One of the most stunning regions within southern India undoubtedly is the state of Kerala. Most people I speak to who have visited always rave on about the scenic views, food, culture and the local people. My first trip and introduction to the Malyali community was at the age of 12 when I made a trip to travel with family and friends across the city. Ever since, I have been so many times to explore the city, cuisine and also by chance for a family wedding! I am always fascinated to see the varied communities within one region including Christians, Muslims and Hindus. For instance the Malyali Hindus have a unique cooking style with recipes and traditions which include religious practises that differ to the Christian and Muslim communities in Kerala. The prevalence of cooking fish, meat or poultry within the coastal region have come from the culinary influences of the Christian and Muslim families. A region renowned for its use of black pepper in curries and stir fried dishes much before chillies made an entrance into India. For me, delving into Syrian Christian cooking hold joyous memories as a young girl. I always turned to Mariam a lovely lady who left Kerala to join our family home years back but brought along with her an abundance of local knowledge and recipes that I have adored. This in its truest form is where my love for (and introduction to!) Kerala and its people began. She used to cook the most delicious Avial, potato curry and plenty of fish as well as meat curries given the proximity of Mumbai to the coast. She would share stories of her hometown and how they grew local veg, went fishing and ground spices. I could listen for ages and it is one of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy visiting Kerala even today. One of my favorite recipes in my book Indian Kitchen is a Malabar Chicken Biryani from this region; a recipe that celebrates some unsung heroes in a biryani with ingredients including coconut milk and black pepper to make up a delicious rice based dish. The uniqueness of recipes like this bring out the best in Indian food and I am always in awe to find so many diverse flavors that are part of this wonderful sub continent.
Last year I ate Perelan chicken during my travels and absolutely loved the flavors which reminded me of when Mariam cooked it. Most family homes I’ve eaten this dish at have cooked the chicken separately to the gravy although I prefer to make it all at the same time rather than in stages. Chicken Perelan has heat so tailor make the level of spice based on how much you prefer. I have added chillies at the end while tempering although you can omit that. Vinegar, curry leaves and fennel add so much more flavour to this dish. With coconut oil being a big food trend at the moment it would be something worth stocking up on for curries like these. They add lots of flavour and a gorgeous aroma too whilst complimenting spices such as mustard seeds and curry leaves. Serve with rice, parotta (paratha) or pathiri.
- Add the chicken to a large mixing bowl along with all the marinade ingredients. Mix well and leave to soak in the flavours for an hour or overnight preferably.
- Blend the garlic and ginger with a splash of water to a smooth fine paste and set aside. In a separate bowl add the coriander powder, kashmiri chilli powder and turmeric powder along with 4 tbsp of water. Mix this spice paste well and set aside.
- Heat oil in a large heavy bottom sauce pan over a medium flame. Add the mustard seeds letting them splutter for 20 seconds. Now add the curry leaves and fenugreek seeds stir and quickly add the onions. Stir well and fry for 18-20 minutes. They will begin to change colour and go brown. Add the garlic and ginger paste frying for a minute. The paste might stick to the bottom of the pan so make sure to stir. Add the spice paste to the pan and stir for 20 seconds.
- Now add the tomatoes and fry for 6 minutes making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan as the moisture from the tomatoes is released. Mash the tomatoes slightly with the back of the spoon they will begin to soften and go mushy making a rich thick masala base.
- Add the marinated chicken and fry for 8 minutes. Stir well coating the chicken with the masala. Add the vinegar, sugar and season to taste. Stir for 2 minutes and now add the water. Bring to a boil and simmer over a low heat with the lid on for 18 minutes stirring half way through.
- At this stage add the fennel powder and black pepper; continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and let it rest.
- In a frying pan heat the oil for tempering over a medium heat. When the oil is hot turn the heat off. Add the curry leaves, slit chillies and coconut (if using) Stir well and pour this over the chicken gravy along with coriander. Serve Perelan warm with rice or paratha.
To marinate the chicken;
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- Pinch of salt
- ½ tsp kashmiri chilli powder (or mild chilli powder)
To make the curry;
- 800gms chicken on the bone cut into medium pieces
- 2 tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 10 curry leaves
- ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
- 300gms shallots thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic roughly chopped
- 2” ginger roughly chopped
- 1 heaped tsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp kashmiri chilli powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 200gms tomatoes finely chopped
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- Salt to taste
- 200mls water
- 1 tsp fennel powder
- ½ tsp coarsely crushed black pepper
- 2 tbsp coriander leaves finely chopped
Tempering the curry;
- 1 tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
- 5 curry leaves
- 2 green chillies slit lengthwise
- Handful of chopped fresh coconut (optional)