Red Hot Chili Chicken

Note: During our last phone call my Mom mentioned that she saw a new cooking programme and experimented with sesame seeds, corn flour batter and bell pepper in her chili chicken!!!!

Ans now here's my cooking video on chili chicken

'Chili Chicken'. Two words which brings tears to the eyes of any Non Resident Indian. The Chinese dish which is ingrained in our psyche. Is it authentic? Who gives a carrot stick? If they are going to usurp our land then we can appropriate their dishes.

My mom would make chili chicken for me way before it became a part of Indian kitchens. I was a spoilt eight year old who would refuse to have 'Indian' food. Power cuts, mosquito, the heat I could take. But after the UK and Iran I was particular about food. Fish and chips, chicken and chips, Spanish omelets, fried rice and of course chili chicken. Her attempts to appease my palette. Remember that it was not easy to access sauces, condiments, meats and cold cuts, cheese butter or even Coke and Pepsi in Calcutta of the early eighties. India was yet to be liberalised.

Family legend goes that my Dad learnt how to cook Chinese from a Chinese patient of his in the UK. He then taught my mother. These are snatches of distant childhood memories. So let's leave it as a legend.

I never asked my mother for the recipe of chili chicken . I have replicated it from taste memories. There is a cultural context to it too. Remember that there were hardly any ingredients in Calcutta when she cooked this. Nor were their cookery shows. So chances are that the recipe would be very simple and uncomplicated. So no corn flour or capsicum or even batter coating. Keep it as simple as possible.

So this is how I make Chili Chicken. I am sure that most Bengali Mashimas would approve of it.

I needed this long preamble as the recipe is rather short.

  • Heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil in a non stick pan. The Chinese use Sesame oil. Olive oil makes me feel less guilty about fried dishes
  • Add a tablespoon of finely chopped garlic once the oil warms. This could sputter so be careful
  • Once the garlic darkens a bit, add two to three tablespoons of dark soy sauce. Add a teaspoon of green chilly sauce if you have it. Be brave. This will cook up a storm. Try to cover it with a lid. Or wear a face mask. Ones made for blow torches. Not the Oil of Olay variety
  • Wait till the soy sauce spreads across the pan and forms an oil slick like layer at the base
  • Add 2 onion bulbs cut into four. Stir till onion looks a bit pale. You want it to cook a bit but not too much
  • Toss in 250 g chicken cut into two inch long pieces. I use leg pieces and boneless cuts if there are guests. Leg pieces are tastier and boneless makes it less messy. The original version of the 80s would of course not be boneless (As you can see I am really trying to make this stretch)
  • Toss the chicken with a ladle and keep turning the pieces so that they cook evenly. This should take a maximum of five minutes.Add salt and a pinch of ajino moto. Keep the flame high so that the oil and juice gets absorbed into the chicken
  • Add 5,6 green chillies. Split into two. Stir. Switch of the lid and try to eat it immediately. They use bell peppers not but that wouldn't be authentic 80s Calcutta Chili Chicken
  • To cut a long story short: Heat oil, add chopped garlic, add soy sauce and chili sauce, add, chopped onion bulbs, add chicken, salt and ajino moto, stir till cooked and oil dries, add green chillies. End of story. Ten minutes from start to finish

The following spectacular pictures were taken by the incredibly talented Jyotika Purwar of Follow My Recipe She followed the meat and me diligently with two lenses that night, creating magic in the process

Pic taken by: Jyotika Purwar