As human beings we are naturally attracted to stories. Stories are the primary form of human entertainment. Stories fill the colors of our imaginations and become food for our thought. But when it comes to stories about food, they are few in number and not all are interesting. This dish however is one shining stand out. And at the vortex of all these stories is the perpetual curiosity that surrounds the number ‘65’. Why is there a number at the end? Why is the name of the dish not ending with something enticing like korma, kofta or masala? Or why is it not making an ode to a place where probably the dish has originated from like Lahori, Chettinad or Amritsari? From where does this unusual and uninteresting number like ‘65’ appear? No one would be able to tell you for sure. The only thing certain is that it originated in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Some would say it was created in 1965 and it took the name from the year. Some would suggest that the dish consists of 65 ingredients. Really? Hope not. But the most convincing story goes like this. Once upon a time in a military canteen in Tamil Nadu, there were a number of non-Tamil speaking soldiers from all over the country. They seemed to be bowled over by this dish. Unable to read and pronounce the name of this amazing chicken dish in Tamil, they ordered it by pointing out the serial number on the menu. This particular dish was on number 65. Thus a name was born from language barrier and for the ease of communication...Chicken 65. However, for me, none of these stories really mattered, when I received a dish full of hot and spicy red colored chicken. It settled my day.
For marinating and frying the chicken
Chicken (bite-size boneless pieces): 1 lb
Vinegar: 1 tsp
Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tsp
Ground black pepper: 1 tsp
Corn starch: 1 1/2 tbsp
Oil for frying
Salt to taste
For chilli-garlic oil
Garlic: 2 cloves
Dry red chilli: 2
Oil: 1 tsp
Vinegar: 1 tsp
For the masala
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Green chilli (chopped): 2
Curry leaves: 6 to 8
Ginger (finely chopped): 1 tsp
Garlic (finely chopped): 1 tbsp
Cumin powder: 1 tsp
Red chili powder: 1/2 tsp
Red food color: Few drops (optional)
Coriander leaves/ cilantra (chopped): 1/4 cup
Salt to taste
Prepare the chilli-garlic oil. Soak the dry red chillies in some warm water for about 30 minutes. Then blend the chillies with garlic, oil, vinegar and a little water until smooth.
Marinate the chicken with vinegar, ginger-garlic paste, salt and pepper for 15 to 20 minutes. Then add the egg and corn starch and mix everything to coat the chicken.
Heat oil in a pan for frying. Fry the chicken pieces until golden brown and set them aside.
In another pan heat 1 tbsp of oil. Add the cumin seeds, green chillies, chopped ginger, chopped garlic and curry leaves. Saute for a couple of minutes.
Now add cumin powder, red chilli powder and the chilli-garlic oil and mix. Add a little water (about 2 tbsp) and salt to taste and let the masala cook for a couple of minutes.
Then add the red food color and mix it in.
Then add the fried chicken pieces and coat them well in the masala.
Finally, add the chopped coriander leaves/cilantro and give it a quick mix.
Chicken 65 is ready to be served as an appetizer or a side. Enjoy!!
Photographs by Swakshar Ghosh.