The scene of cooking Indian food in the film “The Hundred-Foot Journey” keeps flashing back when I was cooking this Chicken Varuval.
This movie centered at the cultural clash between the two rival restaurants in a sleepy French village, one being French and another is Indian. You can feel the intensity of the heat drifting from the Indian restaurant while admiring the elegance and refinement of the French cuisine with the artistic plating.
Ready to take a bite of the Indian cuisine with the intense flavor? Here is the Chicken Varuval you can take on, and be ready to withstand the fiercely hot spices permeated your palate down to your throat.
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The authentic flavor from the Tamil Nadu
Chicken Varuval (spicy dry-fried chicken) is the dry chicken curry originated from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu in Southern India.
This is my favorite Indian dry curry dish. I always enjoy having it whenever I thought of having some very authentic Indian flavor. The Malaysian version is close to the original Chicken Varuval Chettinad with some minor alteration. The following recipe is based on how the Malaysian Indian prepare Chicken Varuval, with the use of a small amount of Malaysian meat curry powder.
It has an intense flavor of herbs and spices since it is fried until nearly dry. If you have eaten rendang beef, butter chicken, chicken tikka masala or any other similar curries with gravy, you will find that Chicken Varuval is jam-packed with the complex flavor of herbs and spices more than any curry with sauce.
Chettinad cuisine is one of the spiciest and most aromatic cuisines in India. It is renowned for the use of fresh ground herbs and spices. Chicken Varuval is one of the most popular Chettinad cuisines. The combination of fennel seeds, cumin seeds, dry chili and coriander seeds create the unique aroma & flavor to this dish.
Ready to try?
This spicy dry fried chicken goes well with rice, bread, or other more traditional accompaniments such as dosais, appams, paratha, and idlis.
And it is quick and easy to prepare– three simples steps and nearly foolproof.
Let’s take a look how to make it in details.
Step 1- Marinate the chicken.
This step is critical, and you should not skip.
Since the chicken chunks are cooked for less than half an hour, the flavor of the herbs, spices, and salt may not have enough time to penetrate into the inner part of the chicken, especially for the larger pieces. On the contrary, wet curry with gravy has no such problem as it is stewed much longer. Therefore, marination will ensure the thicker part of the chicken chunks is equally well seasoned.
I like to add all the salt required for the recipe to the chicken. Part of the salt from the marinade will eventually mix with the onions, tomatoes, and other spices so you should not worry that it will turn out too salty. In fact, this method is more useful to ensure the inner part has the right level of saltiness, You need to marinate it for at least an hour, although even overnight is harmless.
Chicken Varuval Malaysian style
Chicken Varuval Malaysian style uses a marinate that include meat curry powder. Most of the authentic variant are without this item. This Malaysian curry powder improves the overall flavor with its mix complex of herbs and spices. Apart from this, other ingredients like turmeric powder, salt, ginger, and garlic paste (or minced) are quite similar to the original version.
I have seen some people do not marinate the chicken. The raw chicken chunks are added directly to the herbs and spices in the pan. While this is an easy way to prepare Chicken Varuval, marination will improve the flavor of the chicken.
You can use breast meat or bone-in chunks. Bone-in chicken tastes better as the bone improves the flavor during cooking. It is up to you to decide whether to leave the skin on or not. It is entirely your preference.
Step 2. Prepare the masala powder
The signature flavor of Chicken Varuval is the result of the combination of a set of aromatic spices. The spices I used in this recipes are cinnamon, green cardamom, cloves, fennel seed, coriander seed, cumin seed, black peppercorn and some dry red chili.
These spices are best to toast lightly on a pan over low heat without oil. Toasted spices are not only more aromatic, but it is also dryer and easy to grind into powder.
You can use a mortar and pestle to grind it, but it is quicker with an electric spice grinder.
Freshly ground spices are more aromatic than the ready-make ground spices. If you use them, skip the step of toasting and add them to the sauteed onions and tomatoes directly.
Step 3. Cooking the chicken
Cooking Chicken Varuval is simple.
- Start with sautéing the red dry chili and curry leaves in vegetable oil for half a minute. Then add the finely chopped onions and keep sautéing until the onions turn translucent and the raw smell disappears. It will take a few minutes.
- The next step is to add the chopped tomatoes, the ground masala, and the marinated chicken.
- Keep the heat low and let the chicken simmer, cover with the lid. After about ten minutes, the chicken will start to cook, and the juice will flow freely. The chicken will be braised in its gravy and the chopped tomatoes for another five to ten minutes until it is almost dry, and the masala will start to clings on to the chicken. You can remove the lid at this stage and occasionally make a few stirs as the chicken may stick to the pan.
- Since this is a dry chicken dish, you will expect there is minimum gravy. Some people may want to add more onions and tomatoes to it, hoping to add more flavor to the chicken. This sound logical, but the higher amount may not do any good to the dish as excessive tomatoes and onions will hinder the masala from penetrating and cling on to the chicken.
- Add some chopped coriander leaves when it is nearly done. Now it is ready to serve with rotis, parathas, dosa, idli or biryani rice.
Will deep-fry the chicken improves the flavor?
Some recipes suggest deep-fried or pan-fried the chicken until golden brown before mixing with the tomatoes and cook further.
I have tried both ways, but there is no significant difference in taste. I assume the intense flavor of the herbs and spices adequately mask any aroma created during the frying process. I have abandoned the deep-fried/pan-fried step ever since.
Adjust the hotness of the Chicken Varuval.
The amount of chili in this recipe is based on the level of hotness generally accepted by the local community in Malaysia. It may be the level you want or too spicy.
If you want to reduce the spiciness without sacrificing the flavor of the chilies, remove all the seeds and the pith of the chilies before cooking, So even though you still use the same numbers of chilies, the level of spiciness is much lower.
The Chicken Varuval Recipe
(A) For the Masala powder
- 1 stick cinnamon, , about 5 cm length
- 2 pods green cardamom pods
- 8 cloves
- 3/4 tsp fennel seeds
- 3/4 tsp coriander seed
- 3/4 tsp cumin seeds
- 4 dry red chili
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorn
(B) For the chicken and the marinade
(C) For the remaining ingredients
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 dry red chili
- 1 green chili
- 10 curry leaves
- 2 onion, , about 180g
- 1 tsp garlic, , minced
- 1 tsp ginger, , minced
- 1 tomato, , about 120g
- 1 sprig coriander leaves
- Place all the ingredient in (A) in a frying pan. Roast the spices over low heat until smell fragrant.
- Crush the spices with the mortar and pestle or the electric spices grinder. Set aside.
- Cut the chicken into small chunks, bone-in. Marinate for at least one hour with ingredients in (B).
- Heat up the vegetable oil, saute the dry chili, green chili and half of the curry leaves over low heat until fragrant.
- Add the chopped onion, ginger and garlic and saute until the onion turns translucent.
- Add the chopped tomato, the ground masala (from ingredient A) and chicken. Mix well.
- Cook for another 10 minutes or until the gravy is nearly dry.
- Add the remainder of curry leaves.
- Garnish with coriander leaves. Served.
Serving Size:4 servings
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 1956 Total Fat: 117g Saturated Fat: 34g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 59g Cholesterol: 462mg Sodium: 6379mg Carbohydrates: 82g Fiber: 10g Sugar: 17g Protein: 144g
You may also need the following items for this recipe:
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