Chicken Pulusu comes with a strange tale. My uncle stayed in Hyderabad, and he was an amazing cook. Whenever he would come to town, he would make this mutton dish which contained, apart from plenty of mint leaves, coriander, cumin, and a thousand other exotic spices, a generous portion of dry fruits. It was, in one word, divine. And if someone asked him to cook meat quickly, he would say that cooking mutton was never a quick procedure. But if anyone wanted something quick, there was always a chicken pulusu that he could dish out in half an hour’s time.
Pulusu is essentially a tangy curry-like gravy dish from Andhra Pradesh. Generally, it can be made with vegetables, eggs, fish, chicken, and possibly other meats as well, although I have tasted egg and chicken pulusu. If you search the net, you will find a huge number of dishes, some containing tamarind, some containing tomatoes, some jaggery, etc etc. However, my uncle used to make a very quick version in front of me, and this is my take on it.
We would sit together and talk while he cooked. He generally never allowed anyone to come near the kitchen when he cooked, but I was an exception, because we would sit and I would do what he asked me to, and we had very similar taste in music, so we would sing a lot together.
I miss him. He died a few years ago – a shock to my family because he was the same age as my father. It aged my father greatly, and he refused to speak of him for a long time. I remember my uncle, with his huge smile and his hilarious mimicry of others, and a beautiful singing voice, whenever I make pulusu.
Begin with adding a bit of salt and 1/4th teaspoon turmeric powder to about 250 gm. chicken cut in medium pieces. For this recipe, I prefer using bone-in chicken breasts and thighs. Set aside. In a pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat, and add 6-8 curry leaves, a stick of cinnamon or two, and 2 whole dry red chillies, along with 1 pinch of cumin seeds. When the curry leaves and cumin seeds are spluttering merrily, add 2 tablespoon onion paste and a teaspoon of ginger garlic paste. Fry this over medium-low heat for 3-4 minutes, or until the onions are no longer raw.
Add the chicken, stir briskly over high heat, and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until the chicken is well-seared on all sides. At this point, add 1 teaspoon of coriander powder, 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder, and 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder. You can also add 1/2 a tomato, chopped fine, if you like a bit more tang. Often, if I don’t find tamarind, then I add a whole tomato, pureed, and cook it down for a while with the chicken, and ditch the tamarind. Cook this concoction over medium heat for 2-3 more minutes, or until the tomato is slightly soft.
Pour in 1/2 cup water, a small ball of jaggery or a teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon tamarind paste mixed with 2 tablespoon water, and bring to a boil. When the chicken comes to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 12-15 minutes over low heat, or until the chicken is cooked through. Once cooked, reduce the gravy till it reaches the consistency you like. I prefer it slightly thick, so I cook it for a while, and then add salt to taste. Top with a few fresh curry or coriander leaves (cilantro), and serve. I love eating this with rice, or parathas, but rotis work fabulously too.