Chef Caspar’s Comfort Chicken Saag Jam

saag

Saag is the name for all spinach based curry.
It can be made with chicken, lamb  or even pork meat and is often done in a vegetarian version with cheese.
The spinach is chopped fine so that, together with cream or coconut milk, it makes a sauce like “wet” curry. Which is actually somewhat of a pleonasm, since Curry is originally a word for “sauce’ in the Tamil language.
A soulful dish to make you feel love and happiness and all that other good stuff.  Or in other words: the ultimate comfort food.
This is actually one of my all-time favorite dishes and god forbid, if I where ever to be sentenced to the electric chair I would probably ask for a Chicken Saag to eat as my last meal…

In my previous recipe I explained that some of the ingredients are gonna be difficult to find in Serbia.
Since I live here, and we don’t have a collection of Indian, Chinese, Surinamese, Turkish and Moroccan shops right around the corner, which I did when I was living in Amsterdam, I adapted the recipe  to what’s available in Serbia.
No worries though, with a bit of creativity we can achieve the same tummy happy feelings as with the “real” ingredients.
It’s all about the mixing of flavors and since different things have similar flavors, there are no strict rules.. that’s what makes this game so much fun!

In the past years I have acquired a vast collection of exotic spices imported by my visiting friends and myself.
But since I’m assuming most of you don’t have such a collection, and some of it is not available in Serbian shops, I will try to do this without using any of my private spice collection. By the way (and this is not an advertisement for the shop, but it’s the only place I know that sells this kind of stuff) you can find a lot of exotic spices in the big “Alonso” Maxi in Dorćol these days..

OK, so let’s go:

First, the ingredients:

  • 500 gr of boneless chicken (can be filet but I prefer the legs)
  • 500 gr of spinach (fresh or frozen, whatever is available)
  • 2 onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • a small piece of fresh ginger (or a teaspoon of ginger powder)
  • 2 big tomatoes
  • half of a medium sized tikvica (zucchini or courgette/gourd for non-Serbian readers)
  • 300 gr of “Mileram” (“full fat” sour-cream, for non-Serbian readers who don’t know what “Mileram” is). Or you can use a can of Coconut milk/cream)

Spices:

  • 2 teaspoons of coriander/cilantro seeds
  • 3 cardamon pods (not sure where to get this in Serbia, but you should try cause it’s an essential part of the dish..)
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin (“kim” in Serbian)
  • 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds
    -3 teaspoons of Curry Marsala (the yellow curry powder usually just called “curry” when you buy it in a shop)
  • 1 teaspoon of kurkuma (turmeric) – not sure where to get this in Serbia, but it’s not an essential spice, you could do without this one
  • 1 block of chicken stock or 1 teaspoon of “bouillon” powder

The cooking:

  • Chop up the onions, garlic and ginger, splash some oil in a big pan and start gently frying…
  • Take the coriander, cumin and mustard seeds and crush them in a mortar (“avan” in Serbian) then open up the cardamon pods and crush the seeds in a mortar (make sure to really crush them into powder, cause you don’t want to bite in a whole piece! it will taste like taking a bite of soap). Together with all the other spices add this to the frying onions and garlic and let them sit for a bit.. the idea is that the spices will give their taste to the oil and frying them a bit enhances their taste (just like roasting nuts). Do not let it burn though! So take it easy on the heat. “Gently” is the key word. Again, we are playing a smooth soul jam… no punk-rock yet!
  • Chop up the tomatoes and add them to the pan.. After letting it simmer for about 5 minutes this should become a smooth paste – a base of taste in which to cook all the other stuff
  • Cut the chicken in bite-sized pieces and add them to the base pan. No need for real “frying”, we are cooking the chicken in the spice mix, so it soaks in all those flavors
  • Cut the tikvica (small bits.. no big chunks) and add. Same thing as with the chicken…
  • Add the chicken stock block
  • Then we add the spinach. Either put in the blocks of frozen spinach or chop up the fresh spinach. The idea is to create a thick sauce like curry, not lots of big chunks with spinach leaves
  • When all of this has been cooking for about 15 minutes, the tikvica is soft and the chicken is done, we add the cream and chopped fresh coriander. We serve it with Basmati rice.

Once again: Basmati is a must!

Prijatno!

*   *   *

I’m still trying to figure out how to take a beautiful curry photo. Until I master this zen discipline, here’s a pic of tonight’s dinner. The colors are a bit weird (on the photo) but trust me, it looks, smells and tastes absolutely fantastic!
Enjoy!
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