Karuveppilai Fried Chicken (Curry Leaf Fried Chicken)

Yields 8 pieces of chicken

Karuveppilai masala is a spice mixture traditional to Chettinad cuisine—a complex, smoky-spicy blend of toasted fresh curry leaves and warm Indian spices. While it tends to be mixed with dahi (curd, very much like buttermilk) to make a saucy chicken dish, it occurred to me that the masala, buttermilk, and chicken could be used to make some amazing fried chicken. And boy, did this recipe turn out to be a home run. Crispy, flavorful crust on the outside; tender, succulent dark meat on the inside; and all the aroma and spice that makes Indian cookery so addictive. This isn’t a traditional Chettinad recipe, for sure, but it’s one of my favorite fusion dishes to date.

The masala recipe below makes about twice as much as is needed, but trust me, it’s worth having extra around for future use. My fiancé and I piloted the first batch of karuveppilai fried chicken last week, and then immediately ended up making more as soon as we could because I was craving it like crazy.

Pairs well with mor kuzhambu (blanched leafy greens in buttermilk sauce) and your favorite chilled lager.

For the karuveppilai masala:

6 sprigs’-worth of curry leaves

1 cinnamon stick

2 star anise pods

2 cardamom pods

4 pieces (about 1” each) stone flower (dagad phool)

4 tsp fennel seeds

4 dried red chilis

2 tsp black pepper corns

For the fried chicken:

Peanut oil or neutral oil (for frying)

Salt, freshly cracked pepper, and garlic powder to taste

Karuveppilai masala, (be generous with it) to taste

4 chicken thigh quarters, cut into thighs and drumsticks

1 ½ cups buttermilk

3 eggs

2 cups flour, plus more as needed

Instructions:

Add the curry leaves, cinnamon stick, star anise, cardamom pods, stone flower, fennel seeds, red chilies, and pepper corns to a skillet over low heat and dry roast until richly fragrant, 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat. Allow to cool until safe to handle, then transfer to a spice grinder and pulse into a fine powder. Set aside.

Fill a large (cast-iron) skillet almost half full with oil and heat to 350°F. (Just below medium high works for me. Try touching a chopstick to the bottom. If it immediately starts bubbling, the temperature is high enough.)

Season chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and masala. Whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and a generous amount of masala (a few tablespoons at least) together in a shallow bowl for dredging. In a separate shallow bowl for dredging, add the flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a few more tablespoons of the masala and whisk together. (I usually add some more seasoning to the flour about halfway through the dredging, too. You can’t really have too much seasoning in there.)

Dredge chicken in buttermilk mixture, coating the entire chicken piece. Let excess drip off chicken and then dredge in flour mixture. After all chicken is dredged as above, do it again to each piece: double dredging is the key to creating a crispy, flavorful crust.

Place the battered chicken in heated oil, laying them into the skillet away from yourself to avoid splash back, and keep the oil temperature steady during the cook. Only cook about 3 pieces at a time and keep the oil temp steady. Turn after about 90 seconds, and then another 90. After that, turn about every minute until golden brown and juices run clear. This should take about 20 minutes for drumsticks and 25 minutes for thighs. Keep a constant eye on them and be sure not to undercook. Having the heat too high will cause the outside to burn while the center is still bloody.

As each batch comes out of the oil, lay onto a large cooling rack to drain. Once you’re on the last several batches of chicken, transfer the latest pieces on the cooling rack onto a smaller rack set on top of a tray (to catch dripping oil) in a toaster oven set to WARM.

Once you’ve finished frying all the pieces of chicken, serve the latest batch that’s come out and drained, along with the pieces in the toaster oven (depending on how many people you’re serving—if it’s only two people, the pieces in the toaster oven can be on reserve for seconds). Pairs well with a side of leafy greens in dahi curry and your favorite chilled lager.

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