A curry here, another curry there…
Compare a local mamak (eatery) here in Malaysia with an Indian restaurant back home and you will be puzzled. Granted, a mamak serves a wide range of different Malaysian foods from three (or more) different ethnic groups, not just food from the subcontinent, but if you fancy a curry you could be disappointed. There’s a yellow one and a red one and a darker red one: you’ll also get them piled, all three together, on the same plate. This is a far cry from the menus of curry houses in Birmingham, or anywhere else in the UK, where dishes exist in a range of exciting and mysteriously significant divisions. What exactly is a Bhuna? Growing up, I was never really sure, but I knew it was the mild one and so never ordered it.
I am not telling you all of this to play down Malaysian cuisine, it’s tremendous variety alone makes it very special and almost overcomes its obsession with musky flavours. Rather, I want you to understand why British Indian food should be considered on its own terms. Even here, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, there are restaurants (popular with expats and Indians alike) that serve British Indian dishes – you’ll find your Jalfrezi, Rogan josh and Balti, but no Chicken Tikka Masala.
What is a balti?
This Balti recipe is my favourite go-to curry. It’s very different from most of the Indian food we cook, which is stewed for a long time, low and slow, to allow the rich flavours to melt together. A Balti is almost a “stir fry” type of affair, traditionally cooked in small metal bowls (from which it gets its name) over a high heat. It also skips the ginger and garlic paste, using a huge pile of onions cooked down through three fast, bubbling reductions into a silky smooth sauce.
This recipe requires a generous helping of the base gravy, the recipe for which you can find here.
Lamb, Chicken or Shrimp?
Feeling adventurous and want to change it up from the humble chicken? No worries! Just substitute some pre-cooked lamb or fresh shrimp as your main protein. Just make sure add the shrimp at the last reduction so as not to overcook it.
A British-Indian curry of chicken wok-fried in onions, restaurant-style base gravy and lots of spices. This balti chicken is not for the faint-hearted. #curry #spice #Indian #chicken #recipe
2 chicken legs
2–3 medium onions (diced)
1 red bell pepper (roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces)
2 red finger chiles (seeds and stem removed and cut into thin strips)
6 cloves of garlic (sliced)
1 tbsp ginger (peeled and crushed)
a handful of cilantro (roughly chopped)
1 tomato (roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces)
2–3 tbsp of tomato paste (add as much or as little as you like depending on your taste)
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
6 green cardamom pods (sliced in half)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp red chile flakes
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 sprig of curry leaves (leaves removed from stem)
1 1/2 cups / 360 ml of base gravy
3–4 tbsp vegetable
knob of butter
Get everything ready! You’ll be cooking fast, so make sure all the spices are measured out, all the veg is properly cut and everything is nearby and ready to use.
Debone chicken legs. Cut meat into bite-sized pieces no bigger than 1 inch/ 2 cm.
In a large wok, heat 3-4 tbsp of vegetable oil and a knob of butter on high heat. When nice and hot, add diced onions and stir-fry until fragrant and translucent (about 3-5 minutes).
Next, add sliced garlic, crushed ginger and the whole spices-cardamon pods, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Stir fry for a minute or two until fragrant.
Add the strips of red chiles and curry leaves. Fry for a minute or so.
Add tomato paste, ground spices (coriander, cumin, red chile flakes, salt, black pepper, garam masala) and a splash or two of water to get a good curry paste going.
Once nice and bubbly, add 1/2 cup of base gravy to the mix and stir.
When nice and hot, add chicken pieces and stir into the curry. Keep cooking until reduced.
When reduced, add more base gravy and cook. Continue this process until all of the base gravy is gone.
The balti is done when the chicken is cooked and the curry gravy is silky and smooth. You don’t want it too wet or too dry so find a happy medium.
When balti has finished cooking, turn off the heat and add chopped cilantro, chopped tomato and chopped red bell pepper. Toss together in the curry and immediately serve.
Serve with soft naan and a cold lager.
- Category: Curry, Chicken
- Method: Stir-fry
- Cuisine: British, Indian
Keywords: balti, Indian, recipe, chicken, curry, spicy
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