By Home cook Sharmini Jayawardena
I find various food blogs online, giving advice on how to choose, cut and wash a bird for cooking, All erroneously misguided information, I’m afraid! I wouldn’t go to FDA standards on anything regarding food. In fact, even though they are considered to be the authority on food standards. FDA standards can hardly to be relied upon, considering the FDA has been found to mislead consumers especially in the area of animal farming and selecting animal protein for human consumption.
According to my mother –
Here’s how to choose a bird –
The best chicken is a free range, organic chicken 🐔 🐓 picked from live birds at the wet market. If the word ‘Natural’ appears on a label in packed chicken or eggs 🥚, it is neither free range nor organic.
In Sri Lanka you get broiler chicken, curry chicken 🍗 and what is known as the mother bird, which is a large bird. These are all to be found in the meat section of supermarkets and in specialty stores.
How to wash a chicken –
🔴Do not get the supermarket butcher to cut the bird for you as in some supermarkets, they simply pass the chicken through a machine which ruins the entire chicken!
1. Firstly, wash the whole chicken in running water, thoroughly. Then, remove the offal or organ meat which are the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys by removing the pack containing these meats and placed in the cavity of the broiler. If it’s a live bird, remove them while cutting the bird as per instructions given below.
🔴Do not ever cut a chicken first and then wash it as then you will wash away all of its nourishing juices.
🔴Do not ever cut a bird and then wash it in turmeric powder, salt and lime and so on! This too takes away all of the nourishing juices from the chicken! Meat is fit for human consumption and it does not augur well to put it through that much unnecessary washing . Just think about it. My mother used to say that a whole chicken is a really clean and tidy parcel of food that has been made available to us. So, we must use it accordingly. I know the Sinhalese, especially the servants, who were the authorities on matters pertaining to the kitchen, used to call it, ‘pili’. I think they were referring to the egg-y smell emanating from the chicken. But, isn’t that the natural smell, since we also get eggs from a chicken?
Moving on to how to cut a chicken –
1. Having thoroughly washed the bird in running water, you then turn the bird over on its back and separate its legs and wings. Then cut these parts along the fault line into 4 parts. Now you have 2 wings, 2 drum-lets, 2 legs comprising 2 drumsticks and 2 thighs. You can cut it in to all these separate parts when cooking a curry or for barbecue and certain fried chicken recipes.
🔴Do not throw away the wings as certain food blogs advise! In South East Asia and the Far East they even consume the chicken feet, which is found to be a delicacy! You can cut off the tips of the wings.
2. Now, proceed to cut the body of the bird by cutting the neck, then cutting off the protruding triangular piece of the back or the tail.
3. Then cut the bird length-wise, after which you can remove the stomach and gall bladder and throw it away. You can then wash the stomach area and inner part of the bird. Remove the offal or organ meat of the bird and set aside, if its a live bird. These organ meats can be added directly to your curry or made in to a deviled side dish. Once you cut the bird length-wise, separate the 2 breasts and go on to cutting the back parts in to 2 sections. You can further cut the back parts in to 2 more sections if required. You can also cut the breasts in to 2 more sections. This is good for when cutting a bird for curry.
Now you can proceed to make your curry, barbecue or fried chicken by marinating the meat accordingly.
🔴Do not add salt 🧂 to the marinade when cooking a curry. Add salt only once it’s cooked and you check for seasoning.
Below is the recipe for chicken curry that you can follow, passed down to me by my mother, and shared here with you so you can enjoy its awesome goodness 😊
3 tsps spice mix
1tsp turmeric powder
3 tsps chili powder or to desired heat
1/2 cup thick tamarind juice (mix 3 tbls of tamarind in 1/2 cup of water and strain. Add appropriately)
3 small onions
1” piece fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic
3 sprigs curry leaf
1 pandan leaf
4 small green chilies
2” piece of lemon grass
1” stick Ceylon cinnamon
3 cardamoms (tear each pod leaving the seeds intact)
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tbls coconut oil
1 1/2 – 2 cups coconut milk (1 cup thin milk which is the second squeeze and 1/2 cup the thick milk which is the first squeeze. If you are adding the packeted coconut cream, dilute appropriately)
2 green chilis cut in half
Sea salt to taste
1. Wash and cut the chicken as per instructions given above.
2. Add all of the powders into the marinade including the tamarind juice, mix and keep aside.
3. Cut the curry leaves into three parts each and so the pandan leaf and set aside.
4. Peel and slice the onions.
5. Peel ginger and garlic and mash it into a pulp in the pestle and mortar.
6. Heat the coconut oil in a pan or pot and add the sliced onion and fry. Then add the ginger and fry and finally add the garlic and fry. Fry all until golden brown.
7. Add the chilis, curry leaves, pandan leaves (optional) and lemon grass (optional) to the fry. 8. Add the Ceylon cinnamon, cloves and cardamoms and stir.
9. Add the meat and fry until very dry.
10. Add the thin coconut milk to cover the ingredients. Give it a good stir. Cover with a lid and cook until well done . (Add coconut milk to desired quantity of gravy).
11. Once done, remove the lid, add the thick milk and leave to simmer under low flame.
12. Once the gravy is thickened check for seasoning, add the fenugreek seeds and give it a good stir. This gives the curry a great aroma.
13. Remove from fire.
14. Serve with steamed rice and other accompaniments.
I used to love having left over meat curry with bread and butter the following morning for breakfast. Since becoming a vegetarian, much of my eating habits have become things of the past 😊. Chicken curry goes well with Sri Lankan yellow rice also known as kaha bath. and with steamed rice and other accompaniments like brinjal curry, potato tempered, salaadhey and seenisambol.
Chicken curry is great to be had with all sorts of flat breads, including Sri Lankan pol roti. It is good with Sri Lankan string hoppers, hoppers and pittu. Not forgetting how delicious it is with pancakes, waffles and with bread and butter.