I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I only learned how to butcher a whole chicken and divide it into eight pieces very recently. Obviously, the guys at the shop could chop it up for you, but there’s this strange joy in doing certain things by yourself, and if you butcher a whole chicken, you actually get to divide the pieces and mix and match to your own advantage, not to mention the backbone is a great cut to drop into a stockpot and get tons of flavour out of it for a broth.
Below, I have included some of my favourite chicken recipes growing up from back in the day when adding ketchup to food wasn’t frowned upon. The first is the Malaysian curry we grew up eating in my home. Mum’s cousins are Malaysian, and they taught her how to make this when she was very young. Spicy, sour and rich with coconut milk, this curry uses a special Malaysian meat masala, a copycat recipe for which can be found here. If you’re in a hurry, you can use Madras Curry Powder too.
The second recipe is for Pressure Cooker Red Chicken, an American-Asian recipe that I’ve relished my whole life. A marinade of equal parts tomato ketchup and white vinegar, ginger, garlic and MSG makes the quickest sauce that thickens to form a sticky red coat around the chicken as it finishes cooking. I serve these on green leaves with any excess sauce dolloped over, because you’re probably going to feel a tinge of guilt from eating something so sinful. The leaves are for that.
In the same ketchup-y vein, Puja, my work-wife at the food website I used to work at would make this incredible chicken cacciatore for us, which entails making a sauce of onions, peppers, herbs, tomatoes and cooking the chicken, rabbit, or any game in it. To amp up the flavour a few notches, I add bacon, mushrooms and of course, tomato ketchup to the mix. The resulting ruby-red gravy tastes brilliant with crusty bread, spaghetti, or even good ol’ basmati rice.
The last recipe is really just me trying to round things up nicely. It’s for a Malabar Spinach and Butterbean Brodo. Brodo is the Italian word for broth and I make it using a flavourful pressure cooker chicken stock with as many cheese rinds as I can find at home (mostly parmesan), further reduced with white wine. The beans take little time to cook in the broth if they’re well soaked, and the Malabar spinach is added right at the end. A few minutes of cooking later, a light soup lands before you, but it tastes incredibly umami-almost like an Italian ramen. Any leftover Brodo can be used to make the most incredible risotto ever.
Malaysian Chicken Curry Recipe:
Chicken Malaysian Curry
Mum learned how to make this cracker of a curry from our Malaysian cousins. It has since been a favourite of ours to mop up with either rice or a flaky parotta.
Chicken thighs 6, skinless
Onion 1, medium-sized chopped finely
Ginger 1 tsp, grated
Garlic 1 tsp, grated
Curry leaves 6-8
Tomatoes 2 medium-sized, grated
Mustard seeds 3/4 tsp
White Urad Dal 1/4 tsp
Cumin seeds 1/4 tsp
Fennel seeds 1/4 tsp
Green Chillies 2-3 sliced
Kashmiri red chillies 2
Garlic cloves 5-6
Imli a marble-sized bit, soaked in water
Coconut milk 125ml
Curry powder 3 tbsp (We use Baba’s Meat Curry Powder from Malaysia. A copy cat recipe can be found here. If in a hurry, just use Madras Curry Powder)
Vegetable oil 3 tbsp
Red chilli powder 1/2 tsp (optional)
Soak the tamarind in hot water, and keep aside.
In a kadai, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat and when hot, add the urad dal, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, dry red chillies. Once the seeds are spluttering, add the grated onions.
Stir for two to three minutes till they are just about to change colour. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for a minute more. Add the chicken thighs and stir fry them well till they lose their pink colour and can move freely around the pan as you fry them.
Make a paste of the curry powder and some water. Add this paste to the chicken and reduce the flame slightly, frying it for a minute. Add a splash of water to the pan if you feel anything might stick. When you can smell the masalas, add the grated tomatoes, some salt and continue cooking. Add some water if you feel it may be necessary, and throw in the curry leaves and the slit green chillies.
Cook on high flame for another 5 minutes for the tomatoes to cook. Taste the paste at this stage. If you’d like the masala more spicy, add 1/2 tsp of red chilli powder more and work the mixture. Add 1 1/2 cup of water, let it come to a boil, reduce the heat and continue cooking on low. Once the chicken is done, add the coconut milk and the tamarind pulp from the soaked tamarind on low flame, stirring constantly. Cook on low for two more minutes. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary. Serve with rice or roti parathas.
Pressure Cooker Red Chicken Recipe:
Pressure Cooker Red Chicken
Instead of serving this totally retro chicken over salad leaves, consider serving it alongside stir-fried vegetables. The smoky stir-fry and this sweet and sour sauce will go together quite well.
Chicken drumsticks 6-8 pieces, cleaned and salted
Tomato ketchup 3/4 cup
White Vinegar 1 cup
Ginger 1-inch piece
Garlic 6-7 cloves
Red chillies 2-3
Vegetable oil 2 tbsp
Grind together the red chillies, garlic, ginger and half of the white vinegar in the jar of a mixer grinder. Apply this paste to the salted chicken legs and transfer to the pressure cooker with the vegetable oil.
Cook the chicken for 2 whistles and let the pressure release by itself. When the cooker is open, add the tomato ketchup, splash in the reserved vinegar bit by bit, tasting as you go, and cook on medium-high heat till the chicken is done and the tomato ketchup has reduced to a sauce of coating consistency. Serve on a bed of greens or with stir-fried vegetables.
Chicken Cacciatore Recipe:
Yield 3-4 servings
I make this in a cast iron pan because a lot of the recipe depends on a good even browning of the chicken skin. We use this as a base to then build layers of flavour on top of it. Use a mix of cuts like I have, or just opt for all skin-on thigh pieces.
Chicken Thighs 2, skin-on
Chicken Leg 1, skin-on
Chicken Wing 1
Flour 1/2 cup, seasoned with salt and pepper
Bacon 4-5 slices, chopped up into small pieces
Red pepper 1/2, cut lengthwise into strips
Green pepper 1/2, cut lengthwise into strips
Yellow pepper 1/2, cut lengthwise into strips
Button Mushrooms 100g, chopped
Onion 2, medium-sized, thinly sliced
Garlic 4-5 cloves, chopped
Tomatoes 3, medium-sized, grated
Tomato puree 1/2 tetra pack
Tomato ketchup 100ml, or more
Mixed herbs seasoning 1 1/2 tsp or 1/2 tsp oregano and 1/2 tsp basil
Red chilli powder 1/2 tsp
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil leaves to finish
Vegetable oil 1/4 cup
Clean and pat dry the chicken pieces.
Add the seasoned flour to a plate and dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, dusting off any excess flour.
In a cast iron pan set over high heat, add the vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, drop the dredged chicken pieces and leave them undisturbed in the pan to develop a nice golden brown crust on one side. Flip and let the brown crust develop on the other side too. Once the chicken has nicely browned on all sides, set the pieces aside.
In the same pan, add the chopped up bacon pieces and stir-fry till it starts to render its fat. We don’t want to crisp it up completely though. Add the onions next and saute for a whole minute. Add a pinch of salt followed by the garlic and saute for a minute more. Add the peppers and saute until soft, followed by the mushrooms.
Once the mushroom’s water has dried up from the cooking, add in the mixed herbs seasoning and stir everything again. The pan should start to feel a bit dry. That’s when you add the grated tomatoes in with another pinch of salt and the red chilli powder. Cook this for two minutes over high heat, before adding the puree, the ketchup and the chicken. Spoon some of the liquid over the chicken. Bring this mixture up to a boil, then turn the heat down.
Put a lid on the pan and cook the chicken pieces for 30-35 minutes or until the chicken has cooked through completely. Fish the chicken pieces from the pan and reduce the pan-sauce if you like, check for salt and adjust. Throw in some fresh basil leaves and serve with crusty bread, brown rice or spaghetti.
Malabar Spinach and Butterbean Brodo Recipe:
Malabar Spinach and Butterbean Brodo
Yield 3-4 servings
This nourishing broth is made from the bones of a whole chicken and any leftover parmesan rinds that have been in your deep freeze for far too long. Cooking them in the stock this way will coax every last bit of umami flavour out from them and lend richness to the final brodo, finished with malabar spinach and butterbeans (vaal).
Backbone of 1 chicken/Any leftover chicken bones from a whole chicken
Onion 1 large, quartered
Garlic 1 whole head
Celery stems 1-2, chopped roughly
Carrot 1, chopped into fat coins
Salt and pepper
Parmesan rinds (plus the rinds of any cheese you may have lying around)
White wine 1/2 cup
Well-soaked Butter beans 1 1/2 cup
Malabar Spinach a small bunch 80-90g
Bread to serve
In a medium to large-sized pressure cooker, combine the chicken bones, the parmesan rinds, onion, garlic, bay leaf, celery stems, carrot, salt and pepper. Top up the cooker with enough water to cover-about 6-7 cups of water. Put the lid on the pressure cooker and cook for 5-6 whistles. After the 6th whistle, turn the heat down to low and let the stock cook for 30 minutes. Turn the heat off after that and let the pressure release by itself.
Once the cooker is open, strain the stock. In a large saucepan, add the stock, 1/2 cup of white wine and the beans and bring it up to a boil. Cook this broth, reducing it until the beans have cooked through and the stock has reduced by half at least. Add the Malabar spinach leaves, turn the heat down to low and cook for 6-7 minutes more before tasting for salt. Adjust the seasoning and serve, ladle into bowls with bread on the side.