A firm favourite in British Indian Restaurants is the Chicken Jalfrezi. It is so popular that a few years ago according to a poll run by Chaat, the British Curry Club magazine, Jalfrezi now seems to challenge Chicken Tikka Masla as the new king of curries. Tastes are changing with people now wanting more flavour from their curry and are moving towards spicier dishes.
The name Jalfrezi comes from the Bengali phrase jhāl porhezī meaning ‘spicy (or hot) diet’, but can sometimes be written as jaffrazi or zalfraizi. As with the variations in the name, there isn’t so much as an authentic or an agreed upon chicken jalfrezi recipe, since the origins of the dish grew out of the habit of trying to use up leftovers during the time of the British Raj in India. According to Lizzie Collingham in her book ‘Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors’,
the virtuous housewife, transformed thrift into a mark of respectability and found ways of using up cold meat in curries usually fried with onions and chillies, though it more likely that her Bengali Muslim servants developed the dish according to her instructions of not wasting left over roasted meat because eating leftover food was taboo for Hindus.
Over many years trying to recreate a British Indian Restaurant (BIR) version of Chicken Jalfrezi, I tried many recipes from such people like The Hairy Bikers, Madhur Jaffrey, Sanjeev Kapoor and even Jamie Oliver there was always something not quite right. As with most dishes in UK Indian restaurants and takeaways, the depth of flavour of BIR curries comes from the base gravy sauce, a pre-made spiced onion sauce that is the basis for most of the curries that helps the chefs turn out tasty, flavourful curries quickly and efficiently. Though there isn’t a recognised official version of jalfrezi most dishes in the UK are stir-fried fried onions, capsicum (bell peppers), tomatoes and chillies in a thick, medium spicy aromatic sauce.
Chicken Jalfrezi Recipe
- 4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs (or 3 breasts)
- 1 large Onion, chopped
- 2 peppers red and green, chopped
- 2 chilli peppers, whole or chopped
- 1 tbsp of fresh Ginger purée
- 1 tbsp of Garlic purée
- 1 tbsp of Chilli Powder
- 1 tsp of Ground Turmeric
- 1 tbsp of Ground Coriander
- 1 tbsp of Ground Cumin
- 1 tbsp of Garam Masala
- 1 tbsp of dried Fenugreek (Kasuri Methi) leaves
- 2 tbsp of Tomato purée
- 3 tbsp of vegetable oil
- 500ml (1 pint) of BIR base gravy
- 1 tsp of salt
- First in a large skillet quickly fry the chicken and onions in a little oil (or ghee) over medium heat for about 8mins, turning to evenly brown on all sides.
- Temporarily remove the chicken and add the spices, ginger and garlic to the skillet with a little more oil to bloom for about 1min until they are fragrant.
- Add the chillies, peppers and the chicken to the pan, and then add the BIR curry base and the tomato puree. Cook for about 15mins
- Season with salt to taste.
- Serve over rice and / or naan bread.
Chicken Jalfrezzi may have started a a thrifty use of leftovers, but has risen to one of the most ubiquitous curries in the UK and seems to be very popular in Pakistan too. From restaurants to takeaways and even ready meals from supermarkets Jalfrezi is a firm favourite and comes in many other forms, not just chicken, but beef, pork, seafood and even vegetarian versions such as paneer or chickpea. Though my recreation of a British Indian Restaurant Chicken Jalfrezi doesn’t stick to the original intention of using leftover cooked meat, it is as close to the restaurant dish as possible in flavour.
- Curry - A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors
- Indian Serving Dishes
- Garam Masala
- Fenugreek Leaves (Kasuri Methi)