Murgir jhol is classic Bengali chicken curry. This is pure Indian home cooking. Simple. Straight forward. And delicious. Family food.
It’s not fancy. It’s not flashy. And it’s not like the curry you get in restaurants. It’s just good. I think so anyway. Hopefully you agree.
This is eastern Indian cooking. The flavours I grew up eating. My comfort food. When I was a kid this was just called chicken curry. I didn’t even know if was called murgir jhol.
India is a country with an incredibly diverse culinary culture with strong regional differences. There is so much more to it than the twenty or so dishes every Indian restaurant seems to serve. So much more.
Murgir jhol is curry with Bengali ingredients
There’s nothing earth shattering in this recipe. Onions. Garlic. Ginger. Tomatoes. These are everyday Indian ingredients.
Potatoes are fairly common in Indian cooking as well. Especially in Bengali cooking. They use them a lot. So this is really a chicken and potato curry.
Mustard is big. If you want to go the extra mile use some mustard oil to cook. It has a distinctive taste. Not super strong. Background really. But really popular in Bengali cooking.
Panch phoran and cinnamon are the things that really make this Bengali chicken curry. These are the hallmark flavours. The signature ingredients.
The only thing I can think of that would make this more Bengali would be if you added more cumin seed and mustard seed.
And you turned this into a fish curry. That would put it completely over the top. But that’s not Bengali chicken curry. And the title of this post does say murgir jhol so…
Panch phoran is not a crazy exotic ingredient
Panch phoran is Bengali five spice. It’s a mix of cumin seed, mustard seed, nigella, fenugreek seed and fennel seed. Told you cumin seed and mustard seed were big in Bengal.
These are small spices. So you can eat them in the curry. It’s not like biting into a whole cardamom. Don’t fear the small spices. They blend in. It works.
Panch phoran is the flavour that defines murgir jhol. But it’s used in all sorts of dishes. Try fried or roasted potatoes with it sometime. Some garlic. A little salt. That is some crazy delicious.
You can get Panch phoran at just about any Indian grocer. Or you can make it yourself. It’s just an even mix of the five spices. Left whole. Mix it up and go. Easy.
Take the time to brown your onions
Funny thing about Indian cooking. You don’t usually brown the chicken. One of those things that used to perplex me until I thought a bit about it.
The Maillard reaction is the king of cooking. It’s the process of browning. And that is browning is what causes a reaction between proteins and sugars. A reaction that releases a zillion flavour compounds. Literally a zillion. I counted. Took a long time. But now I know.
So how can not browning the chicken result in something that doesn’t taste like nothing? It’s because the Maillard reaction applies to onions too. And if there is one golden rule to Indian cooking it’s onions need to caramelize.
That’s where the flavour compounds are coming from. That’s why it works even though you skip what should be an absolutely critical step.
You can brown your chicken. That adds more flavour. But it messes up the texture of the chicken in the curry. And texture matters too. So I don’t do it.
Boneless vs. bone-in chicken
I used boneless chicken thighs for this recipe. That upscales it a bit. Makes it closer to what you might expect in a restaurant.
That’s not authentic. That’s me trying to get you to try this recipe. A bit fancier. More approachable. Not what you’d get in somebody’s home.
But make no mistake. Bone-in chicken is genuine. Pick up the chicken and slurp the bones genuine. Lick your fingers genuine. Like I said. Family food.
But if you’re doing this for friends who are in the knife and fork crowd maybe boneless is the way to go. Either way it needs to be thighs. White meat is too delicate for this kind of cooking.
Murgir jhol is a little bit different
This is not a restaurant style curry. It doesn’t have that crazy thick sauce. It’s not a few pieces of stuff in a whole lot of gravy. This curry is a little bit runny.
Not soupy by any stretch of the imagination. But not that stick to your naan bread restaurant stuff either. It is perfect with rice. Just runny enough to flavour every grain.
If this stops you from making murgir jhol that’s really too bad. It’s something you should experience at least once. A little insight into family cooking. The way people cook at home. The real deal.
This isn’t mainstream restaurant fare. You may not get it. But if you’ve cooked a few recipes from this blog already I’m betting you will.
murgir jhol – bengali chicken curry
- 1 1/2 tsp panch phoran – bengali 5 spice available at any Indian grocer
- 1/4 tsp cardamom seed green
- 1 3 inch cinnamon bark – also called cassia
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tsp kashmiri chili powder
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 lbs chicken thighs – boneless skinless
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil or 2 tbsp vegetable oil and 2 tbsp mustard oil
- 2 large onions thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp garlic ginger paste
- 1 large tomato diced
- 12 oz potatoes cut into 1 inch dice
- 1 cup chicken stock or water (but I much prefer chicken stock)
Do your prep
- Combine the panch phoran, cardamom seed and cinnamon stick in a small bowl.
- Combine the cumin, coriander, kashmiri chili powder, turmeric, salt and pepper in another small bowl.
- Slice the onions thinly. Slice the onion in half (from root to stem) then slice across the onion so you get half moons.
- Cut your potatoes into 1 inch pieces.
- Cut your chicken into largish bite size chunks.
- Chop your tomato.
Make the murgir jhol
- Pick a pot big enough to hold all the ingredients.
- Heat the oil over medium low heat. Add the onions. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they break down and turn light brown. This takes 15-20 minutes. You can't skip this step.
- Push the onions over to one side. Give a squeeze against the side of the pot to get some of the oil out.
- Add the whole spices. Cook for about 30-45 seconds. Now add the ground spices and stir to mix with the oil. You don't want the mix to be dry at this point. You want the spices wet. If it looks dry add another tablespoon of oil. Cook for about a minute. Be careful. Don't let your spices burn.
- Add the garlic ginger paste. Stir everything together and cook, stirring regularly, for 3 minutes or so.
- Add the tomatoes. Stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down. This should take 5-7 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock and the potatoes. Cover and simmer (adjust your heat accordingly) for 15-20 minutes. Your potatoes should be starting to soften.
- Add the chicken. SImmer another 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and chicken is cooked. Taste and adjust for salt. It will likely need a bit more.
- Garnish with cilantro if desired. Serve with basmati rice.