I’m very carefully calling this ‘my’ Chicken Jalfrezi. Ten years of blogging has taught me caution when posting a traditional recipe for often people will question its authenticity – question what I’ve put in and what I’ve left out. Of course, it’s interesting to know what is considered ‘authentic’, and I do a lot of research, but there are always variations, as I found when I started looking for a Chicken Jalfrezi recipe in my cookbooks and online. However, I think I can safely say that essential ingredients apart from the chicken, are onions, sweet peppers and a spicy tomato sauce.
Jalfrezi originated in Bengal and ‘jalfrezi’ means ‘hot-fry’ and indeed, there is an element of stir fry to the preparation. Apart from my choice of chicken, it can be made with other meat, fish, paneer or vegetables. It’s often used for leftovers, so you could make it to use up leftover chicken from a roast, perhaps, adding the meat once the sauce has been cooked, just to heat the meat through.
I used to cook curries a lot but in recent years I’ve relied on takeaways from my favourite local Indian restaurant, Tangawizi, when I feel like a curry. Of course the word ‘curry’ is generic. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of late about using it for all kinds of curry dishes without taking into account their individuality and origin. And while we Brits tend to think of curry as Indian, they do come from other places – Thai curries, Sri Lankan, etc. I mean no disrespect when I use the word ‘curry’ – to me, it’s just a general term that describes a certain type of dish – though I do actually distinguish when it comes to choosing a curry in an Indian restaurant and know my preferences. And when I order from Tangawizi, I often order a Chicken Jalfrezi!
So what got me cooking today? I enjoyed the easy turkey curry I made with the Christmas leftovers so much (and there’s still one portion in my freezer), that I thought, I really must start making curries more often again. Then there was the success of the spice mix I’d bought from Seasoned Pioneers for the turkey curry, and when I put in another order to them a week or so ago, I added in a Jalfrezi Spice Blend.
Then I sought a good recipe – and this is where variations seemed on offer at every book or online link I opened. I finally decided to do my own version using both the recipe on the back of my spice blend and a Hairy Bikers one I found. Even here, there were decisions to be made. Fresh tomatoes or tinned? The spice pack used just fresh; the Hairy Bikers both. And that appealed to me, so in went some tomato passata (rather than blend a tin as they do) to ensure plenty of sauce and some fresh tomato too for a fresh taste. Both add fresh coriander and the Bikers some natural yoghurt (also seen in other recipes). I decided to add some chopped fresh coriander right at the end and a little yoghurt to give a slightly creamier sauce. Maybe it’s not authentic, but I thought it seemed a nice idea!
Some recipes made this a really quick stir-fry dish with little cooking; others marinated the chicken in spices for a while before cooking. The Hairy Bikers cook their onion and peppers separately and add to the sauce while my spice pack puts it all in together. In the end, I prepared the ingredients in the way and order that seemed natural to me – no marinating but I made the Jalfrezi early in the day knowing it would benefit for sitting in the pan, doing a kind of marinade, for a few hours before suppertime.
I used chicken mini fillets – chicken breast – but you can use any kind of chicken meat. Chicken thighs are cheaper and popular at the moment, but I wanted some nice tender chicken breast even though I know leg meat can be tastier. I also used coconut oil rather than ghee or sunflower oil. I like using coconut oil for curries and always have some, but apart from that I only have olive oil, which isn’t suitable. But any light oil, like sunflower, will do well.
I’d hoped to find a recipe in my trusty Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery book, which was once my curry bible. I found something similar but not an actual ‘Jalfrezi’. However, I decided to do a spinach dish from the book that I always made to accompany curries: Mughlai saag – Spinach cooked with onions. It’s seasoned with garam masala, which I’d also bought from Seasoned Pioneers. I’d serve basmati rice with the chicken too.
My Chicken Jalfrezi
- 2 tablespoons coconut (or sunflower) oil
- 1 large onion, cut into wedges
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 4cm piece of fresh ginger, grated
- 1 fresh green chilli, deseeded and chopped
- 4 teaspoons Jalfrezi spice mix
- 450g chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 green pepper, roughly sliced
- 500ml passata
- 2 large tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
- salt and pepper
- a handful of fresh coriander, chopped
- 2 tablespoons natural or Greek yoghurt
Mughlai saag – Serves One
- 100g spinach
- 1 tablespoon coconut or light oil
- 1 shallot or ½ small onion finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- ¼ fresh chilli, finely chopped (optional – see below)
- a pinch of sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- a couple of pinches of garam masala
First of all, melt the coconut oil in a large frying pan (that has a lid) and then add the onion, garlic and ginger. Cook for a couple of minutes until the onion is starting to soften. Add the green chilli and cook a minute or so more.
Now add the Jalfrezi spice mix and stir well to mix in and allow to cook for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time. Then add the chicken. Mix well and fry for about 5 minutes to seal the chicken pieces and so they are well covered with spice.
Add the green pepper. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes until it starts to soften. Then add the passata and chopped fresh tomato and season with salt and pepper.
Mix everything well together. Bring to just on a boil – so it starts to bubble a little; not a violent boil – then turn low and simmer for 15 minutes with the lid on. After this, I turned it off and left it until suppertime. You could just carry on and finish the dish, but leaving the chicken to marinade in the sauce for a while will allow the flavours to develop.
Close to the time I wanted to eat, I finished the dish. I also got the basmati rice on to cook – it will keep happily for a while once ready with the lid left on the pan.
Over a medium heat, I reheated the Jalfrezi and simmered for another 10 minutes so the chicken heated right through. Then I turned off the heat and added the yoghurt and fresh coriander. Stir in gently.
While the chicken is reheating, prepare the spinach. It’s not something to be made ahead of time but at the last minute when you’re nearly ready to serve the meal.
To prepare the spinach: Wash the spinach if necessary. I used young spinach leaves but if you use large spinach, strip from the stalks, wash and chop. Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the shallot or onion. Fry until softening (about 3 minutes). Add the ginger, salt and pinch of sugar. Madhur Jaffrey also adds chilli at this point but I didn’t because the Jalfrezi was quite hot when I tasted it and I didn’t want a hot side dish too. Add the spinach, stir and when it start wilting, add the water. Cover with a lid and cook gently for about 5 minutes (Jaffrey’s recipe says 10 minutes, but I’m so used to minimally cooked spinach, I was reluctant to cook too long – even though that’s probably more traditional in Indian cooking!). Remove lid and either boil away or drain off remaining liquid. Sprinkle a couple of pinches of garam masala over the top and stir in. As I was cooking just for myself, I served it straight on to my plate but if you’re cooking for more people, just double or more the quantities and spoon into a warmed serving dish.
Now you’re ready to go – plate up and serve!
It was really good. Quite hot – although Jalfrezi is supposed to be a medium-strength curry. Perhaps I should have put in level teaspoons of the spice mix? Or was it the green chilli? Fortunately I like hot curries so it wasn’t a problem but bear in mind you might want a little less spice mix or to omit the green chilli if you don’t like your curry very hot. The flavour was delicious though, rich and creamy with sweet, tender chicken pieces. I’m not sure how authentic it was, and I think I had more sauce than a more authentic one, but I like lots of sauce, especially in the winter. The important thing is that it was just a really great supper. It occurred to me as I was eating it that I must order a Jalfrezi from Tangawizi again soon and take more notice of exactly how it tastes and looks. Cooking for me is also about experimenting and learning – that’s a lot of the fun!
It was a wonderfully warming and comforting supper on what has been a dull, grey and miserable day in London. And I have another three portions for my freezer to enjoy it again. The spinach was as good as I remembered and makes a great accompaniment.