This is a methi chicken recipe that evolved on a lazy weekend to become a methi chicken rice, rather a Methi Chicken Pulao. A green, glistening bunch of fresh methi in and a bag of chicken in the fridge saved me on a Sunday, giving me the idea to put together a quick, fuss-free but special enough lunch.This methi chicken recipe was cooked simply with a few ingredients, but tasted, looked and smelt like I’d spent hours over it.
Methi or fenugreek is a herb/spice/leafy vegetable used extensively in Indian cooking. Its form determines its useage – fenugreek seeds are often used to temper dals and vegetables, fresh bunches of fenugreek leaves are cooked with other vegetables in the same way that spinach is (aloo methi with potatoes for example), and dried, crushed methi leaves (kasuri methi) are added as flavour boosters to all kinds of vegetable, dal and meat dishes. Methi leaves are also used in naans, parathas and other Indian breads.
Chicken and red meats vibe well with methi. In a methi chicken recipe or methi mutton, the ‘meatiness’ of meat is somehow enhanced by fenugreek, as its aromatic intensity is unleashed during the cooking process. Your olfactory glands will ‘taste’ the dish even before you put a morsel on your tongue.
Fenugreek is primarily bitter; but it also contains a spectrum of rich flavours that can be best described as salted caramel taken to the very edge – bitterness rounded off with hints of sweet savouriness. Put your nose to fenugreek leaves or seeds and you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about but cook with them and they will reveal deeply layered, bands of tastes and smell that will have you salivating. A tempering of methi seeds or a sprinkling of kasuri methi work behind the scenes which, if omitted, will give a sense of the dish missing something.
Methi makes other ingredients shine. The next time you make dal, add a teaspoon or two of dried crushed methi leaves (kasuri methi) at the end and then see how it transforms your everyday dal into a dish worthy of guests . The last minute addition of crushed kasuri methi is a trick used by many chefs to ‘refresh and rejuvenate’ their dishes before they are served.
A word of caution though, fenugreek must be used conservatively – throw in too many seeds or a rather generous measure of dried methi leaves and your palate will be overwhelmed by bitterness. When bunches fresh leaves are combined with other vegetables or with meat, the recipe often includes tomatoes and / lemon juice to counter the bitterness. The sour element complements the bitter notes beautifully and the result is delicious. My methi chicken recipe does not have tomatoes but the quantities of fresh and dry fenugreek are balanced out by the rice and spices so as to flavour but not overpower the pulao.
I cooked this pulao in a wide skillet or pan with a thick bottom (prevents the rice from sticking to the bottom and burning), and a tightly fitting lid (to ensure that the steam does not escape). The width helps the chicken and rice cook evenly and is important since it keeps the grains separate (the rice grains in a good biryani or pilaf must stay separate and whole and not become squishy or lumpy). Another trick is have your chicken pieces cut into smaller pieces so that they at the same pace as the basmati rice. Bigger pieces will take longer to be done, by which time the delicate basmati grains will be completely overcooked. These are a few tips on technique worth remembering in order to turn out a visually pleasing pulao. Whip up a speedy raita and fry up a few papads if you like and you have a very fragrant and deliciously satisfying, one-pot meal ready.
I recommend it for Sunday lunches and hurriedly put together dinner parties. Marinate the chicken for a couple of hours while you read your Sunday paper, then fry everything for a few minutes, cover and cook the pulao low and slow for 20 minutes and it’s done. A methi chicken recipe simpler than apple pie.
Methi Chicken Pulao (Pilaf)
- 500 g chicken bone-in, cut into small pieces
- 350 g good quality basmati rice
- 200 g fresh fenugreek leaves washed and roughly chopped
- 2 medium onions thinly sliced
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 2- inch piece of ginger
- 2 tsp chilli powder or cayenne
- 3 tsp coriander powder
- 1 ½ tsp dried fenugreek leaves kasuri methi
- 10 cashewnuts optional
- 1- inch cinnamon stick broken into 3 pieces
- 4 cloves
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 4 green cardamoms
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp garam masala
- Place the chicken in a wide dish. Grate the garlic and ginger over the chicken and add 1 tsp chilli powder, 2 tsp coriander powder, half the dried methi and some salt. Mix well and marinate for at least 2 hours (longer if you have time).
- Wash and soak the rice in plenty of water, 20 minutes before you begin cooking.
- Drain the rice.
- Heat ghee in a wide pan on medium heat; add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and cumin seeds and saute for 30 seconds.
- Toss in the onions and cook on slow-medium flame till lightly golden.
- Now add the marinated chicken and sear the pieces by spreading them in a single layer in the pan on a medium flame. Turn to sear the other side. Take care not to burn the onions.
- Chicken seared, add the drained rice, cashew nuts, dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
- and remaining ground spices, lower the heat and gently fry the rice for 3-5 minutes till lightly toasted.
- Now tip in the chopped, methi and mix well with the rice. Add enough salt to season followed by the garam masala.
- Spread the Methi, chicken and rice mixture evenly in a layer and pour in enough water to just cover the layer. Too much water will make the pulao mushy and too little will dry it out. The water must be about half a millimeter above the rice.
- Cover the pan with a well fitting lid and cook on a high flame for 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to low and cook for a further 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pulao rest for 15 minutes without removing the lid.
- After 15 minutes, uncover the pulao, fluff up the rice gently with a fork and serve with cucumber raita and pappadams.