Citizens, Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is an island nation off the southern tip of India, rich in gold, precious gems, ancient history and a unique cuisine refined over the centuries.
This chicken curry first described by Peter Kuruvita isn’t your average beast, thanks to the unique addition of a small piece of sandalwood. “The recipe was found on an old palm leaf and transcribed into a book called Food of the Ancient Kings,” says Peter.
This dish was invented for Kasyapa, the King of Sigiriya rock fortress in Sri Lanka, writes Kuruvita. “According to legend, Kasyapa was very demanding and his chefs had to invent new curries daily.”
The secret to this recipe is the sandalwood. In Sri Lanka it’s possible to buy fresh sandalwood, which leaches its oil when boiled in a curry. A few drops of pure sandalwood oil, available from some health-food shops, will give the same heady flavor. If using the oil, add it with the water.
I use my own version of a Sri Lankan curry powder, which unlike the various Indian versions, browns each ingredient for a strong roasted flavor.
Citizens, do not be intimidated by this recipe, you can make it without the Sandalwood if you so choose. Show the world that the members of TFD nation do not know the meaning of culinary fear!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 large chicken (or fowl), about 1.6 kg / 3 ¼ pounds, cut into 5 pieces
1 small brown onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic
2 pieces pandan leaf, roughly torn into pieces
2 red chilis, chopped
4 green chilis, chopped
1 sprig of curry leaves
1 pinch of ground mustard
10 black peppercorns
1 knob fresh turmeric
½ tsp mustard seeds
90 ml vegetable oil
1 small piece of sandalwood (see note)
2 tbsp white vinegar
4 cardamom pods, crushed
½ tsp of The Hirshon Sri Lankan dark roasted curry powder, made from:
1 tablespoon uncooked rice
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds
1 ½ tablespoons fennel seeds
2-inch (5-cm) Ceylon cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
5 cardamom pods, shelled
4 pieces of 2-inch (5-cm) pandan leaves
2 sprigs curry leaves
500 ml (2 cups) coconut cream
dried red chillis, to serve
pandan leaf, extra, to serve
Make the Hirshon Sri Lankan curry powder:
Toast each ingredient separately in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and browned.
Remove from heat, cool, and grind together in a coffee grinder.
Store extra in a glass jar in the fridge.
Place the chicken, onion, garlic, pandan, chilis and curry leaves in a large pot. Toss to combine. Add the ground mustard and pepper, and season with salt. Massage the mixture into the chicken. Set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the turmeric paste. In a mortar and pestle, crush the turmeric with the mustard seeds to form a paste. Set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade, reserving the spices. Once the oil is hot, place the chicken in the pan skin-side down and cook for 5-6 minutes or until the skin is crisp. Turn the chicken and cook the other side for 2-3 minutes or until browned.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a separate pan. Add the reserved spice marinade and sandalwood and fry for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Add the cloves and cardamom pods and continue to fry for another 2-3 minutes, then add the turmeric paste, black pepper, salt and the curry powder and vinegar. Combine well, then add the chicken.
Cover the chicken with water (about 2 cups) and simmer over low heat for 45-60 minutes. (Check the pot regularly to ensure the water level doesn’t drop too much.)
When the chicken is tender, add the coconut cream and bring to the boil. When boiling, immediately remove from heat.
To serve, arrange the chicken on a serving plate. Garnish with the dried red chillis and the pandan leaf.
• Pure sandalwood oil is available from health food stores and if using, it should be added to the dish with the water.