Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Southern Spice: Chicken 65

Until I came to Madras, I did not know what Chicken 65 was. A long time after I arrived, I avoided ordering Chicken 65 because the name sounded sort of inedible. What a strange nomenclature, I remember thinking. Imagine eating a Beef 108, or Squid 46. Just plain weird!

I did Google the origins of the nomenclature, and found several stories, lending to the dish the status of a myth. The first story is that the spices used for the marinade must soak for 65 days. The second story is about Indian soldiers who needed something quick and easy during a war in 1965 and the unanimous choice of the soldiers was to have deep-fried boneless chicken pieces dipped in yogurt and spices - the Chicken 65. The third story had to do with someone who used 65 dried red chilies to make the chicken hot. The final - and by far the most plausible - had to do with a restaurant in Tamil Nadu that had its menu written in Tamil, which not many could understand. The menu item, though, was listed at #65, and led to the more accepted and recognized name of the dish.

I finally did try eating it, and learnt the lesson of my life - just like you should never judge a book by its cover, you should also never try to judge a recipe by its name. This crunchy, spicy, red-spice coated chicken with its juicy white interior works just as well with rice as with roti, and can also work amazingly well as a starter.

Here is the recipe - this is a more homemade version, and will not include the ajinimoto (MSG) that most restaurants douse their Chicken 65 with. It also has no color additives.

Chicken – ½ kg boneless, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
Yogurt – 2 tbsp
Soya sauce – 2 tsp
Corn flour – 2 tbsp
Ginger – ½ inch piece, finely chopped and crushed smooth
Garlic – 2 cloves, finely chopped and crushed smooth
Red chilli powder – 2 tsp
Garam masala powder – ½ tsp (optional)
Lemon juice - 1 tsp
Egg – 1 (optional)
Salt to taste
Vinegar - 1/2 tsp
Oil – for deep frying

Mix well all the ingredients together except oil in a shallow vessel. Add the chicken pieces to this marinade and mix evenly. Marinate it covered for 2-4 hours in the refrigerator. Heat oil in a fry pan and deep fry the chicken pieces until they turn reddish brown. Serve it hot garnished with onion rings & lemon wedges.

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