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Ginger Chicken with Peanuts and Coconut

Updated February 23, 2016
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This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

This is a version of a recipe from a dear family friend, Perin Irani, who is a colleague of my sister Lalitha. Perin has a strong presence that fills any room she is in with enthusiasm, and she is as passionate about food as she was about her work as an ob/gyn specialist in the Parsi community of Mumbai (she is now retired). The Parsis trace their roots back to a group of Persians who fled Iran when the Islamic powers took over, because they wanted to protect their religion, which is based on the teachings of Zoroaster, worshiper of the sacred fire. Zoroastrians, later known as Parsis, eventually settled in Mumbai and Navsari (Gujarat). Their food habits and religious backgrounds are an interesting blend of their roots (Iran) and influences from their migration (Gujarat and Mumbai).

Skinning and cutting up a whole chicken is simple, albeit a bit messy. From its cavity remove all the gizzards and innards (these are usually contained in a small paper sack). You can save them for another use. Using one hand, hold the chicken in a squatting position (the chicken, not you) on a firm surface or on a clean, damp dishtowel. With the other hand, firmly peel the skin away from the bird, starting at its neck and moving toward its legs. It’s not possible to remove the skin completely from the wings; just remove what you can. Trim off and discard the excess fat. (Some cooks save the trimmed fat and render it for other uses.) To cut the chicken into 8 pieces, I usually start at the legs. Hold the legs clasped together with one hand, and slip the other hand into the neck cavity for leverage. Now wring the chicken, as you would a wet towel, twisting and separating the two halves. Separate the 2 legs and cut each leg in half at the joint, creating thigh and drumstick pieces. Stick your thumb in the neck cavity and pull off the neck bone and cartilage. Slice each breast alongside the breastbone. Cut each breast in half crossways so that one half of the piece has the wing attached to it. You can cut the wing off at the joint if you wish.

To reconstitute coconut, cover with ½ cup boiling water, set aside for about 15 minutes, and then drain.o reconstitute coconut, cover with ½ cup boiling water, set aside for about 15 minutes, and then drain.

Serves4

Cooking Methodbraising

CostInexpensive

Moderate

Total Timeunder 1 hour

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationdiabetic, egg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, low carb

Equipmentblender

Mealdinner

Taste and Texturegarlicky, herby, hot & spicy, meaty, nutty, savory, spiced

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons Ginger Paste
  • 1 tablespoon Garlic Paste
  • 1 chicken (3½ pounds), skin removed, cut into 8 pieces (see Notes)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup raw peanuts (without the skin)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 3 to 5 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, to taste, stems removed
  • ½ cup shredded fresh coconut; or ¼ cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut reconstituted (see Notes)
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

Instructions

Combine the ginger and garlic pastes in a small bowl, and blend well. Smear the paste over the chicken pieces, covering all sides.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken, including any residual paste, and immediately cover the skillet to contain the splattering. Cook, covered, turning the chicken pieces occasionally, until they are evenly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

While the chicken is searing, preheat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Toss in the peanuts, coriander seeds, and chiles. Toast, stirring constantly, until the peanuts turn patchy brown and slightly glistening (from the oil they release), the coriander turns reddish brown, and the chiles blacken, 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately transfer the nutty-smelling mixture to a blender jar. (The longer the ingredients sit in the hot skillet, the more they will burn, making them unpalatable.) Pour in ¼ cup water, and add the coconut. Puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed, to make a paste.

Spread this paste over the chicken, making sure you use every last bit of it. Add the tomatoes, with their liquid, and the salt. Lift the chicken pieces and allow the chunky sauce to run under them and deglaze the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, basting the chicken every few minutes, until the meat in the thickest parts of the chicken pieces is no longer pink inside and the juices run clear, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the skillet and arrange it on a serving platter.

Stir the cilantro into the sauce and raise the heat to medium. Simmer the sauce vigorously, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it is gravy-thick, 5 to 8 minutes.

Pour the sauce over the chicken, and serve.

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