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Dhaba sauce bases

v. gautam

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@ infernoo

Transferred the topic here from aloo-gobhi. Hope to add some dishes common in dhabas that others have tweaked and then I have. You may play around to get to your own taste preferences.

Here is an idea from Marut Sikka, much modified. The scalding cream temper at the close remains his unique, sheer genius!! In Punjab, cream probably flows in people's veins! Real white butter freshly churned from buffalo milk yoghurt, accompanied by bottomless glasses of real buttermilk distinguishes the quality dhaba [a roadside establishment] from its competitors.

Chicken with Shallots & onions [sort of Do-peeaza]

Boneless Chicken breast or thigh cubed, marinated with a very little ginger/garlic paste + a little salt. You can smash the garlic with the salt on your cutting board & work it with your knife or end of cleaver handle [as Chinese chefs do] to a workable paste. Ginger can be grated and squeezed. No need to work the blender for this tiny amount.

Save a bit of the ginger & garlic paste for cooking.

Some people might want to add chicken hearts for a chewier texture. Chicken breast is the pits, in terms of texture & flavor. Before cubing, lay the breast out and pound with moderate force, breaking up some fiber. Then cube. You will find a cube that is less stringy. Most Americans dislike bones in their food, else a chopped poussin or squab, can be tried.

Onion, diced fine; use your sense of proportion. You will brown these. They will shrink!

Small shallots or the big ones halved or quartered, for quick cooking; little cipollini onions, ditto, or, if you only have red onions, cut big ones into quarters or eighths, separate the leaves, & cut to appropriate size.

Very lightly roast Coriander & cumin & a whole red chile pepper that is not hot but flavorful: pound them moderately fine. In the West, use a coffee grinder! Remember, this is your basic karhai/balti spice!

Reserve some turmeric powder, not much.

Powder some Garam masala: green cardamom whole pods, a tiny bit of mace [strength differs according to source, & aril vs powder, use judgment, not to overpower], a tiny bit of clove 5-6?, cassia bark/cinnamon: 2 tsp total for 1kg chicken?

The Plain tomato base

Slightly sour yoghurt, smaller quantity than tomato [1: 8], beaten well

Very fine julienne ginger root, optional

Cilantro, chopped, optional & whole thai chillies, for aroma.

Crushed moderately fine black pepper corns or pepper mill at ready.

A lemon or lime to squeeze, brought to room temperature.

Tempering mix: cream, chopped fresh mint (dry if no fresh availabbl) kasuri methi leaves rubbed in palm to crush


Heat ghee, when shimmering add the reserved ginger&garlic paste,stirringuntil they sizzle. No prolonged cooking. Instantly add diced onions,stir and move around until they begin to brown. Here is a flaw in the recipe. Either use slow cooked browned onions drained of fat, would be my gut reaction, or brown only until the edges are colored in a significant amount of fat [which is what dhabas do]. They add taste with fat.

Add ALL powdered spices including turmeric, stir to mix with the oil, then the tomato base, cook down a bit, then yoghurt, cook down a bit, season, then chicken and shallots, cook until almost done, taste, adding garam masala, a squeeze of citrus, a mere hint of black pepper, a tiny bit of cilantro, and quite a few whole green chillies to release their aroma. Remove to a serving dish. Scatter some julienne strings of fresh ginger on top.

Do not cover the serving dish. The chicken is cooking away in hot clingy gravy, so remove it on the side of underdone, not stringy.

In a small saucepan, add cream and bring to scalding, add other tempering ingredients, heat few seconds until aroma released, pour over chicken and serve hot. Adjust all spicing to suit your taste.

You understand, of course, that in restaurants, the onions & tomato base are cooked in a flood of butter & ghee over a hot flame that is "invited" into the pan several times, much like the Chinese wok hei. That is the particular taste patrons crave, and the butter/cream swimming around never ever hurts a naan fresh from the tandoor. 66% of the world's cardiovascular cases will be confined to India in the next decade or two, according to official forecasts from diverse sources!

P.S. Don't add all the garam masala. Start with 1/8 teaspoon. You can always ADD more. Likewise, a light hand with the spice powders. You want to taste the shallots & chicken here. In Bengal, we have, or used to enjoy, a preponderance of small tropical shallots over onions, so those were favored in Chicken Do-peeaza in the style of West Bengal, Calcutta.

Edited by v. gautam (log)
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