Chicken Kali Mirch | Black Pepper Chicken Curry

The chicken kali mirch is a delicious black pepper chicken curry recipe with homemade white chicken gravy. A perfect example of Mughal food.

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Mughal Food – A quick overview

While I would never call myself an expert, of all the Indian cuisines with which I am acquainted, Mughal cuisine is very much my favourite. Anyone who’s read more than a recipe or two on this website will have probably noticed they make up more than their fair share of the dishes I cook.

Most commonly associated with the Northern regions of the country, Mughal food stems from the Mughal empire which spanned a sizeable chunk of South Asia and parts of the Middle East. Persian in origin, the empire brought with it food influenced by the styles employed by cooks in Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan and Turkey.

Featuring dishes common in those countries like koftas and kebabs, the resulting cuisine gave birth to the biryanis and kormas we know today, hybrid dishes in which Middle-Eastern ingredients were introduced into Indian styles of cooking.

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A cuisine fit for an empire, Mughal food tends to be decadent and luxurious. Creamy and buttery, Mughal food is practically overflowing with a richness that lends itself perfectly to India’s softer, more fragrant spices, with ingredients like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom setting the tone for this wonderfully aromatic cuisine.

Mughal dishes are often sweeter than food from elsewhere in India, and most lack the usual punch of chilli we more commonly associate with the country’s cuisine. Though it is not necessarily entirely absent, as incredible dishes like this lamb rezala will attest.

Mughal food also showcases a great many of the more exotic ingredients you’ll find in Indian cuisine, its Persian influence very much on display. Dried fruits and nuts may not exactly seem exotic when compared to the incredible, complex spices already inherent in the food, they are when you think of them in context. More importantly, they bring a very welcome fruitiness and texture to a cuisine very receptive to both.

Chicken Kali Mirch | Black Pepper Chicken Curry – An introduction

This particular example of Mughal food is the Chicken Kali Mirch, a black pepper chicken curry very much made with the creamy, Mughlai style in mind.

The emphasis here is on the black pepper, a novel, yet deeply effective accompaniment to the chicken in this curry. The black pepper brings a very different kind of fire to the chicken, warmer, gentler and more playful than the raw, unbridled chilli heat more common in the curries of the South.

Alongside the usual assortment of coriander, cumin and fenugreek, it’s those gentler, softer spices who most benefit from the addition of the pepper. Its warmth and persistent spice lift the fragrant cardamom and fruity cinnamon, enabling them to become more than the usual sweet perfume they can sometimes be.

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As always, in Indian cuisine, it’s a ginger and garlic paste which bring freshness to the chicken kali mirch. Both serve to reinforce the backbone of warmth and lay down the sensible, earthy base upon which the other flavours are able to stand.

With them, of course, a little onion, caramelised in butter or ghee, just in case the creaminess of the sauce wasn’t quite indulgent enough for you. Slowly caramelising the sugars within that onion also bring a depth of sweetness to what would otherwise be a dish whose sweetness comes entirely from its creamy sauce.

That’s not to suggest there’s necessarily anything wrong with the sweetness of creamy sauce, of course, but there’s always something to be said for ingredients at their most natural.

In this black pepper chicken kali mirch and in many other curries, it’s onion that forms the backbone of the sauce. So always remember to cook it with all the love and care it deserves. Be patient, generous with the butter and liberal with the salt.

Black Pepper Chicken Curry

As stated above, the kali mirch is a black pepper chicken curry. If we forget the sauce for a moment, that basically means the kali mirch is all about the black pepper chicken. In this section we’re going to focus on how that black pepper finds its way into the dish and how we’ll cook the chicken.

As with most of my curry recipes, this kali mirch will be made following a simple, yet highly effective formula. We’ll start by dicing up our chicken, seasoning it with a little salt and searing it all over in oil or ghee. I do sometimes use regular butter in my curries, but you run the risk of burning the butter if you do so this early, so it’s always safer to use a fat with a higher resistance to heat, like the two recommended here!

Searing the chicken

Next, we’ll set the chicken aside and start cooking the onions slowly in oil or ghee, gradually softening and literally caramelising the sugars within the onion, creating a very real depth of caramel sweetness that makes it all the more delicious and vastly more complex.

The onions go in first because they take the longest. That caramelisation process can stand up to five, ten or even twenty or more minutes of cooking. It could even go on far longer if we needed it to, though for the purposes of making this chicken kali mirch recipe, we absolutely do not. In a recipe like this one where we’re going to be adding a whole host of other flavours, including a number of other sweeteners, ten minutes should be more than enough.

I should note that the bigger, hardier spices can be thrown in as well, tough enough and resilient enough to handle the heat for an equally long time and impermeable enough that they actually stand to benefit from a lengthier cooking process better equipped to pulling out their flavours. In this black pepper chicken curry recipe, that refers specifically to the star anise and to the cinnamon, if you’re using whole sticks rather than powder.

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I don’t personally feel comfortable adding the black pepper at this stage because despite its solid consistency, it differs from the cinnamon stick and the star anise in one very important respect: we’re going to eat it. If the latter get a little singed and beaten up, so be it, we’re extracting their flavour and letting them go. But if the pepper takes on too much of that heat, we’re still going to have to eat it and the burnt flavour will remain.

The spice mix

While the onions caramelise, we can toast a few of our whole spices in a dry pan and grind them up into a nice, fine powder. While I actually do quite enjoy biting into a whole cardamom pod while I’m eating my curry, I understand why a lot of people don’t. And let’s face it, nobody wants to bite into a whole clove. Otherwise we’d all just eat potpourri.

Caramelised onions

If you have whole seeds like coriander or cumin, you can toast and grind them up as well, but that’s up to you. I enjoy the burst of flavour from the whole seeds, whereas others prefer it better integrated into the dish.

Once the onions have had time to caramelise, we can start adding our spices, starting with any whole seeds we might still be holding onto. Their size and bulk protect them better from the heat, ensuring they don’t burn with a few extra minutes of cooking, so they can go in that little bit earlier.

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Once they’re all in, our powdered spices can go in last. The powdered spices used in this recipe are fenugreek and nutmeg, along with any of the other spices I’ve mentioned already that you might not have in their whole or seed form – cinnamon, coriander, cumin.

Little more than tiny flecks of powder, these ingredients really only want a minute or so max in direct heat, otherwise they’ll start to bitter and burn.

The ginger & garlic paste

Once the dry spices have had their minute or so, you can add the ginger and garlic paste, which goes in last for two reasons. Firstly, by cooking it in direct heat for an extremely short amount of time, we preserve the freshness and warmth of the flavours.

Secondly, when we make a paste from the ginger and garlic, we separate the water inside from what remains of the solid ingredients. This means that when we add the paste to our pan we’re also introducing liquid, which will immediately insulate the ingredients from the direct heat in which they’re cooking and will instead either simmer or steam them, which isn’t what we’re trying to achieve. At least too early on in the process.

So the paste goes in last, along with a very generous helping of black pepper. After all, kali mirch wouldn’t be black pepper chicken if not for the black pepper!

Once the paste is in, we’ll add the chicken back in and stir everything together, then we’ll get to work on the homemade white chicken gravy that will bring this dish to life.

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Homemade White Chicken Gravy

So, now that we’ve cooked and spiced our chicken, we could simply eat it as a delicious, salty, spicy stir fry. It isn’t unknown in the world of curries, with dishes as well known as UK favourite, the Jalfrezi doing exactly that, and dishes like Thailand’s Pad Prik King claiming themselves a dry curry.

Or, we could introduce a simple, homemade white chicken gravy to sauce things up a little bit. After all, while the above dishes are delicious in their own right, what is a curry without its sauce?

Chicken Kali Mirch | Black Pepper Chicken Curry

There are plenty of ways to achieve this. A combination of stock and cream might serve as the simplest example and is perhaps the closest standard answer to what we’re going to do today. Another option might be to add flour, to fry that off for a few minutes and then to add either stock or even milk, an approach to curry making not frequently used in the creation of Indian dishes, but relatively common in the making of dishes like Japan’s famous Katsu curry or a more typical Chinese takeaway style curry sauce.

To make this homemade white chicken gravy, however, we’re going to include an extra step specifically designed to suit Mughal food like this chicken kali mirch. We’re still going to use a combination of stock and cream, but we’re going to blend in some roasted and blanched cashew nuts, to thicken the sauce and to fully embrace the Mughal flavours that make this food taste so incredible.

Once that’s done, all we really have to do is pour it over the chicken and cooked spices and simmer until the chicken is cooked.

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Chicken Kali Mirch | Black Pepper Chicken Curry

Chicken Kali Mirch | Black Pepper Chicken Curry

Ed Chef
The chicken kali mirch is a delicious black pepper chicken curry recipe with homemade white chicken gravy. A perfect example of Mughal food.
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Course Dinner, main, Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Servings 2

Ingredients
  

  • 2 Chicken Breasts
  • 1 cup Chicken Stock
  • 300 ml Cream
  • 1/2 cup Cashew Nuts
  • 1 lrg White Onion
  • 1 – 2 tsp Cracked Black Pepper
  • 1 Star Anise
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1 tsp Coriander Seeds
  • 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 5 Cardamom Pods
  • 5 Cloves
  • 1/2 tsp Fenugreek Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Nutmeg
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 2 inches Fresh Ginger
  • Salt

Instructions
 

Make a cashew nut paste

  • Blanch the cashews in chicken stock for at least 20 minutes, then transfer them and enough stock that they’re just about submerged into a blender and blend for a few minutes until they’re nice and smooth. You probably won’t need to use all of the stock, just enough to get the mixture moving and blending. The mixture should be thick, like peanut butter.

Prep the onions, spice mix and paste

  • In a hot, dry pan, toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom pods & cloves for a minute or two or until the aroma starts to lift from the pan, then grind them into a fine powder in a pestle and mortar. You can remove any bits of cardamom shell that won’t grind down or you can leave them in. Add the fenugreek and nutmeg and mix everything together, then set everything aside.
  • Peel your ginger and garlic and finely dice them, then grind or blend them into paste.
  • Peel the onion and dice finely, setting aside, separate from the wet and dry ingredients. Add the cinnamon stick and star anise to the onion.

Sear the chicken

  • Dice up your chicken into bitesize pieces and sear all over in a medium-hot, well-oiled pan, seasoned generously with salt. You can use ghee instead of oil, if you have it available. You want to aim for the chicken to be almost completely cooked, as you won’t have much time to cook it in the sauce later. Once it’s suitably browned, set it aside separately.

Cook the kali mirch

  • Top up the oil in the pan and reduce the heat to the lower end of medium. Add your onion, star anise and cinnamon and slowly caramelise the onions for about ten minutes with a little bit of salt.
  • Add the dry spice mix you made earlier and stir everything together, then cook for roughly one minute before adding the ginger and garlic paste.
  • After another minute or two, add the cream and stir everything together, allowing it cook for a minute or so and combine. Add everything currently in the pan to the blender with the pureed cashew nuts and combine thoroughly, blending everything together as smoothly as you can.
  • Transfer the mixture back to the pan and add the chicken back in, bringing everything up to a very gentle simmer for just long enough to bring the chicken back up to temperature and finish cooking through. 5 – 10 minutes maximum, taking care not to burn the sauce.
  • Season with salt and add sugar if desired. 1 – 2 tbsp should suffice, depending on how sweet your sweet tooth is!
Keyword Black Pepper Chicken, Black Pepper Chicken Curry, Chicken Kali Mirch, Homemade White Gravy, Kali Mirch, Mughal Cuisine, Mughal Food, White Chicken Gravy

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