Friday, August 26, 2011

Landi Kotal Shinwari Style Karhai Chicken

Shinwari Karhai Chicken

In Pakistan and India there are endless recipes for varieties of karhai dishes. This particular recipe is a prototypical specimen of the karhai chicken of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, the 'original' karhai chicken. You will find this sort of karhai chicken or karhai gosht in Peshawar's Namak Mandi, and it is named along with meat tikka and kabaab as one of the famous dishes of the Pashtoon tribes of the entire Frontier region. This recipe in particular is based on the Landi Kotal style karhai of the Shinwari tribe of Pashtoons. It is known in Pakistan for being highly delicious while containing no ground dried spices besides black pepper. Green chiles and juicy ripe tomatoes give this dish its unique and clean flavor. It makes its appearance on Pakistani restaurant menus and in wedding catering as Shinwari karhai. I had this style of karhai in North West Pakistan, as well as at an open air Pashtoon restaurant in Karachi, and I have always been intrigued by its delicious simplicity. Recently, I had this style of karhai chicken at the DC Metro area's notoriously tasty Ravi Kabob restaurant. Though Ravi Kabob is owned by Punjabis and the cooks are all from Mexico and Central America, the taste of their karhai chicken is exactly like what I remember eating in the Frontier restaurants. It's probably the best and most authentically Frontier style karhai chicken I have eaten outside of Pakistan. I felt inspired to do some deep research in attempt to replicate what I had eaten there and in Pakistan. Here is what I have come up with. My husband says it tastes spot on like Frontier style karhai, and he insists that it is even better than Ravi Kabob's famous karhai chicken.

1 chicken, skinless, bone-in cut into 2 inch pieces (ask for karhai cut from halal desi butcher)
5-6 whole green chiles, slit
1 tbs ginger-garlic paste
2-3 tomatoes roughly pureed
2 tomatoes cut into medium chunks
1 tsp salt or to taste-should be nicely salted
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tbs lime juice
1 tbs ginger cut into long thin slivers ( finely julienned)
1/2 cup cilantro chopped
1/2 cup or so oil (traditionally this dish is made very rich with an excessive amount of oil)

In a karhai or deep cooking pot heat oil. Add slit green chiles and stir until they begin to color. Remove chiles from oil with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add in ginger-garlic paste. When this turns golden, add in chicken pieces. Stir on high heat, allowing chicken to brown a bit. When the chicken has got some color, add in the tomato puree. Add in the salt. Stir around for about five minutes, allowing the tomatoes to break down a bit and release their water, but not long enough for the water to dry up. Add in the tomato chunks, stir, and cover with a lid. Lower heat and allow chicken to cook for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the chicken is cooked, turn up heat and stir for a few moments more, adding in the black pepper. Turn off the heat. You should have a semi-dry gravy laden with tomato chunks, with quite a bit of oil floating on top. The trick is to cook the chicken through while still leaving some rawness in the tomatoes so that they remain wet and red. They should not fully break down in the gravy and darken as in a typical 'curry.' Now, stir in your lime juice, half of your ginger shards, half of your cilantro, and all of your chiles. Garnish the top with the remaining ginger and cilantro.

*A lighter alternative: Although bone in meat is traditional for karhai chicken, for health purposes, this recipe can be adapted to use with chicken breasts cut into large cubes. (Say, 2 inch cubes, or to your preference.) The cooking time of the chicken will be significantly reduced, as it is important not to overcook boneless breast meat. This will affect the time allowed for the tomatoes to break down and dry up. To adapt, brown chicken breasts in the oil after adding ginger-garlic paste as described above. Next, stir in roughly pureed tomatoes and salt. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or so until your cubed chicken breast is fully cooked through. Using tongs, remove chicken breast cubes from the gravy and set aside. Now, allow the tomato gravy to cook down and dry out a bit more, about 10 minutes on medium heat with occasional stirring. You may need to use a splatter screen. When the gravy has dried up a bit but is still a bit wet and red, add in the tomato chunks. Allow this to cook for 5 minutes more, mashing the chunks down a little bit. When the gravy is of the correct consistency, turn up the heat and stir the chicken cubes back into the gravy. Add in the black pepper and proceed with the above recipe instructions, adding in the finishing touches on the dish.

Shinwari Karhai Chicken made with chicken breast

Serve with fresh hot naan.

Krazy for karhai?
For a Southern Pakistani interpretation of Frontier style karhai, see here.
For black peppercorn karhai, see here.