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Curry-ing Favor at Christmas

Posted by: Neil Travis Honaker

Tagged in: holidays , fiery foods

By Neil Travis Honaker

The weather outside may not have been frightful, but it was darn cold for this time of year in Kentucky. A skiff of snow lay on the ground making the roads just slick enough to send traffic into a tailspin--literally. So when my neighbor called and asked how curry chicken sounded for dinner, I knew that the temperature inside was going to be more hospitable. In other words, it was a great night to spend indoors with a roaring fire and pots on the stove.

When I was younger and first discovering a love of cooking, I was never really certain if curry referred to a spice mixture, a type of cuisine, a method of cooking or an ingredient. Of course, it's a little of all of these things. Over the years it's a flavor I've grown to love, although one I don't enjoy nearly often enough. As the evening progressed, I found I was playing very little part in the cooking, being relegated primarily to stirring the curry and tending to the fireplace. Since my neighbor Charlotte had more experience cooking Indian cuisine, I was content to sit back, watch and learn. Accompanying the dinner would be an Indian rice dish Charlotte learned from a friend, who had in turn learned in from an Indian cook while living in the Middle East. The fact that curry has no fixed recipe made the evening's culinary experimentation all the more interesting. We cooked adding a little of this and that, tasting as we went, all the while discussing the flavors of the curry as it developed. As the fire warmed the house, the curry began to scent the kitchen. Of course we could have search on the internet for a curry recipe, but the dish would not have been as much fun to prepare. Like curry itself which differs region to region (and sometimes even family to family) we were creating it to our own tastes which were very much a product of that night, the weather outside and our particular moods that evening.

Food, friends and a roaring fire. It turned out the night wasn't going to be that cold and dreary after all.

Curry Chicken

Vegetable oil
2 to 2-1/2 lbs chicken breast, quartered
3 to 4 medium shallots, minced
1 habanero chile pepper, minced (without the seeds) - you can substitute a jalapeño for a less spicy version
2 tablespoons flour
 1 15-ounce can coconut milk
8 ounces chicken stock
Juice of one lime
3  to 4 tablespoons curry powder
1 to 2 tablespoons  Garam Masala
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Heat a small amount of oil in a large pan. Add in the chicken pieces and saute until the chicken starts to brown, approx. 5 minutes. Do not cook the chicken all the way through. Add a small amount of oil to pan in which you sauteed the chicken. Saute the shallots and habanero in the oil until fragrant, but not browned. Add the flour and stir constantly (just like making a roux). Add the chicken stock a little at a time and keep stirring. When the mixture starts to come together, add the rest of the stock and the coconut milk. Stir in two tablespoons of curry powder and one tablespoon of Garam Masala. Let the mixture simmer for a while, then taste. Add salt and pepper as required, and more curry and Garam Masala as desired. Continue simmering and add the juice of one lime. When the mixture is well combined, fragrant and tasty, add in the chicken pieces. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the chicken is done (approx. 20 to 25 minutes). Serve with Indian rice. For an even spicier curry add either ground cayenne or hot curry powder to the sauce before adding the chicken.

Yield 3 to 4 servings
Heat Level: Medium to very hot, depending on your taste

Indian Rice

Vegetable oil
1 cup long grain Indian Basmati rice
1 3/4 C water
Cinnamon sticks
Whole Cloves
Whole Cardamom
Whole Coriander

Add a small amount of oil to medium pot (large enough to add water to later and cook the rice). Break the cinnamon sticks into pieces. Count the number of cinnamon pieces and cardamon seeds (you'll want to remove these later before serving the rice, so you need to know how much is in the mixture). Saute the spices in the oil until fragrant. Add the rice and stir constantly until coated with the spices and oil. Add the water, bring to a boil, then drop the heat to a simmer and cook until the rice is finished.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Nobilo Regional Collection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008


While I would have been content to never leave the house, I did venture out long enough to pick up something to drink with dinner. Although I love Indian food, I can't claim to have eaten very much of it or really to know anything about it. I made an inquiry at the Liquor Barn (in Kentucky everything it seems is named after a barn) and was pointed in the direction of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough district of New Zealand. As it turned out it was a excellent accompaniment to the dinner. The Nobilo had bright, citrus flavors and paired perfectly with the aromatic curry .


The Last Pepper in the Patch

Posted by: Neil Travis Honaker

Tagged in: grilling , fiery foods

Some time this week I'll have to spend an afternoon cleaning up the garden. Or what's left of it. Growing chile peppers in Kentucky is always a battle against time. It seems like I'm either waiting impatiently for the spring threat of frost to pass (normally not until the week after the Kentucky Derby) or hoping desperately for a last bunch of peppers to ripen before the first frost of the fall sets in (usually shortly after Halloween--this year it came early). Usually it's the habaneros that give me fits. As a late blooming plant they are just starting to really flourish when the temperature begins to drop. Traditionally, our last meal from the pepper patch each year features the last peppers to ripen, and it's always the habaneros. So while the temperature outside may be dropping, the heat around the dinner table is definitely on the rise as a final batch of jerk chicken wings hits the grill. The addition of a little Haitian Rum turns regular jerk into Voodoo Jerk Chicken, appropriate for the post-Halloween, Day of the Dead or All Soul's Day feast and always a crowd pleaser around here.

Voodoo Jerk Chicken Wings

* 2-1/2 to 3 pounds chicken wings
* 1 onion, chopped
* 2 to 3 habanero peppers, chopped
* 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
* 3 tablespoons Haitian Rum Barbancourt
* 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
* 3 tablespoons soy sauce
* 3 tablespoons brown sugar
* 2 tablespoons lime juice, plus lime wedges for garnish
* 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce.
* 2 tablespoons canola oil
* 1 teaspoon ground allspice
* 1 teaspoon thyme
* cilantro, chopped for garnish

Clean the chicken and place in a re-sealable container or plastic bag. Using a food processor, pulse the remaining ingredients together until they are well combined. Pour the marinade over the chicken, seal and refrigerate for at least 3 and up to 24 hours (the longer the chicken marinates the hotter the final product). Grill over medium high heat until done (20-25 minutes). Arrange chicken wings on a platter, garnish with the lime wedges and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro.

Yield: 6 servings

Heat Scale: Hot

--Neil Travis Honaker

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