There are some things I wish my mama had taught me how to cook – Murgh Chholay is one of them. Well, why didn’t she you may ask? As far as I know my mama has never made murgh chholay. You see, we are from Karachi, a boisterous city by the sea, whose 15 million inhabitants hail from all over Pakistan and pre partition India. Murgh Chholay is a very Lahori dish and one that I had only had in restaurants until I moved to Canada and concluded that if I wanted good murgh chholay on a regular basis then I better figure out how to make them. Folks, I think I have it now. Thanks to the combination of a little googling and a few past attempts I seem to have figured out how to get the subtle back of the mouth heat of this dish without losing the flavour of the ingredients. Phew. All that mediocrity was getting to be exhausting!
Turns out the problem I was having was that I was using similar ratios of spices for the murgh chholay that I would with a regular chicken curry and what that meant was that it would always end up tasting a little – well boring, for lack of better word. You see the chickpeas really soak up flavour and so you need to create a strong spice base otherwise there just is not enough to go around. So don’t be shy about the chilli powder and the green chillies at the end. Just remember when we cook the green chillies a lot of the aggressive heat of the chillies cooks out anyway.
1 pound boneless chicken or 2 pounds chicken bone in
1 can chickpeas drained and rinsed through
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoon garlic paste
1 ½ teaspoon ginger paste
1 ½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 ½ to 2 teaspoons red chilli powder
½ teaspoon garam masala powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup cilantro
3 green chillies finely sliced
Dice your onions and tomatoes in a small to medium dice and set aside.
Take a stockpot sized pot and put it on medium high heat, wait a few minutes, and then add the oil. When the oil is nice and hot then add in the onions and the cumin seeds and let it cook until the onions start to turn golden brown at the edges. Add the garlic and ginger pastes and stir for another minute or two, then add the salt, chilli powder, turmeric powder, and coriander powder and let it cook until it becomes a cohesive paste, be careful not to burn it. If it starts to stick then add a tablespoon of water.
Now it is time to put in the chopped tomatoes, we just want these to get nice and mushy (like above), if you caramelize them then the tomato taste will become stronger than it ought to be in this dish. Add the chicken and stir fry on high heat till the chicken turns white on the outside.
Add about a cup of hot water, the chickpeas, and a pinch of baking soda, bring it to a boil, and then let it cook covered on low heat for another 20 minutes. The baking soda helps flavour permeate into the chickpeas.
Now uncover your pot, check the chicken for doneness, it should be nice and tender by now. Add water to adjust the consistency of the gravy – if you plan to serve it over rice then you want it a little thinner, with naan/roti then you want it a little on the thicker side. Now it is time to add in the garam masala, the black pepper, the green chillies and the cilantro. Let it cook for a few minutes then taste and check for seasoning, you may need to add more salt. Feel free to garnish with additional cilantro and green chillies.