Lucknow Chicken Korma

Lucknow Chicken Korma

WHAT a surprise the Indian city of Lucknow was.

Even though it is famous for its Awadhi food, sophisticated culture, gastronomic etiquette and Chickan embroidery, it’s not really on the main tourist trail despite its fascinating history and memorable monuments. We spent three days there and loved it. The city was founded by the Nawads who came from Persia at the invitation of the Mogul king Mohammed Shah in 1725.

I only knew one person in Lucknow, a lady called Vijay Khan whom I’d met briefly in Udaipur a couple of years ago and had promised to visit if I ever came to that city. She’d invited us to dinner at her home and a trip to their house in the country the following day. Well, it turns out that she is the wife of the Raja of Mahmudabad no less.

We were collected from our hotel and brought to their residence in Lucknow. After lots of riveting conversation, we went downstairs to what appeared to be a family dining room with book-lined walls, simple furniture, and fascinating black and white photos on the wall. The round table was groaning with some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten anywhere, several mutton (goat) dishes including raan and biryani, an aubergine raita, and an intriguing sweet dish called mutanjan with rice, mutton, yoghurt and spices — apparently this was a favourite of the old Nawads, but few cooks know how to prepare it nowadays. For dessert there was royal toast, light fluffy balai ke tukre topped with silver leaf — all totally memorable.

Our gracious host Sulaiman Khan is a great scholar and a graduate of Imperial College Cambridge with degrees in astrophysics and theology, as well as a native Urdu speaker who bursts into poetry every now and then to illustrate a point. It was a memorable evening in so many ways — the servants, bawarchis (cooks), and rakabdars (mastercooks), stood around in a semi-circle silently watching while we enjoyed the delicious food they had cooked for us.

Lucknow has many spectacular buildings and historical monuments but as ever food was my focus so I arranged to have a cookery class. My teacher Cyrus turned out to be a great fan of Rachel’s so I promised to send a signed copy of her latest book. He taught me how to make a Lucknow chicken korma and the mutton kebabs that Lucknow is so famous for.

The famous Awadi food of Lucknow evolved under the patronage of the Nawads and aristocrats who treated it almost like an art form but when time and history wrought havoc on the fortunes of the noble families, their cooks and chefs continued the gastronomic tradition on the streets and the secret recipes were passed down in families from generation to generation.

Cyrus also took us on a ‘culinary tour’ of the Chowk Bazzar in the heart of the old city. The frenzied atmosphere was similar to Old Delhi. We ate some amazing street food in surroundings that were challenging even for me.

We started with Kebabs at Tunday, a 108-year-old kebab house in the Chowk. Kebabs in Lucknow aren’t remotely like kebabs as we know them, Tunday is famous for little tender spicy mutton patties cooked on an enormous pan to a secret recipe. They are now cooked by the great grandson of the original owner. We tasted more Lucknow delicacies at Museem’s, another ‘hole in the wall’ place famous for pasanda, a spicy barbecued meat dish marinated in yoghurt and spices and cooked over a charcoal grill.

As we wound our way along the lanes, we came to the Parathi wali gali where one shop and stall after the other was serving a mesmerising selection of freshly cooked breads from fluffy Rulchas and bakarkhani to paper-thin romali roti and spongy sheruals kneaded in milk — the skills are simply mind-boggling. Here are some recipes for you to try and enjoy.

Lucknow Chicken Korma

1 kg (2¼ lbs) chicken breast

3 onions, peeled and finely crushed

6 garlic cloves, crushed

¼ tsp white peppercorns

½ tsp black cumin

2 inch (5cm) piece cinnamon

¼ tsp cloves

6 green cardamom, seeded

1 blade mace

¼ tsp nutmeg

2 black cardamom

2-3 dried chillies or ¼ teaspoon dry chilli powder

½ tsp coriander seeds

50 g (2 ozs) cashew nuts, coarsely ground

200 g (7 ozs) natural yoghurt

Salt

Few drops of screw pine essence (Kewra) optional

Cut the chicken breast into 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubes, approximately.

Whizz the onions and garlic with all the spices. Cook in a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes to prevent sticking. Add about 3-4 tablespoons of oil or ghee.

Add the ground cashew nuts and allow to cook until pink in colour, 5-6 minutes.

Add the chicken pieces and sauté. When all the liquid has evaporated, add the yoghurt stirring in a little at a time. Add salt to taste.

Cover and cook on a gentle heat until the chicken is tender — about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add a few drops of Screw Pine Essence if available. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Serve hot with rotis (Indian flat breads) or basmati rice.

Shammi Kebab Mutton Kebabs from Lucknow

These mutton kebabs for which Lucknow is famous are like no kebabs you’ve encountered before. In fact they are much more like little spiced meat patties. In India the word mutton often means goat and very delicious it is too but of course we can use lamb over here if goat is unavailable.

1 kg (2¼ lbs) mutton, boneless

150 g (5 ozs) split bengal (channa dal) lentils

50 g (2 ozs) onions

Salt, to taste

1 tsp cumin seed

3 whole red chillies

Seeds from 5 small green cardamom

Seeds from 3 big black cardamom

2 inch (5 cm) piece cinnamon

6-8 black peppercorns

2 inch (5 cm) piece fresh ginger

5 allspice berries

20 g (¾ oz) garlic

3 bay leaves

1 green chilli

2-3 tbsp onion

2-3 tbsp green coriander

Pass the boneless mutton through a mincer and make a fine paste.

Soak the channa dal (split lentils) in water and keep aside for 1 hour.

Chop the green chillies, green coriander and onion. Keep aside to be added later.

Take a deep saucepan; put the mutton mince and all the ingredients into it. Add a little water (approx. 5 fl ozs) enough to almost cover the ingredients.

Put on a medium heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and meat is cooked through. Cyrus cooked this in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes.

Add a little fat to the mixture and stir so that the moisture evaporates and the mixture firms up. Remove from the saucepan and allow to cool and make a fine puree in a food processor.

Add the chopped chillies, coriander and onions to the meat and mix in well.

Divide the mixture into equal portions.

Make round patties of 2½ inches (6 cm) diameter and shallow fry on heated tawa, griddle or frying pan on both sides till golden brown and serve hot.

We ate these delicious kebabs with sheermal, an Indian flatbread, with freshly chopped coriander and mint. Naan would be good too.

Note: If the mixture is not firm enough to shape into balls or cracks on the outer side when rounded add 1 beaten egg to bind.

Mangoes and Bananas in Lime Syrup

1 ripe mango

1-2 bananas

2 ozs (50g/¼ cup) sugar

4 fl ozs (110ml/½ cup) water

1 lime

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes, allow to cool.

Peel the mango and slice quite thinly down to the stone. Peel the banana into cut rounds. Put the slices into a bowl and cover with cold syrup.

Meanwhile remove the zest from the lime either with a zester or a fine stainless steel grater and add to the syrup with the juice of the lime. Leave to macerate for at least an hour. Serve chilled.

Hot tips

Let’s get kids into the kitchen. There’s a half day cookery course coming up at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Monday, April, 14 from 9.30am-2pm. Your children will be taught how to proudly cook a range of simply delicious food for friends and family. They will learn how to cook some of their favourite dishes from scratch — juicy homemade beef burgers in home-made buns, a seasonal salad, oriental chicken stir fry and rice and a whole host of sweet treats including a swiss roll from scratch (even the raspberry jam), cupcakes and homemade strawberry popsicles. www.cookingisfun.ie

The Irish Seed Savers need your help! They have been saving rare and heritage seeds and preserving our precious biodiversity since 1991. Like so many other organisations their funding has been severely reduced. Send what you can even a letter of support to Lisa Duncan, Manager, Irish Seed Savers Association, Capparoe, Scariff, Co Clare. They are my heroes.

I popped into Hassett’s Bakery in Carrigaline last week. It wasn’t even 10am and the display cabinet was packed with tempting cakes, biscuits and cookies of all kinds — someone must have been up all night baking. I loved my cup of freshly ground coffee and my first hot cross bun of the year. www.hassettsbakery.ie or phone 021-4371534


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