Murgi Jhol – Indian Chicken Stew

Jhol is a ubiquitous Bengali term. It means ‘gravy’. But not a thick, gravy. A stew like gravy would be a more accurate term.

This murgi or chicken jhol makes its appearance on our dinner table at least once a month.

Don’t let the long list of ingredients fool you into thinking that this is a complicated recipe. It really isn’t. I promise. For this recipe I recommend a scrawny chicken. The fat Purdue chickens don’t work well for this dish. Scrawny chickens absorb the flavors much better.

Now, I go by and large,  fairly easy on the spices. My cooking would never fly in an Indian restaurant. I don’t like overwhelming my food with spices, so if you like go ahead and feel free to double the ingredients marked with and (*).

Bangali Murgi Jhol

1 tbsp cooking oil plus 1/2 tsp. (separate)
1 chicken, skinned and cut into pieces (legs separated, wings, back in two pieces, breast -bone in cut into 4-6 pieces)
1 large red onion, cut in half and then finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed *
3/4 inch piece of ginger, finely ground (I use the fine grate plate on my box grater for the ginger and the garlic)*
3/4 cup canned finely diced tomato
2 medium sized potatoes – peeled and cut into 2 -3 inch chunks
1 cup frozen peas
1 Indian Bay Leaf (tej patta)*
1 scant teaspoon whole cumin seeds
4 green cardamom*
1 x 1 inch stick of cinnamon
2-3 pieces of dried red hot chiles (I personally go with 2 and add hot paprika powder as needed)
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin*
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander *
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric *
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1-1/2 – 2 cups water
Salt to taste

If you need to prep ahead to get your bearing and this is your first time cooking an Indian chicken dish, do this.
1) Put all the whole spices in one bowl. So, the bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamon, dried chiles, cumin seeds.
2) Peel potatoes and immerse in a bowl of cold water so they won’t brown.
3) Put all dried ground spices and the sugar in a little bowl. The turmeric, ground coriander, and ground cumin. Do not add the hot paprika just yet. Taste the dish first, you can always amp up the heat later.

Heat some oil in a flat bottomed casserole (with a well fitting lid)  which should be large enough to hold the whole chicken, gravy and potatoes. Add all the dried whole spices. The cumin seeds should sputter a little, now add the onions. On medium heat cook the onions until they start to brown. Now add the grated garlic and ginger. Keep cooking until the onions are a pleasing brown. Move the onions to the side of the cooking vessel, add a tiny little bit of oil and add the sugar and other dried spices. Fry the spices for a minute and watch the sugar/spice mixture start to caramelize. Quickly add the chopped tomatoes, salt and and a little water. Cook this gravy for about 5 minutes, adding a tablespoon of water as needed to get a good simmering action going and preventing it from burning. Break apart the onion and tomato pieces until you have a nice gravy.  NEVER EVER hurry these steps as this is truly the foundation to a good Indian curry.

Once the gravy is done, add the chicken pieces. Continue to cook over medium heat until the chicken is no longer pink outside. You can now add half the water, lower the heat a tad and put a lid on the whole thing.

Good job. Most of the work is done.

Take a peak after about 10 minutes of simmering the chicken.  Now, add the rest of the water and add the potatoes. Continue to simmer until the chicken and potatoes are cooked through. Turn of the heat and add the frozen peas. Stir them well into the gravy. Cooking them too long will ruin their bright green look, so I never cook them, but allow the residual heat of the dish cook them through.  Rule of thumb, you want two pieces of potatoes per meaty chicken piece. Have 1 piece extra in there to mash up to thicken the gravy.

Serve this over hot rice along with a wedge of lemon.

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