How I learned ‘spice’ – chicken and peas!

Fragrant Grilled chicken and Peas

Spice alchemy is probably the single most important kitchen skill I have – things can be chopped, diced, boiled and fried but any monkey can be trained to nail these but to know how to combine spices is to know God………but that might be a slight exaggeration……….or not……….

I learned spice alchemy from my Indian mentor over 20 years ago. It was a simple process of everyday sitting, watching, smelling and initially trying to understand what was happening. The learning was hardwired into my nose and eyes first over many weeks as she deftly and rather unconsciously combined electric turmerics, explosive paprika, soothing cumins and textural pods. In truth I had no clue what-was-what and what-went-where or why – I only got the very end result – the sauces that smothered her knock out fish, lamb and chicken dishes.

My learning evolved into being given the practical task of creating spice blends only after months of observation and then onto creating spice pastes – now this part is the real deal, taking spice blends and adding roots like Galangal, lemon grass, garlic, onion and turning them into ‘base pastes’ to be added to screaming hot  oil fro a cook out before adding the main ingredient – lamb and chicken were the biggies for me.

In my own kitchen these days I don’t have a rule of thumb or specific numeric quantities simply because I wasn’t exposed to any as I learned – I use my eyes, touch and smell – but for the purposes of this blog I have transcribed that to numbers (as best I can).

Spice alchemy a is very, very personal thing so if there is any advice I can give after 20+ years of ‘playing with spice’ it is this – play with it, learn it to your own palette and make it your own….and in the meantime here is the first dish I was ‘allowed’ to create in my Indian kitchen…………

Serves 4

4 fat butcher bought chicken fillets

1 tin of chickpeas

small bunch parsley and coriander

1 tbs yogurt

Juice of half a lemon

1 tbs creme fraiche

2 cloves garlic minced

1/2 medium red onion finely diced

1 tps cumin powder

1 tps turmeric

For the chicken spice blend

1 tps salt

1 tps black pepper

2 tps cumin powder

1 tps coriander powder

1 tps ginger powder

2 tps all spice

4 tbs veg oil

Sooooo – kick things off by making the spice blend for the chicken kebabs. Simply combine the lot with the veg oil and taste – it should literally kick you in the face, don’t worry the grilling takes this mix to where it needs to be.

Next chunk the chicken and combine with the now spice ‘paste’ – cling and sling into the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.

As the chicken marinates get on with the chickpeas – drain them well and add to a bowl. To bring it all together add the yogurt, creme fraiche, parsley and coriander, lemon juice, cumin and turmeric powders – taste and season as you need.

To cook the chicken simply thread onto kebab skewers and grill under a screaming hot grill fro about 4-5 minute on each…..or until just done (no pink)- best way to know? Cut into the chicken.

And that’s it – serve the chickpeas on their own or on a bed of shredded red cabbage along side the wonderfully spiced chicken.

Done deal 🙂





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