With all due respect to His Majesty the Lion King, there is a gorgeous majestic cat who is bigger, stronger, more ferocious, and by far more famous. He is the one, whose might and glory was proclaimed by two great authors , one after the other.
I confess, I am entranced by William Blake’s poetry, literally riveted to every word, whenever I open a book (I am lucky to own an edition with his engravings). So was Rudyard Kipling, who based his tiger Shere Khan character in The Jungle Book on Blake’s Tyger. The name itself is telling: in several languages Shere means tiger, and khan is a king. Kipling’s great cat is a royal Bengal tiger, an official symbol of People’s Republic of Bangladesh; however, the original Shere Khan is not a very savory character. He is a vicious enemy of the feral boy Mowgli; he is a man hunter, who relentlessly pursues “the human cub,” brought up by a wolf pack throughout Kipling’s stories and the ensuing Disney films.
The royal tiger’s negative image gets a makeover in the 1994 film, where Shere Khan is protecting the jungle and its inhabitants from human hunters who murder animals for sheer pleasure of killing. The fierce king protects his subjects, in the process dispatching one of the human culprits guilty of animal cruelty. But enough of the gore! Let’s watch an endearing episode of an older Disney cartoon where Mowgli’s friend Baloo the bear teaches the boy how to provide himself with bare necessities.
According to several (unverified) legends, it was a bare necessity that inspired Lord Marcus Sandys, the Governor of Bengal under the British Raj (Crown rule of India), to invent the dish, now considered the most favorite on the menus of Indian restaurants – Chicken Jalfrezi. “The same guy is also credited with inventing Worcestershire Sauce. Some minor difficulties with this story are that there was never any Governor of Bengal called Sandys and that the gentleman in question never, as far as can be ascertained, went to India – though he did exist,” claims http://www.my-indian-food.com.
I can see some more problems with this story. First of all, the original Chicken Jalfrezi was a turkey (https://www.urbanrajah.com). And do you really think a governor would have nothing better to do than to putter in the kitchen? Didn’t he have a staff of cooks who took care of him and his guests? The British “loved their roast dinners and boiled vegetables. The well to do amongst them were also known to have thrown huge parties where they ate and drank loads and almost always had a lot of food left over. Wasting this food was not an option” (ibid.) They made their cooks roast “giant turkeys, beef, and venison over large fires in terribly hot and uncomfortable conditions,” and they “refused to throw away good food,” so they instructed the native servants “to cook and serve the left-overs during the week.” The cooks “added lots of spice and stir fried the cold cuts of left-over meat in curry pans over much smaller fires and very quickly,” and thus, turkey jalfrezi was born out of bare necessity to use up left-overs. Jal means spicy, and frezi means stir-fried. (ibid.)
Inspired by the great blogger and fantastic photographer Derrick Knight of https://derrickjknight.com extolling scrumptious Chicken Jalfrezi made by his wife Jackie (AKA the Culinary Queen), I took upon myself a challenge to re-create it by using Instant Pot. Consequently, the “frezi” part was changed from stir-frying to sauteeing.
One of the sources I have studied recommended dicing chicken or turkey. I opted for more texture by cutting boneless chicken breast into small bite size cubes. In a way, you can call it left-overs, as it was left over from dismembering a whole chicken and saving bones for broth.
Chicken bites were then mixed with spices (I used cumin, coriander, garam masala, and grated white turmeric, but feel free to use your favorite spices), and left it to rest, securely covered to avoid petty theft executed by little Pyshka. Pyshka is the baby of the Cat Gang, and she is almost a vegetarian, that is, she is not interested in fresh meat and fish, but eagerly snatches lettuce, spinach, and fresh herbs right out of my hands. There is a tacit agreement, however, between her and the Main Chief Cat Barmalei who doesn’t deign to steal chicken himself. If Pyshka manages to pilfer some for him, he lets her sit on his “throne” (top of scratching cave) for a while.
Turning my attention to vegetables, I chopped onion, garlic, and green chili pepper (actually, I cheated – used Cubanelle, which is not as spicy as chili), added some more of the same spices, and sautéed in Instant Pot for just a minute or so, until nicely browned and softened. I used sesame oil, just because I thought the chicken would enjoy it, but your chicken might have a different preference. Mine was happy with my choice.
This might seem a modernist painting or a photo that didn’t happen, but that’s how it looked when I added water to the veggies, while keeping the same sauté setting, stirred it, and left it simmering on the same setting, but dialing down to low for about 20 minutes, until it thickened.
Meanwhile, I used an immersion blender on those juicy plum tomatoes to pulverize them into a thick, but homogenous mass. By now I had three processes going: chicken pieces marinating, veggies simmering, and smooth tomato mass just waiting to be introduced to the other two.
But not so fast! Some more vegetables needed to be cut up, such as more onion and more peppers. accompanied by a sizable bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro). Those of you, Beautiful People, who like to take the “jal” part of Jalfrezi literally, please feel free to add as many green and red chili peppers, as your stomachs can handle. For us, one moderately hot pepper was more than enough, so at this point I used red bell pepper.
Finally, marinated chicken bites got their chance, as I removed my “modernist painting” from the Instant Pot, switching it to high sauté setting, and replaced it with chicken and veggies, to mix and mingle for a few minutes, until the two parts of deliciously pungent sauce were whizzed together by an immersion blender.
“I love it when a plan comes together,” declared Mr T, and I concurred by pouring the sauce over chicken and veggies, mixing everything, and setting Instant Pot to Manual Pressure Cook for 30 minutes on High.Ideally, Chicken Jalfrezi should be served over jasmine rice or pasta, but for health reasons we prefer brown rice mixed with wild rice. Pickled carrot and kale sticks (see here) provide a nice crunchy accent on the side, and Mendel Mendoza Malbec 2016 perfectly complements its pungent flavor. It’s up to you now, Derrick and Mrs Knight, to pronounce judgement on my intrepid culinary experiment, but I have thought it was delectable and my husband was pleased.
- 2-3 chicken breasts, diced or cubed
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric
- ½ large onion, sliced
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- 2 red chilies, finely chopped (optional)
- 2 tsp garam masala
- Fresh cilantro to garnish
½ large onion, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 green chili, finely chopped
- 1,5 cup diced tomatoes (3 – 4 plum tomatoes)
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp turmeric (ground or fresh grated)
1. Coat diced or cubed chicken breasts in 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1 teaspoon garam masala, and 1 teaspoon turmeric, marinate in fridge for 1 hour or more.
2. Make sauce on Sauté setting Medium. With lid off, cook ½ roughly chopped large onion, 2 chopped garlic cloves and 1 finely chopped green chili until browned, about 1 minute in a splash of oil (sesame preferred).
3. Add 1 cup water to the onion mixture, change setting to Low, simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Pulse tomatoes in food processor or blender for smooth consistency.
5. Add onion mixture to tomato sauce in food processor or blender, pulse together, return to Instant Pot, simmer for 20 minutes. Remove.
6. Sauté marinated chicken in oil for 5 minutes on High. Add remaining ½ sliced onion and 1 chopped red pepper. Mix together.
7. Add sauce, pressure cook on Manual for 30 minutes.
8. Before serving, stir in 1 teaspoon garam masala and handful of chopped cilantro.