FOODIE: Curry Power

I think it’s the rain, and the prospect of rain for the next four out of five days, that has me thinking comfort food. It looks like London in New York today, and it is giving me a hankering for stew. But it is also almost May. We’re in the heart of Spring, or at least the peripatetic swings between hot and cold that pass for Spring in New York, so beef bourguignon and the heavier stews are off my mind for now.
I have the distinct desire to crawl under the covers until the sun comes out again. Unfortunately, I am not part of the leisure class and I am a lady whose lunch is usually taken at her desk. So, methinks, this supremely comforting dish I’m dreaming up should also be a bit of a pick-me-up.
Today is going to be a curry day.

I’ll still get the soupy sauce-and-rice comfort combo but I’ll also get that spicy, semi-tropical heat that reminds me that there are warmer days to come. My two favorite curry recipes come from very disparate sources. The curry shrimp comes from the queen of WASPy aspiration, Martha Stewart, and the curry chicken comes from a Jamaican girl I shared a dorm with in college.

As I’ve said before, I’m originally from DC. And if you’re black in DC, chances are that your family is from somewhere down south. So my idea of home cooking usually hewed closer to collard greens and potato salad (which I will get to later, when the farmers market is in full Summer swing) than curried chicken. At UPenn, the majority of black people were either West Indian or African. These demographic differences led to a few heated discussions but more often to musical and sometimes culinary exchange.

I’d fallen in love with curry but thought I’d have no chance of reproducing this complex flavor in my own kitchen. When my dormmate over heard this, she laughed and told me she’d show me how to make curried chicken whenever I had 20 minutes free. I took her up on her offer almost immediately.

The resulting recipe below is more the narrative, grandmotherly kind. There are no real measurements, because that’s how I learned it, and it’s actually infinitely scalable that way. All of the other ingredients depend on how many chickens you have. Pretty simple. I’m sure this does not rival your grandmother’s curry. But it’s a reliable and simple recipe I’ve grown to love. As far as I can tell, the really important secret of the flavor is not an ingredient at all but the fact that the chicken is cut once into pieces, but then again through the bone. The marrow flavors the stew in a way no other ingredient can.

The curried shrimp is one of those beautiful 30-minute after work easy, breezy things. Shrimp cooks quickly no matter what, and this is no exception. The addition of orange juice and orange rind is a sunny and unexpected addition to a simple curry.

I usually serve both of these with rice and red beans. It is a riff on traditional West Indian rice and peas, but I am not really a fan of pigeon peas, so I substitute canned red beans. The reserved water from the canned beans is used in the cooking liquid to produce that ruddiness that I love in rice and peas.

I’m definitely making this tonight. If anyone tries this, let me know how it turns out.

Curried Chicken:

1 chicken cut up, then cut again through the bone into smaller pieces

Good curry powder (I use mild Jamaican)

Soy sauce

salt and pepper

3 sprigs of thyme

2 potatoes peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes

½ scotch bonnet pepper

2 scallions chopped finely

Vegetable oil


Wash and dry the chicken pieces. Sprinkle one drop of soy sauce on each piece then dust liberally with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken with curry powder so that there is a good yellow coat on it.

Heat a large pot or dutch oven on medium-high heat. Pour vegetable oil into the pot until about ¼ inch deep. When oil is hot, brown the chicken pieces. Do not crowd the pan, use more than one batch if necessary. Once chicken is brown on both sides, add chicken back to pot, if necessary. Add enough water to the pot to cover the chicken by half an inch. Drop in whole thyme sprigs and the half scotch bonnet. If you’re concerned by the heat, take the seeds out of the pepper. And of course, if you want it hotter, add a whole pepper. Cover tightly and simmer on low for an hour. After an hour, add the diced potatoes and scallions to the stew and simmer on medium with the top off until the potatoes are tender. Serve over rice and beans.

Curried Shrimp:

2 Oranges

1 lb. Large shrimp, peeled, deveined

1 Tbs Hot curry powder (or mild if you prefer)



2 Tbs Olive Oil

1 Small onion diced

½ med. red pepper diced

1 tsp Dry oregano

1 cup Tomato juice

½ cup Heavy cream or yogurt (or ¼ C each)

Fresh oregano for garnish

Cayenne Pepper (Optional)

Zest oranges on small-slot grater or zester.
Squeeze oranges, put juice in bowl.
Put shrimp in another bowl, toss w/ ½ orange zest, 1½ tsp curry powder, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper.
Heat oil over med. Heat, cook seasoned shrimp until pink, transfer to plate w/ slotted spoon.
Add rest of olive oil to pan.
Add onion, pepper, remaining curry powder, cook until onion is translucent, approx. 4 mins.
Reduce heat to med. low, add orange and tomato juice. Cook until thickened, approx. 8 mins.
Add shrimp, heat through, approx. 2 mins.
Add cream and orange zest.
Add salt and pepper to taste. May also add cayenne pepper for more heat.
Garnish w/ fresh oregano.
Serve w/ steamed white rice or rice and peas.

Rice and Peas:

1 14 oz can red beans

2 cups uncooked white rice

1 sprig thyme

½ tsp salt

3 cups water approx.

½ half medium onion diced finely (this is optional)

Saute onion in medium pot until golden and translucent. (I am an onion freak and love it in everything. If this does not appeal to you, skip to the paragraph below.)

Strain Red beans, reserving the liquid. Set aside the beans. Add enough water to the bean liquid to make 3 ½ cups of liquid. Heat the liquid in medium pot. Once it is boiling, add salt, thyme, rice and beans. Stir to combine. Steam on low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.


If you like Nichelle’s dish, check out her previous recipes here.

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