I usually start thinking about soups and thick sauces when it gets cold, but tomato-based dishes are an exception since even the best quality canned tomatoes will never taste as good as ripe, sweet, end-of-summer produce. With its refreshing tangy note, Chicken Vindail proved a perfect dish to enjoy the delicious seasonal tomatoes and to discover a particularly light chapter of the Indian cuisine.
I first read about Chicken Vindail in Rick Stein’s India. In Search of the Perfect Curry, an extraordinary collection of genuine Indian recipes the author discovered during a culinary trip to India during which he shot his series for BBC. The dish comes from Pondicherry, a city with French colonial past and French culinary influence. Its origins are however not clear. “Vindail” sounds similar to “vin d’alho”, a Portuguese dish, which was also an inspiration for the famous “vindaloo” (which also has a tangy note, but is slightly different). “Alho” on the other hand, means “garlic” and Vindail does contain quite an impressive amount of garlic… so personally I would opt for the theory I read somewhere evoking Portuguese roots and the dish being brought by the French from the Portuguese Goa, which resulted in a slight change of the name…
Anyway, regardless the origins, the dish is incredibly good and completely different from what is usually served in Indian restaurants I know. It is slightly tangy and hot at the same time. The rather moderate amount of spices give it a sharper and clearer flavours than most Indian dishes popular abroad. It’s also quite quick to prepare and even though it will taste great with canned tomatoes, I advise you all to hurry till the fresh ripe ones are still in season because they make quite a difference.
I loved the sauce so much when I first made it, I decided to double its amount forever. I have also transformed the dish to serve two people, so I strongly advice you buy Rick Stein’s India to check the original recipe and to discover this fantastic book.
TIPS: The use of wine vinegar is not a Westernisation of this Indian dish, but the European influence it has kept.
Rick Stein advises using Kashmiri chilli powder, but I haven’t found it here, so I use simply any chilli powder I have.
Taste the dish at the end. If the tomatoes are very sweet, you might need more vinegar, so that you feel a slight acidity.
If you cook Indian food regularly, it’s a good idea to invest in a cheap coffee grinder. I bought one several months ago and have been grinding spices in it successfully and quickly (it gets a bit complicated if you want to grind coffee in it too…). Freshly ground spices do make a big difference, especially in the Indian cuisine…
Preparation: 1 hour- 1h30
Ingredients (serves two):
2 medium chicken legs, skinned and cut in two pieces (with bones)
500 g/a bit more than 1lb roughly sliced tomatoes (you can skin them or leave the skin on; the skin adds more flavour, but some might dislike it)
10 cloves garlic (crushed)
2 cm/about 3/4 inch cinnamon stick
1 whole clove
1 whole star anise
2 medium onions (chopped)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons chilli powder (or more)
1/2 toasted and ground fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt+ more to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 – 2 tablespoons wine vinegar (or more); I have used red wine vinegar, but the author advises white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon oil
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan.
Fry the cinnamon, the clove and the star anise for one minute at medium heat.
Add the onions and fry, constantly stirring, for about 15 minutes until they are browned but not burnt (lower the flame, if they start browning too quickly).
Add the garlic and the cumin powder and fry them for 2 minutes.
Add the chilli, the fenugreek, the turmeric and salt and fry for 30 seconds.
Add the tomatoes and cook them for about 5 more minutes.
Finally, add the chicken, about 200 ml water, cover with a lid and simmer until the chicken is soft (I like mine falling off the bone, so it takes sometimes almost an hour).
Check if the dish doesn’t burn and add water if necessary.
Just before serving, add the vinegar and the sugar and remove the lid, so that the sauce thickens.
Heat for five minutes (or more if the sauce is too watery), check the acidity and the saltiness and adjust the flavours, if necessary. Heat for one more minute and serve.