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Chicken 65

June 1, 2010

This week we are living like regular New Yorkers: young ones who are not on a budget! There’s been a lot of takeout and evenings out with friends and when I have been around, I’ve been toooo tired to cook.

Sunday night as we drove back into Brooklyn from Connecticut we stopped at Medina, a fancyish Pakistani / Bangladeshi / Indian takeout place in our whereabouts — on Beverly and Coney Island Avenue — to pick up some naan. We wanted it to accompany some Indian food leftovers we’d gotten on Friday, from another restaurant.

We had some leftover Rogan Josh (lamb curry) and Saag Ponir (spinach with fresh cheese), but we’d eaten up all of the Peshwari naan on Friday night.

Peshwari naan is my favorite sort of bread these days. It’s a buttery flatbread stuffed with dried coconut and ground almonds and chopped raisins. This is a brilliant pairing for the things listed above when they are soaking into some clovey rice. Seek some out!

Though they don’t have Peshawar-style naan at Medina, we pulled over at a bus stop nearby and I rushed out in for some regular naan. I figured I’d get some freshly cooked rice as well. Once I got in there, though, and saw salad with hot peppers; some lentils with squash; a stewed okra dish as well as a beguiling eggplant one, as well as some incredibly juicy ground chicken on skewers, I started to think: well, there isn’t really THAT much Rogan Josh left over, is there. Plus we’ll need something Henry will like: I’d better supplement. So I ordered a mango lassi, and some squash and lentils, and got the rice and bread ordered.

Then I noticed some some chunks of reddish chicken. They weren’t in a sauce, and they many little unfamiliar green leaves threaded throughout. Not like cilantro, which collapses when challenged with heat, but more like thin, sharp little bay leaves. I asked what the dish was.

Ahh, that is the Chicken 65, miss. It’s an appetizer, very good. Would you like to try?

Heck yeah. As the man behind the counter was removing the tray in order to fork a piece for me, I grabbed a menu and checked to see what #65 was. It was a “sweet.” Hmm . . . Then I looked at the appetizer menu and indeed, among the grapeleaves and whatnot was a listing for a dish whose title Chicken 65.

So, taste this miss, but let me tell you it’s better when it’s hot — it becomes very juicy.

He handed me a chunk. Before I even had it in my mouth, I could tell I was poised to fall in love.

And then, I tasted it. It had the sort of hot that I associate with the Sichuan chicken Matthew brings home from work when I am lucky. Those peppers are just larger than peppercorns and almost sour: they go to work on your tongue in a very particular place, which is midway back, along the sides. The effect confuses you and so you eat more.

I could feel the Chicken 65 in the same part of my tongue, though it didn’t have a numbing effect. I wondered if it was a combo hot hot and citrusy, together, the achieves this. But heat and acid and salt and grease (the chicken isn’t breaded but apparently it’s fried) work together like magic.

What I’ve learned through reading (and watching video clips on the web) is that Chicken 65 originated in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. (That’s where Chennai is.) This dish, which is chopped chicken thighs cooked with lemon, ginger, chili, garlic, maybe egg, maybe yogurt, and what I learned were curry leaves, is a deep deep pink due to the addition of red coloring — and it has a particular feel on the tongue due to the lemon / ginger / chili combo but probably enhanced by what Indians call Ajimoto — which is basically a Japanese brand of MSG. (Which my jury is out on.)

My jury is not out on Chicken 65: I love it. I’d link to a recipe but I don’t have a tried and true one. However, you can have a lot of fun watching video-clip recipes of chefs (accomplished, and not-s0) explain how to make this dish.

There is a lot of supposition going on about the title. Some people think it’s called Chicken 65 because it takes 65 ingredients, or because you won’t get it right until you make it 65 times. Others assert that it was most popular in 1965. Instead, it was #65 on the menu at a military encampment in India.

Our pilgrimage to Medina was more of a small errand than anything else, but it ended up being exciting and informative in an unexpected way.

They did forget to pack us the naan, however, which as you’ll remember was my original reason for stopping.

Thanks to protohero for use of the photo.


One Comment leave one →
  1. June 3, 2010 10:04 am

    Oh, that made me hungry! I must have Indian food right now!

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