This week, I want to tell you about one of my favorite South Asian dishes: Chicken Jalfrezi. With tender, juicy chunks of chicken stir-fried with peppers and onions, it’s a delightfully refreshing stir-fry that’s quick to make and delicious. Although it’s a popular entree in the UK and India, it doesn’t show up often on menus in the US.
Chicken Jalfrezi doesn’t have a long tradition in India. It was a dish developed by cooks of the British Raj as a way to use up leftovers using a cooking technique introduced by the Chinese. Instead of the braising the chicken and peppers together for hours like most curries, the ingredients for Jalfrezi are quickly stir-fried. This not only makes it a viable weeknight meal, but it also preserves the flavor and texture of the peppers and onions.
Chinese immigrants have worked their way to the far corners of the Earth, so it’s no surprise that some settlers ended up in nearby India. In the US the migration led to American-Chinese dishes like Orange Chicken and Chop Suey, and in India, it created Indian-Chinese mashups like Chicken Jalfrezi and Gobi Manchurian.
Like most dishes in the Indian culinary repertoire, every cook has their way of making Chicken Jalfrezi. Most versions include a protein, peppers, onions, and tomatoes that are stir-fried together with aromatics and spices like ginger, garlic, cloves, and cumin seeds.
For my version, I like to add two spices that give it a unique flavor profile, setting it apart from other Indian curries. The first is star anise. It’s a nod to its Chinese roots, and the fragrant spice adds another dimension to the more familiar Indian spices without becoming a distraction.
The second spice is Nigella seeds. Known in Hindi as Kalonji, the spice is often mislabeled black caraway, black cumin or black onion seeds. It has an anise-like flavor with hints of onion, but Nigella Sativa is unrelated to caraway, cumin or onion. They can be a little hard to find, but Nigella seeds add a wonderful fresh herbal flavor that takes this dish to a whole new level. If you can’t find them in your local store, try checking online.
Chicken Jalfrezi is a stir-fry, so it’s essential to have all your prep done ahead of time as it comes together quickly once you start cooking. I start by browning the chicken to render out some fat and develop some brown fond on the chicken. Then, I remove the chicken to keep it from getting overcooked.
The whole spices get fried in the fat to bring out their flavors before the ginger and garlic are fried until they start to caramelize. Then, the bulk of the veggies go in and are stir-fried until they’re vibrant in color, but no so long that they lose their texture. Finally, the chicken goes back in with some tomato puree to simmer just long enough for the flavors to meld.
The mixture is seasoned with garam masala and salt, and I like to add a bit of sugar to balance the tartness of the tomatoes, as well as some cayenne pepper to kick up the heat.
- 330 grams boneless chicken thighs (cut into bite-size pieces)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 pod star anise
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
- 4 cloves
- 14 grams fresh ginger (peeled and grated)
- 14 grams garlic (~2 medium cloves, grated)
- 80 grams onion (~1/2 medium , sliced into squares)
- 100 grams green bell pepper (~1 small pepper, seeded & sliced into squares)
- 100 grams red bell pepper (~1 small pepper, seeded & sliced into squares squares)
- 200 grams tomato (~1 medium , sliced into cubes)
- 400 grams stewed tomatoes (1 can, pureed)
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- cayenne pepper (to taste)
- cilantro (for garnish)
- Season the chicken with salt and black pepper.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat until hot and then add the chicken in a single layer, skin-side down. Let the chicken brown on one side before flipping and browning the other side. When the chicken has browned, transfer it to a bowl and set aside.
- Add the star anise, cumin seeds, nigella seeds and cloves to the pan and fry the spices until they start to pop. Be careful not to burn the spices.
Working quickly, add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant and they start to caramelize.
Add the onions, peppers and tomatoes and stir-fry until most of the liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated.
Add the tomato puree, garam masala, sugar, salt, and spice it up with cayenne pepper to taste.
Return the chicken to the pan and simmer until the sauce has thickened and the chicken has cooked through.
- Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice or naan.