Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mango chicken

I used to eat out a lot, mostly around South Bombay where I live. But in recent years I've become very disappointed with the fare available. The Indian food in this area lacks authenticity as well as imagination -- one can't get a decent dosa in all of South Bombay, Maharashtrian food is scarce here and the few Bengali restaurants are mostly atrocious oil-factories. Gujarati food does make the cut and is typically very good, but I can only wade into ghee (which I adore) so many times a year without totally risking my life. The other kind of food that's usually excellent here is Mangalorean-style seafood (and there's the added benefit that short-haired women, minorities etc are welcome to sample the fare - and even drink a gin and tonic on the side - without being attacked by Hindutva hooligans as they might be back in Mangalore...). One limitation though is that there's very little variation: fried fish, gassi, aapams and neer dosa is pretty much it. And in case your stomach resents being fed a kilo of green chillies in a single evening, as mine does, you can't do this too often either.

As for what is called "fine dining", this usually translates into "imitative Western or far-Eastern fare at high prices and low freshness levels". Recently at "All Stir Fry" near Regal Cinema I was astonished to find that my Kaukswe (a Burmese coconut curry, divine when made properly) was made from canned coconut milk. I can understand chefs in London having recourse to this shortcut, but in a city where coconuts grow on trees, it makes absolutely no sense. I couldn't find any decent Italian restaurants in South Bombay, and the Middle-Eastern-inspired "Moshe's" has caved in to popular demand so they put chillies in everything (totally unlike what would be done in the Middle East). Seafood in any South Bombay restaurant other than Mangalorean is liable to be stale and arguing with the waiter about that just raises one's blood pressure: "no sir it's absolutely fresh, we have a very good freezer...". Moreover, dinner in any of the "fine-dining" places can easily set you back a thousand rupees per head without drinks.

The solution, of course, is to cook at home. That is limited only by time available. However now the issue becomes, what to do when you've been eating the same or similar stuff for days and want a change?

This morning I had an epiphany of sorts and want to share it with my readers. The thing to do is make use of the freshest local ingredients, particularly whatever's in season. And what's in season in Bombay today is, unmistakably, mangoes. Luscious Alphonso (or "aphoos") mangoes, food of the gods. So I woke up today and said "I shall make mango chicken". Now this is not a completely original thought, I think I've once eaten something by that name many years ago. But I had no idea about a recipe, or even what the dish should look like, so I browsed the net and performed some variations on what I read, ignoring those recipes that called for more than a hundred ingredients and three days in the kitchen (why is it that those are the most common?). Luck was on my side and I've just enjoyed an incredibly delicious meal cooked in a jiffy.

So here comes the recipe.

Mango chicken

1 whole chicken, cut into about 12 pieces
Three tablespoons cornflour
Three tablespoons soy sauce, preferably a fragrant and not-extra-salty one like Kikkoman
About two tablespoons of freshly chopped garlic
Half a cube of chicken stock
Two tablespoons of wine (red or white, I used red today) or sherry or good vinegar.
One large and luscious food-of-the-gods Alphonso mango, ripe or nearly ripe

1. In a bowl, combine the cornflour with some salt and pepper (go easy on the salt as there will be salt in the stock and the soy sauce too). Put in all the chicken and shake till the pieces are coated well.
2. In a wide skillet heat a little vegetable oil, fry the chicken till well-browned on both sides. The chicken need not be cooked through but will have shrunk a bit by losing moisture and fat.
3. The melted fat will mix with the cooking oil forming a liquid called "arteriosclerosis". Invest in your future by pouring off all that oil and fat NOW. It will increase your life expectancy -- just think how many more mango chickens you can make by living longer! If you possess a turkey baster (basically a nose dropper expanded by a factor of 10) you can use that to drain off the fat.
4. Reduce heat, add the chopped garlic and stir. Once garlic has softened, add soy sauce and wine along with the chicken stock. Stir again.
5. Add chunks of luscious Alphonso mango. Chew the leftover skins. This divine mango is not to be wasted in ANY quantity!
6. Add half a cup of water to make a thin gravy. Mix well, cover and simmer gently till chicken is done. The mango will dissolve partially into the gravy but some lumps should remain.

If done right, the result should combine the sweetness of mango with the tart flavour of soy sauce and the totally irresistible flavour of fried chicken. Gorgeous. Eat with mushroom rice, here's a simple recipe:

1. Go to Koh Samui in Thailand, rent a motorbike, drive to Tesco Lotus supermarket and buy dried Shiitake mushrooms. Actually I'm sure they can be found in Crawford Market (in Marathi: "Kraaphoot Markit").
2. Warm a few mushrooms in water till they soften. Slice and mix with half-cooked, drained rice. Add the water in which the mushrooms were warmed, as well as a little vegetable stock. Cook till done.

OK, so let me know how it goes.


Costis said...

Fantastic. Will stock up and try out next weekend. Will any non-food-of-the-gods-Alphonso mango do?

Meta Dynamic Systems said...

That blog perhaps is a serious contender to the top position for being most empahatically suitable for the adjective 'absolutely tasteful'! Again you make me feel jealous, Sunil. You just go out and not only just say what most of us want to say but even go extra and do quite a few. And man oh man! You do it in a delightful way. I have been away from Mumbai for long and have been an infrequent visitor. Even if I were other-wise, I think it is near impossible to match, (optimising given equivalent constraints,) your calculated judgement, philosophy and panache on food, food-joints in particular and many other aspects as well. I will be quite happy to be accused of being biased when I say you have very littele competition to be THE food-fundamentalist. This, total devoid of comflict comment is a coutner-example to my normal reaction to most of your blog entries.

I will steal Sunil's chance here: I believe food-for-gods reference does not necessarily restrict only to Alhponso but to Mango and, yes, am sure not to just about any mango. Again stealing Sunil's phrase, if we go pornographic-detail way, try to identify specific attributes of a mango for the said Sunil-perspective-recipe we may end-up with having Alphonoso as the only choice... Down here in Bangalore we get a variety of Mango called Badami whose differentiator with Alphonso, I think & quite a few agree, is difficult to find. We get other varieties called Malgova mango, Mallika, Raspuri (equivalent, perhaps, to payri variety), which I feel are fairly decent substitutes in that order. Malgova is particularly fleshy, juicy and with lower probability of disappointment in terms of being spoit and sour. I am sure there are quite a few fans of Dasheri, Langda et al.. Interestingly, there does exist a variety called Amrapali!

Now to feed my twisted psyche: Though I too might, in usual moods classify Mango as No. 1 being the food-for-gods, I want to say (perhaps just for the heck of it) that it is not without competition. Apple, Lychee, Mangosteen, strawberry and other fairly ordinary examples enough to bring the irritating mention - Jack Fruit/Durian! I run for cover now.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Thanks MDS for all the (I think?) compliments!

In my posting I had wanted to suggest, but forgot, that Mango Chicken can - and should - be attempted with different varieties of mangoes. That will make a variety of different dishes!

I also want to promise here that, come December, I plan to invent (or discover) strawberry mutton chops. Please stay tuned.

Costis said...

Now THAT sounds wrong...

sandeep said...

does Quickgun Murugan like chicken or Dosa??

Meta Dynamic Systems said...

Yes. Compliments all the way with no contradiction except the little mischief.

Great to drive Gods to covers once in a while.

sacredfig said...

This post was such a laugh riot! Totally endorse your views on the indian restaurant scene....

Raju Bathija said...

Wish you had posted a snap of Mango Chicken when it was ready to eat :). . What about mixing pineapple with mutton and chickoo with fish.

Good post, as usual.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Raju: Actually the mango chicken WAS beautiful and I wish I had taken a photo! Pineapple could work, but only if the sweetness is properly balanced -- Indian curries which use it (e.g. a popular version of dum aloo) are usually too sweet.

Sunil Mukhi said...

This comment is by Shamik, who sent it to me as an email:

I read all your blog postings with interest. Today I read your recent blog on Mango Chicken. You have touched a very weak string of mine. In all the six years that I was at TIFR, besides music concerts, the only other thing I enjoyed was to try out food at various places in and around South Mumbai, and would even travel to Vashi to check out any new eating places. Of course I do not have the vast experiences as you have. I quite share the complaints that you have about the unavailability of good quality food of various genres in South Mumbai. Still, may I share some of my experiences with you? I am sure you have been to all or most of the eating places I will be talking about.

Bengali food: Although a bit expensive, Oh Calcutta at Bombay Central does not add too much oil to any of its preparations, at least the ones I had, definitely not more than what a particularly preparation deserves to have.

Mangalorean/Konkani food: I don't know whether you include this area in South Mumbai, but the small inconspicuous Anantha Ashram near Charni Road Station does serve very good fish preparations and fresh too.

Middle-East food: Did you try out the newly opened Falafel opposite Regal? It's quite good.....they serve good pita and falafel balls and humus......of course you don't expect the taste you get in Israel, say. And you get decent Shawarma at this place "Modern Juice Centre" opposite Mezbaan compares well with the best shawarma I had here in Jerusalem.

I saw that you did not mention about the Japanese and south-east asian food in South Mumbai. I thought Busaba serves quite good South-East Asian cuisines, especially the thai red curry made with crab meet is just delicious. I do not know the real taste since i have never been to Thailand, but found the one served at Busaba quite good. And the various types of Sushi and Sashimi that you get at Josh, albeit expensive, are good too.....don't you think so? There is another outrageously expensive Japanese eating place behind the Radio Club called serves good sushi and sake.

In All Stir Fry you can even make your own soup by collecting the ingredients and asking the chef to make it your way. At Rs. 300 or so, you can, in principle, repeat this step any number of times.

I plan to make Mango chicken this weekend. I think one gets mangoes here, though may not be of the alphonso-variety. BTW, himsagar mango is also quite good.

B. SUNDER said...

How about inviting people who comment on your blog for a Sunday brunch of Mango-Chicken? I will not say not, and will definitely attend a tete-a-tete with Physicists with food for thought and food for taste! =)

Prathamesh said...

Try Poornima near Stock Exchange for excellent dosa's in south bombay.That was the only respite for a chennai-ite during my years in xavier's