There is an old Indian saying that a good cook uses his spices similar to how a painter uses his colour palette. A little more of this and a little less of that do make a huge difference. The importance to know the correct blend of spices in a particular curry requires research, guidance and experience. Also, in Indian cooking, there is a special emphasis to the process called bhunno or bhoona. This is the process in which spices are added to the hot oil and cooked with the main ingredients until the raw taste and smell of the spices is gone and essential oils are released from each of the spices. This part of cooking requires careful control over the flame, as the amount of heat from time to time also determines the taste of the final dish.
Now let’s understand what the word dum means. Dum is a slow-cooking method practiced in India since time immemorial, but gained importance during the Mughal period, when dum aloo (potatoes simmered in gravy) and dum pukht (chicken simmered in gravy) dishes came into being. These dishes required patience and tasted amazingly delicious and succulent, owing to this cooking method. Actually, any dum curry tastes its best if cooked in a special vessel called hundi or handi, which is almost a ball-shaped utensil with and opening at the top. Appropriate amount of water is added along with other par-cooked or bhoonaingredients. The lid of the hundi is tightly sealed with wheat flour dough and cooked on charcoal fire. This is the traditional method.
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Back in my Mumbai home, I do have a beautiful hundi, but due to storage constraints in small kitchens in Hong Kong, I did not bring it here. So I decided to go on with a modern non-stick skillet with a proper-fitting lid. My dum pukht came out perfectly succulent and the taste of the spices reached the innermost layers of the chicken delicately. Do give this a try and you will fall in love with this scrumptious culinary obsession!
Murgh Dum Pukht (Simmered Indian Chicken Curry)
[Dum means to breathe and pukht means to cook. Please use chicken with bones for this recipe, since the juices from the bone marrow intensify the flavour of this dish.]
- Chicken (with bones, cut into medium-sized pieces): 1 kg
- Medium-sized purple onions (sliced): 3
- Hung curd (thick, unsweetened yogurt): 1 cup
- Ginger paste: 2 tbsp
- Garlic paste: 3 tbsp
- Red chilli powder: 1.5 tsp
- Almonds: 10
- Cashew nuts: 5
- Dried bay leaves: 2
- Green cardamon pods: 3
- Cloves: 5
- Black cardamom (big) pod: 1
- Whole peppercorns: 12
- Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
- Black pepper powder: ½ tsp
- Mace (optional): 2 blades
- Coriander leaves (paste): ¼ cup
- Red or green fresh chillies: 4
- Salt to taste: 1.5 tsp (plus extra 1 tsp for the gravy)
- Oil: 7 tbsp
- Ghee (Indian clarified butter): 1 tsp
- Water: 2 cups
Marinate the chicken overnight with yogurt, 1.5 tsp salt, ginger-garlic paste and red chilli powder. Heat 3 tbsp oil till it starts to smoke. Reduce the heat to medium and fry onions (cut lengthwise and thin) till these become golden brown. Remove the fried onions from oil, cool at room temperature and make a fine paste.
Soak the nuts in a little water (just enough to immerse them) overnight as well. Next morning, make a fine paste.
Heat the rest of the oil to its smoking point at then reduce the flame to medium once again. Add the dried bay leaves, green cardamon pods, cloves, black cardamom and whole peppercorns to this. After the bay leaves turn a little darker (not black, but dark brown), add the marinated chicken along with the marinade. Increase the flame to high and toss the chicken pieces continuously, so that the chicken becomes well-coated with the spices and the marinade becomes almost dry. This takes around 15 min.
Reduce the flame to medium now. Add the fried onion paste, mace (optional), turmeric powder, black pepper powder and the nut paste to the skillet and toss well for 15 min.
Add the coriander leaf paste and the red or green fresh chillies (whole) to this. Cook till the chicken is almost dry and oil starts leaving from the the spices and the chicken. Now is the time to add the ghee.
Add water and stir well. Check the salt and add more, if needed. Simmer the gas and put a well-fitting lid on the skillet. For best results, seal the edges with wheat flour dough to ensure that the steam can’t escape from the skillet. Let this cook on a low flame for 30 more minutes. This slow-cooking called dum is a great way to cook some of the popular Indian dishes such as this one!