- Course: Main Course
- Skill Level: Moderate
- Cost: Moderate
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The almonds here help to thicken the sauce as well as providing flavor. The number of chiles in the marinade might alarm you, but never fear: the same almonds come to the rescue to lower the chiles’ capsaicin effect.
For the marinade:
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- ¼ cup slivered blanched almonds
- 6 lengthwise slices fresh ginger (each 1½ inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1/8 inch thick)
- 6 large cloves garlic
- 5 to 7 fresh green Thai, cayenne, or serrano chiles, to taste, stems removed
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, ground
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, ground
- 2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
- ½ teaspoon cardamom seeds from green or white pods, ground
- ½ teaspoon whole cloves, ground
- 1 chicken (3½ pounds), skin removed, cut into 8 pieces (see Notes)
- 4 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 medium-size red onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 4 fresh or dried bay leaves
- 1 bag (5 ounces) fresh prewashed baby spinach leaves
1. To make the marinade, combine the yogurt, almonds, ginger, garlic, and chiles in a blender jar. Puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed, to make a smooth, albeit slightly gritty, sauce. Transfer the contents to a medium-size bowl. Fold in the cilantro, coriander, cumin, salt, cardamom, and cloves to make a marinade freckled with dark brown spices.
2. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and coat them well with the marinade. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bay leaves, and cook, stirring, until the onion slices are soft and light brown around the edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the onion and bay leaves to a plate.
4. Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons oil into the same skillet. The skillet will still be hot enough for the oil to instantly heat up. Remove the chicken from the marinade (it’s okay if some is still clinging to the pieces) and add it to the skillet, meat side down, in a single layer. Reserve the remaining marinade. Sear the meat until it is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn the pieces over and sear the other side until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
5. Spread the reserved marinade over the chicken, and add the cooked onion and ½ cup water. Lift the chicken pieces and allow the liquid to flow underneath them; it should deglaze the skillet, releasing any bits of browned chicken and spices. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and braise the chicken, basting it with the sauce occasionally, until the meat in the thickest parts is no longer pink inside and the juices run clear, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the chicken and onions to a serving platter.
6. Raise the heat to medium-high and boil the sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it is slightly thickened, 5 to 8 minutes. Then stir the spinach, a handful at a time, into the sauce. Cook just until the leaves have wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.
7. Spoon the spinach sauce over the chicken pieces, and serve.
For a creamier sauce, try sour cream instead of the yogurt as the marinade’s base.
You really don’t have to grind the whole spices one at a time. Put them all in a spice grinder and pulverize them together for a full-bodied flavor.
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.
© 2008 Raghavan Iyer