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Opinion | A chicken under pressure provides refuge from Covid madness

In balmy Bengaluru, the virus is mild and the city overconfident. It is best to stay home and let slow cooking keep you occupied

To tenderize the meat, cook it in on ‘dum’.
To tenderize the meat, cook it in on ‘dum’. (Photo: Alamy)

By the time you read this, Bengaluru will have been substantially unlocked, including malls and religious places.

It is madness.

All around me, people appear to have a sense of misplaced optimism. While people die because they cannot get hospital beds in Mumbai and Delhi, the media in my beloved city is full of stories on how we got it right. It certainly is true that the city administration did reasonably well but to suggest that bureaucrats and the police took us to a better place than our compatriot cities further north is to overlook a crucial factor: luck.

I only have to take a walk outside my house to realize that if the virus was here in substantial measure, it would spread like wildfire. A whole lot of people wear no masks. Many who do wear it, wear a mask like the Union home minister, under the nose. No social distancing is evident in most public places. Even my neighbourhood supermarkets, which were so fastidious until two weeks ago, appear to have succumbed to the general feeling that the worst is past us and that we are indestructible.

Me, I want to be prepared when the real pandemic takes hold. I hope and pray that I am wrong but I am not planning my life around hope and prayer.

So, we are largely hunkered down, and we intend to stay that way until the progress of the virus becomes clearer. After all, we have four senior citizens to care for, three of them above 80. You will forgive me for disregarding government and public optimism. I understand that the city cannot stay locked down forever but it is simply not taking this nasty virus as seriously as it should. Unlocking has to be far more cautious than it is and I can see no justification whatsoever to open religious places.

At home, our routine has more or less stayed the same. We do not meet friends and we do not go anywhere unless it is unavoidable. We tried to restart walks and runs, but aghast at the hordes walking or running in close proximity with no masks, we have restricted those outings. Instead, I for one have forced myself to work out at home. That and housework ensure a very peaceful and deep sleep.

Cooking has been a part of daily activity for some time and there is now a satisfaction and organization to the process. The spouse is a fastidious planner, so she tries to send me WhatsApp menus for the day. I cannot be bothered with such advance notice; my seat-of-the-pants cooking still serves me as well as it did when I did not cook every day.

Our wonderful part-time housekeeper is back but I refuse to cede the ground I won in her absence. I find it keeps me honest and on my culinary toes, so to speak. Breakfast is entirely my responsibility, as are the main entrées for the day. My in-laws from Mumbai moved in with us some weeks ago, and given the condition of their city, they will be here awhile, which is lovely. The more the merrier, I always say. We are also trying to integrate our kitchen with that of my parents, with whom we moved in for two months during the lockdown.

This means a lot of food goes back and forth.

They tend to make things I have not yet mastered, such as tiny veluri (anchovies, as far as I can discern) fish with fenugreek or with anything else my mother fancies that day or—I am ashamed to say—bisi bele anna, a spicy, vegetable-filled khichdi that is one of Karnataka’s national dishes.

I tend to make the bulk fish or chicken, and that is mainly because I tend to experiment a lot in my efforts to bring broiler to life. One of the easiest ways to do this, I have found, is to ensure the bird is tenderized and that is best done under a slow, oven grill or—if the oven is in use grilling vegetables, which is often—I have rediscovered the art of cooking on dum.

I find it does not really matter what I do as long as I seal the deal with a bird on dum, where the lid is made pressure-cooker like with chapati dough and the meat cooks in its own steam. You may argue that chicken does not really need dum but it does a lot of good to the ordinary broiler—or even a tough country chicken—to steam slowly, as the meat loosens from the bone at a temperature high enough to kill the toughest virus on God’s earth. It takes time, of course, but I am not going anywhere.


Serves 8


1kg chicken, full legs cut into three pieces

4 large onions, chopped

4 large tomatoes, puréed

3 tsp Kashmiri mirch

1 tsp red-chilli powder

2 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

3 tsp coriander powder

1/4 cup tamarind juice

Whole spices: 1-inch piece cinnamon, 3 black cardamom, K star anise, 5 cloves

2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste

1 tbsp sesame oil

Chapati dough to seal

Salt to taste


Heat oil and add whole spices. When they start to swell and release aroma, add onions and fry till golden brown. Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for a minute, adding water if it all sticks. Add Kashmiri mirch, red chilli, turmeric, cumin and coriander powders. Sauté and quickly add tomato purée. Mix well and add chicken. Sear at high heat for 15 minutes. Add salt. Mix, close lid and seal with dough. Reduce to simmer and let cook for 60-80 minutes. Unseal and serve.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.

Twitter - @samar11

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