By Nik Sharma, The New York Times
In the days leading up to my first Christmas in the U.S., I felt a bit lost and alone. It was 2002, and earlier that summer, I’d packed my belongings in Mumbai and flown across the world to attend graduate school in Ohio. This would be the first time I’d spend the holiday away from my family. I was now more than 8,000 miles away from home.
Christmas is an exciting time in India. My mother, aunts and grandmother would start their holiday cooking in the early days of December. There were plenty of sweets and cakes to be prepared. A large portion of these treats went out to friends, neighbors and relatives on Christmas morning, sorted out in small gift boxes or on white paper plates wrapped with colorful printed paper napkins.
I loved the prep work. I’d get to sit with the adults and get a taste for all the family jokes and stories that they’d share, rolling out the dough for cookies and cutting them into stars, or using rubber molds to shape marzipan, tinted with bright colors, to produce little wreaths or snowmen.
On Christmas Day, we’d have lunch at my maternal grandparents’ home. My grandmother’s dinner table was never empty, and she coordinated the menu details with her children in perfect symphony, like a seasoned conductor. I’m convinced she tasked them with dishes she knew they made well. There was plenty of food, a calculated move in anticipation of an unexpected guest who might arrive. Our lunches were never silent; they were loud and full of laughter and lots of storytelling.
One of the most memorable dishes on our table was chicken cafreal, or galinha cafreal. Believed to be rooted in Mozambique, chicken cafreal was brought by the Portuguese to Goa, where it underwent a transformation and eventually became the dish we know now. The chicken is first marinated for a short time in a cilantro mixture that’s infused with the scent of fresh ginger, cloves and cinnamon, among other spices, and then cooked to produce succulent meat lathered in a rich, fragrant sauce. But it was the crispy fried potatoes, prepared just a few minutes before serving and placed atop the chicken, that gave the dish that extra texture and heartiness.
That first Christmas in the U.S. was going to be very different. I’d experienced my first snowfall and learned how not to slip on the frozen sidewalks after the snow melted and then froze at night. I’d learned that not everyone loves fruitcake as much as I did; rum-soaked fruitcakes were a mainstay of our holiday meals in India. Since I was surviving on a rather tight stipend, I decided to skip traveling to India for Christmas. Instead, I spent it in my apartment.
A couple of days before the holiday, the realization that I was to be alone on Christmas set in. To soothe some of that loneliness away, I made a plan to call my family while they were gathered at my grandparents’ home. This was the age of calling cards, not video calls, and so I depended on my family’s description of their celebration and left the rest to my imagination. My own Christmas lunch was a bit lackluster. I opted for a store-bought rotisserie chicken and a pasta salad so dull, I’ve forgotten its details.
The next day, I decided to recelebrate the way I knew best. I went out to the store and bought all the ingredients I needed to make a couple of the dishes I knew well, among them chicken cafreal, with a large batch of golden-brown potatoes. My family wasn’t with me, but it brought me closer to them.
In the years that passed, I was able to celebrate Christmas with my family. But once again, I won’t see them this year. So I’ll make a lot of the same dishes they do, including a big pot of chicken cafreal adorned with those crispy potatoes — roasted, rather than fried — along with a rum-drenched fruitcake and a video call.
Recipe: Chicken Cafreal
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: About 1 hour, plus 1 to 2 hours’ marinating
- 3 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, skin removed, or 3 pounds boneless, skinless thighs
- 2 medium white or yellow onions, peeled
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- 1 whole head of garlic (about 12 cloves), peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 green chile, such as serrano, stemmed and roughly chopped
- 10 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or 1/2-inch cinnamon stick)
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 medium russet potatoes
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Prick the chicken all over with a fork and place in a resealable plastic bag or large bowl.
2. Cut 1 onion into quarters and transfer to a blender. Reserve 2 tablespoons of cilantro leaves for garnish, then add the remaining cilantro leaves and stems to the blender along with the garlic, ginger, chile, cloves, lime juice, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cinnamon, fennel and 1 teaspoon salt. Pulse on high until the mixture is smooth. (You might need to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and give it a stir to get the ingredients to move.) Pour the blended mixture over the chicken in the bag, seal or cover, and refrigerate to marinate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours.
3. About 45 minutes before you are ready to cook the chicken, prepare the potatoes: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the potatoes and quarter them lengthwise. Add them to a large saucepan, cover them with cold tap water by about 1 inch, and add 1 teaspoon salt.
4. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 5 minutes. A knife should pass through the center of the potato with only slight resistance. The potatoes should not be too soft or they will fall apart during seasoning.
5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a large baking sheet and discard the water. Let the potatoes cool for a few minutes, then season them generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil over the potatoes and toss gently to coat. Spread the potatoes out and roast them until golden-brown and crispy, about 30 minutes. If the potatoes are cooked before the chicken, remove them from the oven and cover them with foil to keep warm.
6. While the potatoes roast, cook the chicken: Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high. Chop the remaining onion and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the chicken with its marinade and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent burning, until the thighs are golden brown, completely cooked through and most of the liquid has dissipated, leaving behind a thick coating (or dry sauce), about 30 to 40 minutes.
7. Transfer the chicken to a serving plate, garnish with the reserved cilantro leaves and serve the potatoes on top or alongside.
Source: Read Full Article