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Kozhi Melagu, or Black Pepper Chicken
Adapted from the Taj Connemara, Madras

Every other January, Ian Hemphill and his wife Liz, owners of the Sydney spice emporium known as Herbie’s, take a lucky group on a whirlwind tour of spice farms and markets in India and Sri Lanka.  Naturally, no little time is devoted to enjoying marvelous meals and the travelers return with a sheaf of recipes for delicacies using the peppercorns, cinnamon, and curry leaves they have enjoyed on the trip.  

At first glance this dish seems so fiery that only the most intrepid pepper lover might dare to taste it.  Fear not.  The final dish is full of heat, but of a pleasantly warming sort.  The turmeric turns the chicken a beautiful golden hue, while the black pepper is mellowed by the coriander seed.  As Hemphill notes in The Spice and Herb Bible, coriander is an “amalgamating” spice, one that has a mild flavor and can be used to temper more pungent spices.  (Confession:  We did omit the 4 teaspoons of chili powder in the original recipe.)  To balance the heat, we’ve added some chopped fresh pineapple.  As always, the sweetness of the fruit and the heat of the pepper are a perfect marriage.  

To Serve 4

Ingredients for the chicken: 

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1-1/2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup tomato, chopped
1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste (see note)
2 teaspoons turmeric
6 teaspoons coriander seed, freshly ground
8 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
1-3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
3 teaspoons garam masala (see note)
1/2 cup fresh pineapple, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped


1. Heat the oil in a large cast iron wok or frying pan.  Add the fennel and cumin seeds and cook until they crackle.  Take care not to let them burn.
2. Add the chopped onion and fry until it turns golden brown.  Add the tomato and 1 cup of pineapple, and cook until they have softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Add the ginger-garlic paste and cook until the raw flavor is gone, about 1 minute.
4. Add the turmeric, coriander and pepper, and cook for 30 seconds.
5. Stir in the chicken and cook until it is done, 5 to 7 minutes.  
6. Stir in the garam masala and 1/2 cup of pineapple. Top with chopped coriander leaves. 
7. Serve hot with steamed white rice.

Note:  Ready mixed ginger-garlic paste and garam masala are available at Indian and many Asian markets.


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