THIS GUY. His name is Sanjay Thumma, otherwise known as the “Vah Reh Vah Chef.” He’s got a hit Indian cooking show and a very helpful, comprehensive website. And his contagious enthusiasm, charmingly awkward editing and hilarious misquotations make him absolutely ADORABLE. His recipes also happen to be excellent.
Chicken 65 is a dish is composed of bite-sized pieces of fried chicken coated in a spicy chili-garlic-cumin sauce. It’s great with parathas or served fajita-style, wrapped in a flour tortilla. I like to accompany it with sliced, salted cucumbers to mitigate the spice.
This is my mom’s variation of the Vah Reh Vah Chef’s Chicken 65 recipe. Among its minor changes, it omits his indulgent use of MSG. But that’s okay, because to quote him, “A rose by another name would be a totally different flower.” Or something.
You will need:
- 1 lb chicken
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 2 tsp ginger paste
- 2 tsp garlic paste
- ½ tsp red chili powder
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 egg
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 1 ¼ tsp ground cumin
- 2-3 chopped curry leaves
- 1 tbsp Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce (available at most Asian markets)
- red food color (optional)
- small bowl of water
- 2 limes
- handful of chopped cilantro
- 1-2 sliced green chilies (optional)
- vegetable oi
Cut the chicken into ½" cubes and place in bowl. Add ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp ginger paste, 1 tsp garlic paste, red chili powder and cornstarch. Whip the egg and add it to the mix.
Heat 2" of oil in a pan over medium-high heat and fry the chicken mixture until it’s light golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels.
In a clean pan, heat 2 tsp oil over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and cook for about 1 minute. Add the remaining 1 tsp garlic paste and 1 tsp ginger paste and stir for 1 minute. The garlic and ginger will get the oil quite excited, so wear long sleeves and an apron, keep children and hairless animals away and best of luck to you.
The garlic and ginger paste will lose some moisture, so add 3-4 tbsp of water to dilute. Now add the remaining ½ tsp salt, chopped curry leaves, pepper, ground cumin*, Vietnamese chili-garlic paste and the juice of 1 lime. (Add 2-3 drops of red food coloring, too, if you’re into that.) Fry for 2 minutes.
*A quick note about ground cumin: buying ready-made ground cumin is well and good, but to really pack a punch, do the following: Roast whole cumin seeds in a pan for a couple minutes, then grind in a food processor or coffee grinder. It’ll be ten times more aromatic and flavorful.
Now eyeball your chicken and eyeball your sauce. You may have to add water bit by bit until the sauce looks just saucy enough to coat the chicken completely. Drop the chicken in and stir to combine. Cook for another 3-4 minutes. Allow the chicken to get browner and the moisture to cook off.
To serve, top with chopped cilantro and garnish with lime wedges. For extra heat, you can add the sliced green chilies.