Island curry

Imagine a little French island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Then imagine a curry that has flavours different from any curry you’ve enjoyed before… Cari de poulet à la Reunion.

Island curry
Photo: Denene Erasmus
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To make this island curry for four, you will need:

  • 4 chicken drumsticks
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • 4 chicken wings
  • Canola oil on demand
  • Extra virgin olive oil on demand
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 generous onion
  • 1 level teaspoon saffron
  • Robertson’s Cayenne pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml chicken stock

This recipe was given to my daughter Rachel by a fellow teacher who comes from Reunion island. It is all about rubs. Instead of mixing the masala into the stock the way we do it here in Durban, use your bare hands to massage the herbs and spices into the skin of the raw chicken pieces.

Begin with a little extra olive oil. Then rub a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, a little salt and some freshly chopped fresh thyme into the oiled chicken skin. Place the rubbed chicken in a covered container and let it rest at room temperature for a hour prior to cooking, so allowing the rub and its fragrant aromas to gently permeate the raw poultry.

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Stage two: select a heavy-based frying pan with a fitted lid. Pour in 20ml to 30ml of canola oil, bring it up to high heat, and add the rubbed chicken pieces, taking care to avoid the inevitable splatter as raw fowl hits hot oil. Stir the pieces of chicken until they are lightly browned all over, then drop the heat to low and let the chicken continue frying for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.
While this is going on, stage three begins. Peel and thinly slice the onion, and crush, peel and mince the garlic.

Add these to 20ml of extra virgin olive oil in a second frying pan and let them sweat over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, stirring from time to time to avoid adhesion. Then add a couple of teaspoons of fresh chopped thyme, all the basil finely chopped, the level teaspoon of saffron, and a level teaspoon of the cayenne pepper.

Stir well over a low heat. Pour in the can of chopped tomatoes plus the half-litre of chicken stock, ideally cooked fresh, although a high-quality, factory-made stock powder will do the trick.

A word on saffron. The stuff costs more than ink for an ink jet computer printer. The taste and aroma, however, are quite singular. Alternatively, and this is a low-grade, low-cost alternative, tumeric gives a orange-yellow tone to the meal.

Let the sauce simmer until the flavours are well combined, then pour it over the fried chicken, stir well and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Adjust the salt by taste, and serve with buttery mashed potato and a couple of ultra-cold lagers.

This recipe is too good to stay on an island for ever.

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