From the Chronicle Kitchen
Where Flavor Was Born: Indian Pepper Chicken
The flavor of pepper is often not appreciated as more than half of the ubiquitous salt-and-pepper duo that performs in the background of most savory dishes. This is a dish that takes pepper seriously, as it should be taken, for its unique flavor. It is based on a meal I had at Brunton Boatyard in Cochin, close to the source of the finest pepper on earth.
I have several different types of black pepper at home, and when making this dish, I use a combination of two or three different types of black pepper, and sometimes also a little Indonesian cubeb pepper. Although that is an interesting way to experience the variation and complexity of the flavor of black pepper, it is by no means necessary, but I do think that it is vital to use freshly bought black peppercorns. And it is absolutely crucial to use whole peppercorns that you crush yourself.
The addition of chicken livers gives the dish more body. If you do not like the texture of liver, you can chop them, and they will more or less disintegrate, making a thick gravy.
Serve with rice and possibly also nan bread or yellow rice. I like to have a small bowl of yogurt with a little bit of finely chopped onion and a sprinkle of freshly ground cloves as a soothing accompaniment to the fiery pepper. A simple tomato salad is also nice, or a few chunks of mango, with or without a sprinkle of chili powder or red pepper flakes and chives.
If you do not have a mortar and pestle and mortar, you can crush the pepper on a cutting board using a heavy skillet.
Serves 4 as a main course
4 large boneless chicken breasts, preferably with skin
2 tablespoons coarsely crushed black peppercorns, or more to taste, plus 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1/2 cup chicken stock or bouillon
2 teaspoons fresh green peppercorns or dried green peppercorns, reconstituted in 3 tablespoons hot water for 10 minutes, drained, and coarsely crushed
4 to 6 onions, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
Oil for panfrying, such as canola
8 ounces chicken livers, or more if desired, cleaned and chopped
2 to 4 tablespoons butter or ghee (optional)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
Cut several 2/3- to 1-inch-long slashes in each chicken breast, and rub the breasts with half of the crushed black peppercorns.
In a small pot, combine the chicken stock and whole peppercorns and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and keep at a simmer.
Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a large deep skillet over high heat. Sauté the onions and garlic with the rest of the crushed black pepper for 3 to 5 minutes, until starting to lightly brown. Transfer to a bowl or plate.
Season the chicken breasts and livers with salt. Add the breasts to the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add the livers, onions and garlic, green peppercorns, and chicken stock (with or without the whole peppercorns left in), and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until the chicken breasts are cooked through.
Just before serving, stir in the butter, if desired, and the ginger. If desired, season with more crushed pepper to taste.
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