Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Goan Chicken and Potato Rechad

Portugal and India collide in culinary beneficiary in this dish. Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India in the quest for coveted spices at the turn of the 16th century. The Portuguese introduced chiles, discovered in the Americas by Columbus who thought they were related to black pepper. From the Iberian peninsula chiles quickly spread along the spice trade routes around the world. Goan rechad--short for recheado (meaning stuffed in Portuguese)--is a bright red spice mixture (maslala) based on dried red chiles and spices ground with vinegar and garlic. It is similar to vindaloo, but used to stuff seafood. In Portugal squid tubes are stuffed with a mixture of rice and spicy chourico sausage and cooked in tomato sauce. In Goa a similar sausage called lingiss in Konkani is seasoned with fiery rechad. The spice paste is also used to stuff whole mackerel and pomfret and used as a base for cooking shrimp, mussels or clams. Chicken rechad is the invention of my friend Ayesha D’Mello who is Goan but grew up in Gujarat where her father is a doctor in the port city of Surat. When she moved to Canada to attend university she started cooking but couldn’t find the fish from home and tried sautéing boneless pieces of chicken in the rechad paste. Rechad is not hard to make but requires two grinding steps. Freshly roasted whole spices are ground in an electric spice grinder then blitzed in a blender with vinegar soaked chiles and garlic. The ensuing brick red paste is cooked with the chicken until it reduces down and glazes the morsels of meat. Ayesha serves her chicken rechad with home made French fries but I’ve adapted the recipe to add boiled potatoes and cook them with the chicken—they become melting soft, offering mellow pillows of starch between bites of spiced chicken. You can use breast but it tends to dry out so cut it into larger pieces. I find thigh meat more flavorful, and it stands up better to the muscular spice mixture. 


For the Red Hot Sauce (Rechad Masala)

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
8 small dried red chiles (such as japonés or chile de arbol), snipped and seeded
One 1-inch cinnamon stick, broken into a few pieces
1 generous tablespoon coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
8 whole black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 generous teaspoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt crystals
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
5 large or 10 small garlic cloves, smashed, skins removed and coarsely chopped

The Chicken and Potatoes

3 to 3 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 8-10 pieces), depending on size
1 pound red-skinned potatoes (about 3 medium ones)
1 tablespoon olive oil

MAKING THE RED SPICE PASTE (RECHAD MASALA). Pour the vinegar into the jar of a blender; add the chiles and leave to soak half an hour. Meanwhile heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Drop in the cinnamon, coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds, peppercorns and cloves. Roast, shaking the pan several times until the spices darken a shade and smell fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small electric coffee/spice grinder and add the sugar, salt, turmeric and paprika. Blitz, pulsing on and off several times and stopping at least once to scrape down the sides with a small spoon, until fairly finely powdered, about 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape out into a small dish. Once the chiles have soaked long enough, add the ground spice mixture to the blender with the garlic and blend into a smooth paste, stopping once to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, about 2 minutes.  Scrape out into a cup. There should be about 1/2 a cup of fairly thick brick red colored paste.

PREPARING THE CHICKEN. Blot the chicken pieces with paper towels. Prick several times on the thick meaty side of each piece with a fork to allow the marinade to penetrate. Cut into 2-inch pieces. Place the chicken pieces in a large non-reactive mixing bowl and add the spice paste (rechad masala), and using a rubber spatula mix well, turning the pieces so the chicken is coated on all sides in the paste. Leave to marinate about an hour at room temperature.

BOILING THE POTATOES. Peel the potatoes and cut into quarters lengthwise. Place the potato wedges in a 2-quart saucepan. Cover with water and add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until tender enough to easily pierce with the tip of a sharp knife but still al dente, about 9 to 10 minutes. Pour into a colander and rinse under cold water and leave to drain.

COOKING THE CHICKEN AND POTATOES. Heat the oil in a large wide skillet (not nonstick) over high heat. Add the chicken with the spice paste and cook, stirring fairly frequently with a slotted spoon until the flesh changes from glossy pink to milky-white, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the potatoes, and continue cooking, stirring frequently as the reddish sauce bubbles and begins to thicken, about 3 to 4 more minutes until the oil rises to the surface in small pools. Keep stirring and cook another 3 to 4 minutes until the chicken and potatoes are glazed in the thick sauce and all the liquid has dried up. Transfer to a serving dish and serve garnished with a few sprigs of coriander (cilantro), if you wish. Makes 4-6 servings

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