Take-away or Homemade… Chicken Jalfrezi

I’m not a fan of take-away food. Greasy pizzas, oily curries, and fried chicken of dubious origin never leap out to me as appealing dinner options. If it’s late, and I’m hungry, there are many other routes I would prefer to go down before resorting to the phonebook or nipping down to the chippy.

As a student, I’m quite the deviation in holding this opinion. My flatmates in first-year would regularly order food, typically Dominoes pizza (making use of their attractive discount) or Chinese (complimentary prawn crackers became a permanent fixture on our table), whilst the only time I ever did so was after helping out a lost delivery man, and feeling it would be rude to turn down his offer of a free meal.

I hope I don’t come across as snobby, or thinking myself as in any way superior to my peers because they make different choices to me. I do understand the allure of take-out food: it’s quick, it’s filling, and it satisfies. There is minimal effort involved, and you become an excited child again as the moment of arrival looms closer. Although I don’t find that take-out tastes particularly good, others enjoy it, and everybody has their own tastes.

And believe me, as a normal human being, I am just as susceptible as everybody else to the ease of fast-food. I am partial to fish and chips when at home, and there is simply insufficient resources or time to put together a meal for five hungry people at the end of a long day. For example, after a long country walk, we were exhausted, and starving: so the chippy received a big order. Fish and chips are an easy and not too unhealthy a solution, in comparison to other varieties of takeaways.

However, I don’t think that anyone can deny the superior taste of home-cooked cuisine over that of take-out. Tasting real Indian food at my friend’s house opened my eyes to what I’d been missing out on. Since then, I’ve found that making my own curry not only provides a more flavourful meal, but it’s healthier, and a much more rewarding process.

I put this theory to the test recently, on my dad’s birthday. My mum, being of the ‘take-away is a treat’ mentality, proposed that we order from our local Indian; my dad, not of this mindset, wasn’t much taken with the idea. I offered to make him a curry instead, and he chose chicken jalfrezi. So I turned to a BBC Food recipe I’ve made several times, with some alterations.

You’ll need (to serve five, with a little bit of leftovers):

  • olive or vegetable oil
  • one onion
  • three garlic cloves (as usual, I upped the recipe’s quantity)
  • a green chilli
  • 3 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • salt
  • 750g chicken breasts
  • one and a half tins of chopped tomatoes (the recipe asked for one tin, but I wanted a bit more sauce)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • one lemon
  • basmati rice (if I’d had it, I would have used brown rice – it’s better for you and I prefer the texture!)
  • 2 naan breads
  • half a bunch of fresh coriander

Start by chopping finely the onion, garlic, and chilli. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large lidded frying pan, and fry these for four to five minutes. (The recipe wanted 75g of oil – 75g!! Two tbsps weighs 10g. I didn’t want quite so much an oil bath.)

Mix the turmeric and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Chop the chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks, then coat them with the mixture.

Add the chicken to the pan and cook for around fifteen minutes .

Pour in the chopped tomatoes with the ground coriander, cumin, and ginger. Give it a good stir, then put the lid on the pan and cook gently for around twenty-five minutes.

Cook the rice in the meantime. I used to find cooking rice inexplicably tricky, until I flicked through Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course and discovered a fail-safe method: weigh out 5 fluid ounces (150g) of rice for two people. You need double this amount of water – so 10 fl oz for two people. Add this boiling water to the pan, bring it the boil, then put the lid on and bring it down to the gentlest simmer. For fifteen minutes, DON’T TOUCH THE LID. Leave it: don’t be tempted!

(To serve five people, I used the quantities for six – so 15 fl oz of rice to 30 fl oz of water. Simple!)

Cook the naan breads as according to the packet instructions. Pick the coriander leaves from the stems and put them in a bowl. Before serving, stir in the butter to the jalfrezi along with the juice of the lemon. You might want to check if it’s hot enough, too; I added some chilli flakes to give it a bit more spice.

Dish it up with the rice and naan breads, and garnish with coriander. Eat whilst basking in the pride of having produced something better than what the phonebook would have procured.

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