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Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
Sat April 27, 2013
When Curry Chicken Calls, You Have To Answer
I was sitting on the verandah of a hotel overlooking Waikiki beach waiting for a lunch menu. The mighty Pacific Ocean purred like a Lamborghini in the distance. I'd spent hours walking in Chinatown from early morning looking for beautiful and unique dishes I love to use for the thematic ‘Tasting Menus’ at our restaurant. But I had little luck and a keen hunger was rising up in me.
An Asian gentleman dining solo near me was served a platter of Chicken Curry I’d seen on the menu. His waitress lifted strips of shredded chicken from a porcelain serving bowl and draped them gracefully over a mound of white rice. A curry orange rich cream was spooned on. The intoxicating aromas wafted over in my direction. I saw the older man smile…. as if a young man once again.
I quickly ordered the same dish! When mine arrived I was also pleased to see that it included bell peppers, fennel, celery and carrots in the cream as well as an interesting spicy chutney and a mound of sweet toasted coconut. All of this was mixed together by me as I ate. I wondered. Why had I not eaten Chicken Curry in so long?
I’d like to offer some cooking advice in the midst of lunch if you don’t mind. Good! The thing with curry is that it almost without exception is so much better if you cook OUT the ‘raw’ spice. And it is EASY really. You’d end up with a bitter thing if you stirred off the shelf curry powder into cold mayo. Ugh!! No wonder some folks warn, “I do not like curry”. It is no wonder. So my way is to insert a middle step.
I take some sweet onions and cook them until somewhat caramelized in a small sauce pan with butter...and then I add in some high quality curry powder and stir, stir, stir! It is a bit like making a roux if you have ever done that. You want to change the raw powder into one where the aromatic oils can come alive again! Now add a small amount...½ a cup will do….of orange or apple juice and reduce it down by about half. Allow that to cool some and them strain the resulting syrup into the mayo...Like I say… easy!
I think most of us associate curry with India. It is interesting to note that the first domesticated chicken appeared in India around 2,000 BC. It was bred from the wild... red… jungle fowl. In history… as in the kitchen… sometimes tragedy can strike.
Food scholar John Mariani wrote of one such time… He says,"In Hawaii, European travelers found a domesticated fowl call the "moa", a descendant of a wild jungle fowl probably brought in from Malaysia. In 1826, however, the ship Wellington docked in Hawaii from a port in
Mexico, taking on fresh water and dumping its old water which contained mosquito larvae carrying a bird pox that immediately infected the Hawaiian chickens and devastated the birds of the islands".
I wonder if the ‘chicken haters’ in Key West have heard of this idea? Hopefully not!
With our new focus on well-raised local birds here in Florida you can be sure that we can enjoy Chicken Curry as much as the one I did back in Hawaii. Oh! And don’t forget that other lovely Indian thing….. Chutney.
*Works consulted: John Mariani's, "The Dictionary of American Food and Drink".