Ugly is Delicious

What is there to lose, I thought?

Just a few more subscribers to my feeds (I'm sorry you don't enjoy my blog anymore! Maybe you'll change your mind and come back? Or maybe you just switched to another reader where you are not another statistic? I hope so!)

And traffic to this blog.

The former has been on a decline ever since I signed up for NaBloWriMo and then NaBloPoMo. The latter swings wildly based on the day of the week, although I think I have a fairly reasonable trend all mapped out. The name, Indian Food Rocks, could be considered a bit of a misnomer but if you go back enough into my archives - heck! just look at last month! - it's obvious that my blog isn't just about food. It's about life being spiced by food. So while food is one of the themes, it's also about family life, memories and vacations.

And, if Jai can bring out his pictures of food and pretend they are ugly, I can do better: bring out at least one genuinely atrocious picture. It's something I have been hiding for quite a while now, not knowing how it will affect further affect my dwindling readership - whether it will finally kill my blog? I've made this dish so many times that I could make it with my eyes closed; but for the life of me, I cannot seem to take a half decent picture of it! It looks like one of those generic dishes with a brown sauce, which all food stylists will tell you to avoid like the plague. Perhaps that holds me back. The last time I made it I decided to use less oil and make it healthier but instead, it looks like it is drowning in grease!

Chettinad Pepper Chicken

based on a recipe from Flavors of India by Madhur Jaffrey



  • 1-2 tbsp oil (and another 1-2 tsp oil for the last step)
  • 3 tamalpatra bay leaf
  • 3 whole cardamoms
  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 1 inch and broken
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 tsp urad dal
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 2 tbsp Contadina tomato paste
  • 8 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, diced into bite-size piece
  • 20 curry leaves
  • salt to taste
  • For the paste:
  • 1.5 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 5 dried red chillies
  • 3 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1.5 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1.5 tsp black peppercorn
  • 1.5 tsp white poppy seeds (optional)
  • 3-4 medium cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 inch knob of ginger, chopped

  1. Heat 1-2 tbsp oil in the pan of your pressure cooker.
  2. Add bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cloves and urad dal. Stir and fry over medium heat until the urad dal turns a golden red.
  3. Add turmeric powder and the finely chopped onions. Sauté until they are soft and slightly golden.
  4. While the onions are cooking down, lightly roast cumin seeds, red chillies, coriander seeds, fennels seeds, black peppercorn, and the poppy seeds till they are fragrant.
  5. Allow them to cool slightly and blend into a paste with the chopped ginger and garlic.
  6. Add this paste to the onions with a few tsp of water to prevent scorching. Sauté for a few minutes.
  7. Add tomato paste and cook for a couple more minutes.
  8. Add chicken pieces, salt, 2-3 cups water and stir well.
  9. Cook under pressure for one whistle, then turn down the heat and cook for another 5-7 minutes.
  10. Allow the pressure cooker to cool and open it only when it is possible to do so safely. Do not rush this process as you want the chicken to be cooked completely. Stir well and transfer into a serving dish.
  11. Heat 1-2 tsp oil and add the curry leaves. Fry till the curry leaves are crisp. Pour over the chicken and serve with steaming hot white rice.

Notes:
  • The original recipe called for 5 tbsp oil. That can be brought down to under 2 tbsp. Even though it looks like the chicken is swimming in oil in the picture above.
  • Madhur Jaffrey asks for the whole spices to be roasted in oil and then ground to a paste in the coffee grinder. I prefer to dry roast my spices and I generally do not put wet ingredients like garlic and ginger into my coffee grinder. I use the blender and the resulting paste is therefore a little more coarse.
  • I have halved the number of red chillies and I skip the white poppy seeds cos that's one thing I forget to pick up from the Indian grocery store every time I go!
  • Chettinad Pepper Chicken is not cooked in a pressure cooker and has a thick sauce. Madhur Jaffrey recommends removing the chicken pieces from the pan and reducing the sauce till it is very thick. Once the sauce has thickened, the chicken should be returned to the pan, folding it in gently into the sauce and then cooking for another 5-6 minutes. We prefer to drown our rice in curry so I skip this step.
  • You could garnish this chicken with chopped cilantro.

It doesn't look very good but it is mind-blowingly delicious. Urad dal adds a great texture to the sauce and the fennels seeds are a treat to discover with every other bite.

Like Jai, I was planning to send this to Cathy for The Ugliest Gourmet event but my internal clock crapped out - the deadline was yesterday. I sent in my entry on Friday in any case but as I expected, it is not included. So take a look at the competition for Who is The Ugliest Gourmet and cast your vote. A comment I posted there earlier this afternoon does not show up so I am passing on the voting. Have fun!

This dish looks better when plated as it is offset by luscious long grains of basmati rice and some salad greens.

Apparently, there is someone called Bee who rants. Never heard of her.

25 comments:

Mansi Desai said...

Nice post Manisha! loved your rant about subscribers:) but don't give up hope!

as for the dish, yeah it's not bad-looking at all!! so smile girl, and enjoy it:)

Sandeepa said...

And you say that looks bad !!!!!!! Do you mean I should take 90% of pics off from blog or send them to Cathy ?

It looks great, the right spiciness of the chicken shows through, it looks mighty appetizing, what more do you want

Shilpa said...

Hahahaha...this is the best joke I have heard/read today :D....If that picture looks good, probably I have to take down all of my pictures from AR :D. You guys have pretty high standards dear...

Kribha said...

Are you serious??? I mean,really do you consider this bad? It looks delicious to me.

Shilpa said...

I meant if that picture looks bad ...

musical said...

You are really kidding, on all counts!! and is that picture ugly? may i know, how? and that really would make everything on my blog fit for this event :-D.

Comeon, Manisha, you don't do that :-D.

Sandy C. said...

R U kidding? I'm starting to get hungry just reading :)

BTW, I've tagged you back ;) please see my blog (www.Momisodes.com) for more info!

Puspha said...

Yummilicious!!!

Manisha said...

So I think I need to explain a little bit here! But before I do, this is not about your blogs or your pictures so don't go there. This is about this picture which is not appetizing in the least.

I dug out Flavors of India and looked at the picture in the book and it's a shade better than mine. And that is mainly because it is in a fancier serving bowl, the lighting is better and has some fresh green cilantro strewn all over it, adding some contrast to the general brown.

Those of us who are familiar with Indian food and/or have grown up eating this cuisine can relate easily to this picture. Most non-veg dishes with sauce look like this. Brown and not particularly inspiring. We relate more to the taste. The name invokes flavors we understand and can even "smell in our minds."

To me, this picture looks like brown poopy stuff with oil poured all over it. That does not detract from its taste though! This is easily my favorite way to make chicken! It wins big time on depth of flavor and texture. It needs no marination and when cooked in the pressure cooker, the chicken is extremely tender.

I never would have posted this recipe had there not been an event like that of Cathy's. And when I realized I had missed the deadline, it was too late as I had already posted. (read: spent some time on it!)

So this wins on taste but loses on looks. That's the point of ugly is delicious!

bee said...

i think this is a pretty nice picture. you should check out dakshin by chandra padmanabhan. she really thinks the readers are morons.

she's got an ennai kathirikkai - stuffed baby eggplants. they are pretty hard to render well. she's taken long eggpalnts, half cooked them and stuffed them with the masala before it was comepletely ground, and presented it as the final dish. and it still looks like shyte. she didn't take the pic, someone else did, but it riles me.

my point is, i hate hate hate dishonest pics. and i can tell one from far away. i think this pic is superb. it tells the story, and the dish looks very very yummy. so no, you didn't stand a foggy chance in that contest. now go vote for our pic. :D

Kitt said...

I'd eat that.

Anita said...

yeah, doesn't look like much - but, like the rest of my country-folk here, I know I will eat it and love it too!

Meeta said...

Ok it ain't too hot looking but hey it does sound delish and if you served it to me I'd dig in!

sunita said...

Hey Manisha, now that's a very good picture...not repulsive at all...but of course, when you set high standards... :-)

KayKat said...

Not ugly!!!

This picture tells me many stories about the dish - I could spend a lot of time thinking about the spices here ... the curry looks delicious, I really want to dip my fingers into it!

This looks brown for sure, but it kind of looks inspiring too! Inspires me to eat :)

Manisha said...

Bee, that is what food styling is about. Medha was aghast when one of her NG Kids mag had a feature on food styling. The cheese on pizzas is stretchy plastic, ice cream is fake, roasts are sprayed with hair spray to make them look succulent and if real food is used, pictures are taken while the ingredients still retain their color - ie when it is half cooked or raw.

There is a food blog that gets rave reviews for her pictures and recipes - I can't remember which one right now - but one of her tips is to pull the food out when it is half cooked, take pictures and then return it to the pan or oven. So while the pictures she presents are gorgeous, when I cook what she presents, my results look nothing like hers.

But the food styling industry is all about making food look attractive and delicious. No-one eats photos so it does not matter what it tastes like or if it has toxic stuff on it. These pictures are for magazines and cookbooks. And the author never really takes these pictures - it's always a food stylist.


Anita and Meeta, thank you! I think you both know what I am talking about!

bee said...

well i heard that the syrup on pancakes in food styling pix is engine oil, and the pizza cheese is glue.

i know alteast one food blogger who openly states that she takes pics of half-cooked food. doesn't bother me if she states it.

sagari said...

your chicken looksss deleciousssss

Treehugger said...

Manisha, You are a very good writer, and funny! I don't think there's anything wrong with oil. I agree with others, the dish looks fine.

Just tonight, I took a picture of a bean soup my roomate made that tastes delicious. But the picture makes it look like something the cat coughed up. Really. Good grief, another thing to feel inferior about! Thanks for being so honest. And as long as you're writing, I'll keep reading.

musical said...

Oh, Manisha, i was just kidding :). i do get what you are pointing-but still to me the picture looks appetizing and that to me is a good picture :).

Manisha said...

Bee, the same analogy works for food styling. It's a given that the dish may not be cooked completely or that other things may be done to 'liven' it up a bit.

Sagari, it is excellent!

Treehugger, I went out and hugged all my trees in your honor! Except my blue spruce and the pine - they kinda poke and hurt. But, thank you! Really!

For dinner tonight, I made ugly pizzas with Greek pitas as the base, pasta sauce, baby spinach, cheese and sliced green olives stuffed with pimientos. It looked like a disease but tasted really good! We've saved some for breakfast - we love to have leftover pizza for breakfast!


Musy, I'll believe you when you start eating chicken! :-D

Treehugger said...

I'm honored you hugged trees in my honor.:) We are still praying for rain, here. 80% chance on Wednesday.

Gillian said...

Hi Manisha,

I really love reading your blogs. You have a great style of writing and I also enjoy reading what you and your family have been up to.

I've tried a couple of your recipes; the Nutty Green Beans and the Spicy Jeera Chicken. I toned down the spice a little bit in the chicken recipe as I cannot eat very spicy food. They were really yummy; surprising considering that I cooked them and I'm not a good cook.

Wish I could blog and cook like you! Hope you keep blogging for a loooooong time.

Locomotive_breath said...

Hi Manisha

I followed your recipe and the end result was delicious. Thank you very much indeed! The only changes I made were that I used a whole skinless cut up chicken with bones and all (nearly the same weight as 8 chicken breasts)and reduced the oil to 1 tbsp because of the fat on the chicken. I had to consequently increase the cooking time to 10 minutes on low flame after the first whistle.

I'm actually looking forward to eating the left overs because with desi spices and store bought chicken, the spices really 'kick in' only in the left overs.

BTW, your recipe doesn't have a step for the addition of turmeric. I added it along with the paste.

Keep posting.

Shantanu.

TKW said...

As the self-appointed Queen of Shitty pictures, I can assure you that yours is not bad! It is hard to sexy up stews and things that braise. I have a photo of pot roast that looks like, ummm, you know.