Chicken Vindail

vindailp 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.


24 Replies to “Chicken Vindail”

  1. I love the intriguing possible background to this dish. That IS quite a bit of garlic and tomato for a recipe that only serves two people but I’m sure the extra sauce is wonderful over basmati rice. I have a coffee grinder devoted to spices as I’ve never needed to grind my own coffee but I toast and grind spices quite often.

    1. Hi, A_Boleyn. Coffee (good one!) should never be ground with cheap “blade” grinders, but with those which have burrs (it should be “squashed” and the cheap grinders cut it into small pieces), so I have bought it with the intention to grind spices only. I haven’t invested in a good coffee grinder yet… but I intend to! One day I’ll become a coffee geek too!

  2. I have never tried Chicken Vindail before but sounds really good. It’s always fun to read about origins of the food (whether if it’s true or just theory). I can imagine eating this over donburi style. Looks so yummy!

    1. Thanks a lot, Nami. It’s quite funny because at first I thought it was just a different name for vindaloo, but apparently it’s more complicated… The dish is very light for an Indian one and quite easy too!

  3. I was thinking vindaloo at first too but either way, this version sounds delightful in its own right. I greatly enjoy the warm seasonings of star anise, cinnamon and clove — it has me thinking of your pork tenderloin braised in soy sauce which we made again two weekends ago (to oohs & ahhs at the dinner table!). It is a very well-received recipe in our home and I imagine this beautiful chicken vindail would be as well. I couldn’t agree more about the fresh, seasonal tomatoes… what a difference taste wise from off-season and canned. Can’t wait to try this dish :).

    1. Hi Kelly, thank you so much. I also thought at first it was another name for vindaloo (on the other hand vindaloo is not completely different… I intend to make it soon from the same book). Thank you so much for letting me know about the pork in soy sauce. It’s so kind of you (you know how it makes me happy!). I hope you will like this dish too. It’s one of our favourite dishes now too (by the way I have been thinking about you… I have made a new version of shoyu chicken, several times already… I think I’m ready to post it soon!).

  4. The colours in this dish are absolutely fabulous, Sissi. My mouth waters as I looked at your beautiful photo. As you know we adore Indian food so this one is going on my must make list this week when we return to the city. I have a cheap coffee grinder too, just for spices, it really is perfect and I love that I can adjust a spice combo to my taste.
    It’s strange because when I first read the name of the travel food writer Rick Stein I though it was the American Rick Steves but alas they are too similarly sounding names. The addition of the vinegar in this recipe immediately made me think of the Hungarian Vadas Hus (wild meat) recipe I made last year because it too uses vinegar to make it a little piquant (I think you would like that dish too). Thanks again for a great recipe, particularly now that our temperatures are 5C at the cottage!

    1. Hi, Eva. Thank you so much for such compliments! I find Indian dishes not very attractive looking, so it’s often a nightmare to take photographs…I have never heard about Rick Steves, but Rick Stein is a name worth remembering. I have tried already at least five dishes from his book and they were all a revelation. Thank you for reminding me of the Vadas Hus! I must make it one day when I buy some game. 5°C?? You definitely need warming Indian dishes! We are luckily having now here a second summer, but the cold days will arrive soon.

    1. Thanks a lot, Karen. This is why I posted it now 🙂 I keep on seeing very ripe, sweet and cheap tomatoes… they are perfect for such dishes.

  5. There is a lot going on with this chicken dish…lots of flavors, from spicy, tart to sweet…sounds delicious Sissi.
    Enjoy your week 😀

  6. Let me first say that the picture is gorgeous! The reds are very appealing to the eye as well as being quite convincing as to what a delicious and spicy dish this is. Ten cloves of garlic and 2 tsp. of chile powder – I know it’s good. I just happen to have some Kashmiri chile powder, so thanks for mentioning that. I love the flavor of that powder, but haven’t used it much so thanks! Bet the kitchen smelled great when you started toasted all those spices! A great dish Sissi!

    1. Dear MJ, thank you so much for the compliments! I would never expect to receive such compliments with a photo of an Indian dish! (I find them not very attractive-looking most of the time). Yes! Lots of garlic and chile of course 🙂
      Wow! Lucky you! You should use your chile powder for an Indian dish soon!

  7. With the exception of chili, all the other ingredients are what I usually use in my red sauce meats. I love, love cinnamon and this sounds like the perfect meal especially with fresh tomatoes!

    1. Hi, Mr. Three-Cookies. No, it’s not a typo. It’s actually a bit different from vindaloo (at least from Rick Stein’s recipe).

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