themselves and a minority - myself included - are all too eager to reassert their territory in the kitchen. The only real issue with this is I tend to come back home to an almost bare fridge as my mum takes the business of winding up all matters of the pantry very seriously and lives in eternal fear of returning to cauliflower sprouting in the fridge or rotting eggs.
On this rare occasion, the few things that survived her stringent won’t-go-off-in-three-days test just so happened to be a very handy selection of red peppers, tomatoes, onions, green chillies, onions, potatoes, and frozen chicken breasts – the exact ingredients required for a chicken jalfrezi curry. It was, however, the rogue element of the potatoes that inspired me to give this dish an interesting spin and try my hand at an Indian chicken roast with a dry jalfrezi masala, complete with skin-on spuds.
Time spent away from home, however brief, always makes me realise how cooking is as instinctive as it is habitual. We become irrationally attached to that masala-tinged wooden spoon whose shelf life we would rather not be reminded of and believe we will not be able to function without that dangerously sharp knife with a blade that seems made for the crook of our hand. I’ve tried, rather unsuccessfully, to cook in my grandmother’s modest and not particularly modern kitchen in Kerala and been amazed to learn that she prefers cooking in pots and pans without handles, making stirring or lifting an occupational hazard. There’s also a certain rhythm established and reassurance in knowing that your spice rack can be reached at arm’s length or that your fluted quiche tin is located in an inconspicuous stand below the microwave.
I couldn’t help but marvel at how my fridge booty seemed oddly befitting as a quick scan of the internet informed me that a Jalfrezi was actually an ingenious method devised by cooks of the British Raj to use up leftovers by simply frying them with onions and chillies. Etymologically, the word is derived from the colloquial Bengali word jhālpharezī - jhāl meaning spicy food in Bengali and parhezī meaning suitable for a diet in Persian.
Red peppers are the undisputed star of the show and given a generously-sized rustic chop to lend that crunch to the dish, while tomatoes serve as the sauce base. The stir-fry style preparation, which may well be a nod to the advent of Chinese food into the region, also means it’s the perfect dish to come together when you’re pressed for time, while the flavour and texture of the peppers and onions are retained.
Interestingly, my taste for a Jalfrezi was acquired as a student in the UK, courtesy a very good microwaveable Jalfrezi and “pilau rice” meal at Lidl, the cheap-as-chips supermarket favoured by most students. As it turns out, a 2011 survey conducted by the British Curry Club’s in-house magazine Chaat!, found that Jalfrezi was rated the most popular dish in the UK’s then 10,000 Indian restaurants.
Given its quick cooking time, a Jalfrezi curry is the perfect option for a quick but flavourful lazy weeknight meal. My riff, as is the case with most roasts, involves a quick searing of the ingredients before being transferred into an oven-proof dish with the potatoes to really seal in those flavours. While I used breasts (only because those were what I had on hand), this recipe would really rise to the occasion as the centerpiece of a dinner if it featured a whole chicken, served alongside the mandatory potatoes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could also add hard boiled eggs (slightly scored so they absorb all the masala)and give them a good toss in the thick gravy. For guests who are still getting initiated into the world of Indian spices, you could serve the roast with a simple but refreshing cucumber, mint, and feta salad.
Chicken Jalfrezi Roast with Skin-On Potatoes
4 chicken breasts
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
3 medium-sized tomatoes
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 large red pepper
3 green chillies
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp sugar
3 medium-sized potatoes, cleaned with skin-on and cut into thick rounds
1. Take the chicken breasts and coat them in the ground coriander, ground cumin, and turmeric and keep aside to marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
2. Blitz the tomatoes to a smooth puree in a mixie.
3. Add oil to a pan on a moderate heat. Once hot, add the onions and sauté for 7-8 minutes on medium heat. Add the ginger-garlic paste and sauté for about 3 minutes.
4. Next, add the pepper, chillies, and salt and sauté for 8-9minutes.
5. Turn up the heat slightly and add your chicken breasts, giving them a good sear on both sides.
6. Add the tomato mixture to the pan and give it a good stir. Add the garam masala and sugar and allow it to come to a boil. The resultant mixture should be on the drier side (thick sauce that clings to the chicken). Add the skin-on potatoes to your dish, ensuring that they’re coated with the thick gravy.
7. Transfer the dish to the preheated oven (140 degrees C) for half an hour. Then turn up the heat to 160 degrees C for about 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven and serve.
Jehan Nizar is a lifestyle features writer and food blogger at inkonmyapron.com.