Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cochin Sabbath Chicken and Rice Pulao with Spiced Salt

Today we are making chicken and rice pulao slow simmered together in a pot and I've added the
wonderful Halen Mon sea salt from Wales mixed with ground spices: peppercorns, coriander seeds,
cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, paprika, cayenne, turmeric and cloves. It is like having a salt shaker
filled with a spice cabinet.  These beautiful sea salt crystals are mainly used as a finishing salt
sprinkled over finished dishes but I experimented and used it in the recipe along with other spices. Of

course I'll sprinkle some over the chicken and rice when its done. See picture above.

Not many people know the legacy of the Indian Jews who have long been one of the diverse threads woven into the tapestry of India. One-pot chicken and rice is a type of pulao served for the afternoon Sabbath meal in the Cochin (Kochi) Jewish community of Kerala in South India. It is called hamin (the Arabic word for “hot”) and is the Indian equivalent of cassoulet cooked over very slow heat. The pot of rice and chicken seasoned with lots of turmeric and cloves, cardamom and cinnamon is placed in the oven or on the stove top at very low temperature just before Shabbat begins at sundown and is served lunch the next day after prayers. The idea is to avoid violating the Shabbat laws that prohibit lighting flames, a form of work (no work is allowed on the Sabbath). 

A large group of Jews is believed to have sought refuge in Kerala around 500 B.C. after the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple. Many Jews were involved in the spice trade and familiar with the Malabar Coast and the tolerant Hindu kings. Jews possibly had sailed to Kerala much earlier, sent by King Solomon to study how Hindu temples were built and to buy timber, sandalwood, ivory and other materials for the construction of his temple. Some no doubt stayed and married local women. The Cochin Jews became well integrated into Kerala society while retaining their distinctive identity and religion. They became Indian as much as they remained Jewish. Their food is a culinary mosaic. This pulao recipe is based on one from Queenie Hallegua who taught it to Nathan Katz and his wife Ellen Goldberg when they lived with a family for a year  in Cochin recording the culture of a dwindling community (since 1948 most have emigrated to Israel). No beef or lamb can be eaten as the last ritual slaughterer left 30 years ago. Chicken and fish are staples. Most Sabbath meals start with fish balls in curry gravy or fried fish smeared in spices and koobe ( rice flour dumplings) followed by hamin.  This version is an Indian-spiced memory of the Sephardic original, with tender chicken melting from the bones and moist rice infused with the rich patina of browned onions and garlic and the sweet hotness of the spices with a gentle tomato tang. Some cooks add a few eggs in the shell that hard cook nestled among the rice and chicken. For special occasions dried fruit and nuts are usually sprinkled over the finished dish.
One 4  pound chicken cut into pieces, skin removed
2 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons olive oil
One 2 inch cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised with a pestle or other heavy object (such as a tin can)
4 whole cloves
5 medium yellow onions (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
6 large or 12 small garlic cloves, smashed, skins removed and minced
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
 1 generous tablespoon peeled and grated gingerroot
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt crystals, preferably spiced Halen Mon
1 teaspoon cayenne powder or to taste

PREPARING THE CHICKEN. Cut the breasts into 3 pieces, using a large sharp knife. Hack the thighs in half, through the joint. Cut the wings into 3 pieces at the joints. Place in a bowl and set aside.

PREPARING THE RICE.  Place the rice in a medium size bowl and rinse under running cold water, swishing gently with your fingers to loosen the starch until the water runs clear (keep pouring off the water). Cover with fresh water and soak 30 minutes (the rice can soak while the onions brown). Pour into a mesh sieve and leave to drain until ready to cook the rice.

FRYING THE BROWN ONION AND GARLIC PASTE. Heat the oil in a large wide skillet (not nonstick) over medium-high heat. Add the cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom and fry until the cardamom swells, about 2 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring fairly frequently with a slotted spoon as the mixture changes from soft and translucent to pale yellow and then light caramel, about 20 minutes. Watch carefully and stir almost constantly for another 5 minutes as the bottom layer starts to darken—scrape up and keep churning the limp mass of onions as they deepen to a rich caramel brown color.  Add the crushed tomatoes, ginger, turmeric, salt and cayenne, and cook, stirring frequently and scraping up from the bottom of the pan until starting to thicken, about 3 minutes.

ADDING THE CHICKEN. Add the chicken pieces to the pan, stirring well to coat in the sauce. Cook, stirring from time to time and turning each piece at least once until the flesh changes from glossy pink to milky white tinted golden, about 6 to 7 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt and turn off the heat.

COOKING THE CHICKEN AND RICE. Oil the inside of a large heavy pot, such as a 5-quart saucepan or Dutch oven and add the chicken with all the sauce. Add the rice and 2 1/4 cups of water. Give the mixture a quick stir using a slotted spoon to distribute the rice evenly over the chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil a few minutes and reduce the heat to very low. Place a piece of foil over the pan, press the lid on and crumple the overhanging foil around the rim to create a seal (if you have a heat diffuser place it over the burner with the pot on top of it). Simmer about 1 1/2 hours. The rice will be moist and soft and the chicken falling off the bones.  Alternatively, preheat the oven to 300 degrees and bake in a tightly covered, foil-sealed pot about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the chicken and rice to a serving dish and serve garnished with cilantro and/or sea salt crystals. Makes 4-6 servings.

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