Indian Fried Chicken (or Paneer) #65
They say you can’t please everyone. I inadvertently road-tested this theory recently only to find that they weren’t lying. I believed in the deliciousness of a recipe so much that I tried several options to make it as adaptable as possible – just so it could appeal to a range of tastes. By the time I arrived at a version I was happy with, however, my family were thoroughly fed up with having to eat yet another incarnation (65th, perhaps?), yet again, all in a span of two weeks. Don’t get me wrong, they love it under ordinary circumstances, but there is such a thing as overkill.
(If you’re unlucky enough to be living in the same house as me, I doubt you’ll want to read on. Go do some chores instead.)
Let’s rewind a little bit. A few days ago, I posted a photo of a home-cooked Chicken 65 on Instagram. If I needed any proof of how popular any kind of fried chicken is, it was right there, in the record number of requests I received for the recipe. I knew then that I had to write a post about this south Indian version of the fried chicken, not least because it deserves to be known better. It’s not easy to find it on restaurant menus outside India but that doesn’t mean anyone has to miss out on this classic. Luckily, it’s not too difficult to make at home.
The dish, with its rather eccentric name (and more about that in a bit), comprises of battered & fried chicken which is tossed in a hot and sour sauce. There is a sauce, yes, but it barely clings to the chicken. Biting through a nugget, you first encounter the lip-smackingly delicious red sauce, then the nubbly toothsome coating and finally, the tender, juicy chicken at the core. And right there is the secret of popularity of Chicken 65 (or indeed any fried chicken) – it’s the winning combination of not just flavours but textures too. It’s a reminder of how important textures are in our perception of deliciousness.
During my intensive research (aka 10 seconds of googling) into the origin of the name, I came across many weird & wonderful theories. Some say it was invented in a little restaurant situated on highway #65, others that it was item #65 on the menu of the restaurant that first served it. The more ridiculous ones claim that it’s made with chickens that are 65 days old or that 65 chillies are used in the recipe. The genuine explanation seems to be that it was invented in 1965 at Buhari restaurant in Chennai. Whatever the history, the fact remains that any dish that has become so popular over the years must have done so for a very good reason.
I do hope you try the recipe (after reading the all-important notes below), love it and make it again & again. I probably won’t for a while. Not if I want my family to be on talking terms with me.
i) Heat: This is meant to be hot (in terms of chillies) & sour. However, I’d hate for you to miss out if you’re not a chilli-head, so I suggest substituting some of the chilli powder with tomato puree. Also, please be aware that chillies and chilli powders notoriously vary in strength and heat, so add them bit by bit.
ii) Tartness: The hotter a dish, the more tartness it needs for a balance of flavours. If you find it tart because you reduced the heat, then add a bit of sugar or mayo (disclaimer: neither is traditional).
iii) Curry Leaves: For an authentic flavour, curry leaves are a must. However, they are not always easy to come by here in the UK, so don’t let their unavailability stop you from trying this recipe – I promise it’ll still taste good without.
iv) Ratio of flours: Like curry leaves, rice flour is also less likely to be in people’s kitchens, which is why I have suggested substituting it with plain flour. However, if you have access to it, it’s the best choice as it gives a superior crust.
v) Cooking methods: It may not come as a surprise to anyone, but deep frying produces the best result. The rest of the methods produce an unimpressive crust and/or dry chicken. The instructions below are for deep-frying. If you want to go for alternative methods, try this:
- Shallow frying: Use about 1/4 cup oil in a small wok or frying pan and fry for about 2 minutes on each side or until the chicken is cooked through.
- Pan frying: Use 2 tsp oil in a pan to fry the chicken in batches. Fry for about 2 minutes on each side until the chicken in cooked through.
- Air fry: Grease the air fryer basket well, preheat for 3 to 4 minutes, then cook the chicken in batches at 180 for about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Oven: Spread the chicken pieces out on a well-greased tray. Bake at 200° for about 7 to 10 minutes.
South Indian Fried Chicken - 65
- 500 g boneless chicken without skin, cut into 2 cm cubes or firm, unsalted paneer I like to use breasts but thighs work well too
For the Marinade
- 1 tsp finely minced garlic about 2-3 medium cloves
- 1 tsp finely minced ginger
- 3 tbsp full-fat Greek yoghurt
- ½ - 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp crushed chilli flakes
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup finely chopped coriander
- 1 tbs cornstarch
For the Batter:
- 2 large egg whites
- 4 tbsp cornflour
- 2 tbsp rice flour or plain flour
- Oil for deep-frying
For the Sauce:
- 2 tbs oil
- 2 cloves garlic very finely chopped
- 6-8 curry leaves, sliced thinly if unavailable, use 1 tbs chopped coriander
- 2 - 6 whole green chillies use fat mild ones if you don't want too much heat
- 0 - 4 dried red chillies left whole or broken into pieces to lend more heat
- 1 tsp chilli powder, hot or mild
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 tbsp full fat Greek yoghurt
- 1 tsp sugar optional
- 2 tbs mayo optional
- Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together in a medium bowl. Add the chicken to this and marinate, refrigerated, for at least half an hour or overnight. Take the chicken out of the fridge 30 - 60 minutes before you fry it.
- Heat about 2-3 inches of oil for deep frying. It should be medium hot when the chicken goes in. In the meantime, lightly beat the egg whites and add to the chicken. Now add the flours and mix. A few visible dry patches are ok.
- Deep fry the chicken in batches.
Make the Sauce:
- Heat the oil in a frying pan over low heat, then add the garlic. Stir and fry for a minute or two until the garlic goes a shade darker. Add the curry leaves, stir, then add both type of chillies and fry for a few seconds.
- Add the chilli powder and fry for a few seconds, stirring continuously as it will tend to burn. Be careful of getting the fumes in your eyes or nose. Now add the tomato puree and fry for a minute or so.
- Add the yoghurt. Fry for another minute, then turn off the heat. Taste the sauce, season and adjust the flavourings. I find that adding a bit of mayo here gives a bit of body to the sauce and gives a wonderful coating.
- Add the chicken and gently toss to coat. Garnish with coriander leaves.