by Kaveri Ponnapa
Koli barthad – quite simply, fried chicken – is one of those unassuming, ordinary sort of dishes that can transform a meal into something special. Easy to rustle up at short notice, since it does not bother with any complicated ingredients or equipment, it was a favourite, when unexpected guests arrived at estate homes. And if you happened to have a free-range bird on hand, descended from the Indian jungle fowl, which was always the case on a plantation, you were assured a richly flavoured dish to liven up the most mundane lunch or dinner.
Although I have not done it here, Coorg chicken fry is usually cooked with the skin on, and the bird chopped into smallish pieces, something worth remembering, as the skin browns beautifully in large patches, and keeps the meat moist and tender on the inside. It is definitely a fry, with rather more oil than you would normally expect of a dish like this. Locally grown black peppercorns turn up, adding warmth to the sweetness of fried onions, working their way into the moist, shiny pieces of chicken, along with the additional sour power from the Coorg vinegar, kachampuli. A few fresh green chilies blend in well, adding more bite, if you wish it.
I cook this in an ancient khadai, waiting for a thick, sticky sauce to form at the bottom of the dish, and after a while, the spice infused oil floats to the surface, adding a glaze to the meat. The layer of browned spice and oil that coats the vessel is scraped off with care and added to the serving platter, along with twists of silky onions. The rich, condensed sauce clings to the pieces of chicken, and to your fingers, which you cannot help licking. From a spare palette of ingredients, a perfect balance of flavours emerges. You end up scraping the plate for every last smear of this unctuous, delicious offering.
An everyday dish from our everyday kitchens, koli barthad is now something of a celebrity. It features on the menu of one of the most famous restaurants in the country, Karavalli. It found its way onto the five-star table via Chef Naren Thimmaiah; this celebrated Chef follows his mother's recipe, keeping the dish determinedly simple, which is the secret of its appeal. And in the meanwhile, its status as a favourite on so many Coorg tables remains unchanged.
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Image Credits: Nithin Sagi
All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa