‘Audubon’ favours curry


Scrolling through the television channels the other day, I came across Jamie Oliver plying his trade in the usual way. He was bashing away, throwing, and tossing – when suddenly he sprinkled smoked paprika over a chicken breast. My attention was instantly grabbed and what he went on to do with that chicken breast was filed away so that, another day, I could do it too. And then my mind wandered: might it not taste even better if I replaced the paprika with, say, some Garam Masala? This then begs the question: whose recipe is it, anyway?

Years ago, a friend cooked me a delicious dish comprising cabbage, bacon, mushroom and cream. Some time later, I cooked it for myself, but substituted the bacon with some chopped serrano ham and the mushrooms with some dried (and soaked) porcini. It was an improvement, though I say so myself – even if I wouldn’t presume to tell my friend. But . . . whose recipe is it, anyway?

This all brings me to Martha Lloyd’s “Curry in the Indian Manner”. It’s a recipe that appears in Food with the Famous by the excellent and much-missed Jane Grigson, in a chapter entitled “Jane Austen”. According to Mrs Grigson, it seems that Jane Austen to some extent shared the housekeeping with her sister Cassandra, and that Jane’s great friend Martha Lloyd collected their recipes – some of which were published in 1977 in a book called A Jane Austen Household Book by Peggy Hickman. Now, just when you thought there were quite enough competing names in this paragraph, I have to introduce a fifth which, I’m thankful to say, is that of a man – the New Directions kitchen operates an equal-opportunities policy, after all. Jane Grigson’s recipe (or Martha Lloyd’s, or whoever’s recipe it really is) demands a heaped tablespoon of curry powder, so she inserts a sort of sub-recipe for that condiment from The Cook’s Oracle: and Housekeeper’s Manual by Dr William Kitchiner, published in 1827 and described on the frontispiece as “A Complete System of Cookery for Catholic Families”. [Sound. Ed.]

You’ll need 3 rounded teaspoons of coriander seeds, 3 level teaspoons of turmeric, 1 rounded teaspoon of black peppercorns and another of black mustard seeds, a level teaspoon of ground ginger, half a teaspoon of cardamom seeds and a quarter teaspoon both of cayenne pepper and of cumin seeds. Whizz all these to a powder in an electric grinder (or, for a more authentic if protracted experience, resort to a pestle and mortar). It will make more than you will need for what follows, but what is left will keep well for a fortnight or so in a well-closed container – before you rediscover it at the back of the cupboard in three years’ time.

Back to Austen, Lloyd, Hickman, or Grigson. Take a chicken, jointed, some fresh chicken stock, 4 ounces of butter and another 4 ounces of chopped onion, a large fat juicy clove of garlic (crushed), the juice of an orange and of a lemon and, finally, a tablespoon of the curry powder you made earlier. On no account resort to shop-bought curry powder on this occasion. It will not work, and will make the Editor cry.

Put the chicken in a single layer in a sauté pan, and add enough hot chicken stock to submerge the pieces. Cover and simmer, turning the chicken regularly, until it is just tender – about 30 minutes. Remember to remove the breast pieces before the leg! When all is done, strip away the skin and separate the meat from the bones. Return the bones to the stock in the pan, and simmer to concentrate and reduce to around half a pint.

In a clean pan, melt the butter, add the onions and garlic, and cover and cook very gently indeed until they are golden brown. Add the boned chicken, sprinkle over the curry powder, cover and cook for about ten minutes, turning the chicken pieces halfway through. Now add the reduced chicken stock and cook gently for about 20 minutes to enable all the flavours to combine. Add the citrus juices to taste and serve with plain Basmati rice. My own view (whose recipe is it, anyway?) is that it benefits from a little thickening at the end, the better to coat the rice. A little cornflour slaked with white wine did it for me.

For the six people your chicken ought to feed, you will need 12oz of Basmati rice. Wash it in cold running water, and then leave to soak for an hour in a bowl of the same. Drain, and then add to a pan of 1½ pints of boiling water. Add a little salt, bring back to the boil and then cook (uncovered) very gently for something like ten minutes, until most of the liquid has disappeared and holes begin to appear in the rice. Turn the heat off and then place a double thickness of kitchen towel right on top of the rice and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Leave undisturbed for 15 minutes, uncover, remove the paper and fork up the rice. Serve with the “usual accompaniments” – naan bread, pickles, and chutneys.