Pride of the Punjab

I got a Label Rouge free-range chicken on special offer, only 7 euros, and decided I fancied a change. Suddenly I remembered a recipe from an ancient Josceline Dimbleby book, one of those little ones they used to sell in Sainsbury’s in the 1980s, for, I think, 50p. A Traveller’s Tastes, it’s called, and it’s divided into sections of half a dozen recipes from different parts of the world. She has been pretty much forgotten now (try Googling her to see what I mean, the results are scanty). But most pages of this book are spattered with sauces and other ingredients — I used to use it a lot. See also … this blanquette still features on our menu regularly over thirty years after I bought the book. This is another of her recipes that deserves a wider audience.

This recipe is from the “India and Burma” section. Unusually for an Indian recipe, it features a whole chicken. It’s easy to do and the sauce is deliciously aromatic. I serve it with simply boiled Basmati rice; a green vegetable is a good idea too. Get started early because it needs to marinate for at least an hour.

1 free-range chicken
a pinch of saffron strands or a packet of powdered saffron
1 tbs boiling water
6 tbs natural yoghurt
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
about 2 cm piece of root ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (or bash about a dozen cardamom pods and extract the seeds)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
300 ml chicken stock (a cube is OK)
50 g butter
1 tbs vegetable oil

Pour the boiling water over the saffron in a small bowl and leave to infuse. Meanwhile measure out 4 tbsps of yoghurt and mix in the ginger, garlic, and all the spices. Add the saffron with its water and stir in. Put a tablespoon of this mixture inside the cavity of the chicken, and smear the rest over the outside. Leave to marinate for 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 170C. While it’s heating, melt the butter and oil in a large, heavy casserole big enough to take the chicken, and gently cook the onions till they are soft and just starting to caramelise. This will take a good 20 minutes. Remove the onions, and add a bit more oil if necessary. Scrape as much of the marinade off the chicken as you can, reserving it, and then brown the chicken on all sides. Return the onions to the casserole, scrape in the marinade, and add the stock. Bring to the boil, cover, and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Then turn the chicken over so it’s breast down, cover again, and continue to cook for about another 45 minutes.

Close to the end of cooking time, put the rice on to cook. When the chicken is cooked, remove to a serving platter and put in the switched-off oven to keep warm. The sauce may need boiling to reduce it a bit; taste it and see what you think. Off the heat, add the last two tbsps of yoghurt and stir in. Serve the chicken with the sauce.

2 thoughts to “Pride of the Punjab”

  1. A fine, classic recipe that’s truly nostalgic. I still have several of Josceline Dimbleby’s books from the 1980s and I remember them being a big deal at the time. I think most people I knew back then had one or two of her books (partly, I suppose, because they were keenly priced). Looking through the recipes now, many seem timeless (I’ve recently read a newly-published recipe very similar to her Persian Honey Cakes, for instance), while some are gloriously 1980s (I can’t believe we ate that much cream and butter while listening to Lloyd Cole records). There are so many fine, neglected cookbooks sitting on shelves, including mine. Thanks for this, I’m now determined to make at least one Josceline Dimbleby recipe before the year is out.

  2. Hi Phil, yes, Josceline had such original ideas and deserves to be remembered. Have you noticed that her savoury recipes often had no onions in them? I think she must have had an onion-hater in her family.

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