Chicken stew is a firm favourite among office-goers in Calcutta, especially in the central business district of Dalhousie. Go to Chitta babu’r dokan (shop) on Dacre’s lane at any time of the day and you will find the wooden benches on the sides of the lane filled with workers taking a quick break over stew, buttered toast, and tea. The YMCA canteen in College street on the other hand pulls a younger crowd of mostly university students. If you are looking for a chicken stew in a more relaxed environment, you can amble into Cafe in Bhawanipur later in the evening. They serve a delicious brown stew every day of the week except on Thursdays, when they serve a special white stew. It is the perfect spot for catching up with a friend.
Our chicken stew recipe is loosely based on the mutton white stew recipe that we came across in Renuka Debi Choudhurani’s Rakamari Amish Ranna. We have also added elements from the different stews that we like in the city. Give this a try while the vegetables are in season!
- 1.5 kg (4 whole) small chicken (each live chicken ~600 g)
- 250 g baby potatoes
- 250 g baby onions
- 250 g regular onions
- 250 g carrots
- 250 g beans
- 250 g green papaya
- 4 pcs bay leaves
- 5 g white pepper
- 15 g ginger
- 75 g butter
- 150 g milk
- 30 g maida (plain flour)
- 18 g salt
- 2.4 L water
- ½ tsp MSG
- Spatchcock the chicken by removing the spine. Then cut along the center of the breast until the chicken is split into two pieces, each consisting of one leg, one breast, and one wing. You can also request your butcher to do this for you. Be careful because with the spine removed, the leg and the breast are held together by just a muscle. They may easily split if mishandled.
- Chop the regular onions (not the baby ones) into quarters and set to boil in a saucepan with the lid on. Let this boil for 10 minutes until the onions are soft. Drain the water and grind the onions into a smooth paste in a grinder.
- Next we will blanch the bones to remove any blood or impurities that will otherwise cloud the stock and make it turn dark. This step is purely for presentation. If you don't care about having a perfectly white stew, you can skip this. Put the chicken halves and the spine, and any other chicken bones you may have in your fridge in a large pot. Pour (room temperature) water to just cover the bones. Cover with a lid and bring this to a boil. You will see lot of scum floating on the top. As soon as it comes to a boil, drain the water, cover with cold water and wash well under running water. Drain the water and set the chicken and the bones aside. Clean the pot.
- Place the pot on the stove, add the blanched bones, but don't add the chicken pieces yet. Add the chopped ginger, lightly crushed white pepper. Add 2.4 kg of room temperature water. Let this boil for 30 minutes. You can also use a pressure cooker at this stage if you want. The idea is to extract as much flavour from the bones as possible.
- After the stock is made we will introduce the vegetables in order of their cooking times. Harder vegetables will go in first. First add the baby onions, baby potatoes and carrots. Also add salt. Cover partially with a lid and set the heat such that the liquid is gently boiling.
- After 10 minutes add the papaya and the chicken pieces. Also add half a teaspoon of MSG. Cover partially and simmer.
- After 10 minutes add the green beans. We don't want to overcook the beans so that they retain some crunch and their bright green colour.
- Cook for 15 more minutes before turning off the stove. Fish out the chicken pieces. Discard the bones and bay leaves, ginger slices, etc. Strain the liquid into a bowl and separate the vegetables. Clean and dry the pot.
- Heat butter in the pot, and add the paste of boiled onions. Add ground white pepper. Stir well and keep the heat on low. We do not need to braise the onion becuase it is already boiled. We particularly do not want the onion paste to brown.
- After 2 minutes add the liquid and stir. Increase the heat and allow this to come to a boil.
- Meanwhile, make a slurry of milk and plain flour (maida). Add a little bit of the milk first, and stir to form an even paste. Only then add the rest of the milk in and stir to mix. If you add all of the milk into the flour in one go, the flour will form lumps that will be hard to get rid of.
- Add the cold milk-flour slurry into the pot in a drizzle while stirring continuously. Let this come to a boil so that the flour can gelatinise and thicken the stew. The colour of the stew will also change from a pale translucent white to a more opaque white.
- Now, it is time to re-introduce the chicken and the vegetables back into the pot. Lift up the pot and swirl to mix everything instead of try to do this with a spatula, so that you don't break the chicken or the vegetables. Taste the salt and adjust if required.
- Serve the stew hot with a sprinkling of fresh cracked black pepper and thick buttered toasts.