Food & Wine

How to cook Chicken Xacuti, a classic delicacy from Goa

Chicken Xacuti

If you’re bored with making the same traditional chicken curry, consider trying Chicken Xacuti (“sha-kooti”), an intense curry from Goa, a state in western India.

Goa’s long history as a Portuguese colony prior to 1961 is evident in its preserved 17th-century churches and the area’s tropical spice plantations.

Goa is also known for its beautiful beaches. Rice, seafood, coconut, vegetables, meat, pork and local spices are among the main ingredients in Goan cuisine.
Over time, Chicken Xacuti has emerged as one of the most iconic dishes of Goa. In the good old days, Xacuti was made from scratch – whole spices first roasted and then ground into a powder, followed by adding freshly grated coconut and onions. The mixture was ground in a cement mortar, a lengthy process. I have simplified this recipe so that you can enjoy the dish from the comfort of your own home, sans stone mortar.

Even though Xacuti can be cooked with a ton of spice, feel free to cut down the amount of chili to suit your taste. It’s all about experimenting with the diverse spices until you adjust the flavors to suit your palate. If you fancy lamb, you can substitute lamb for chicken and increase the cooking time (see note at end).

Most of the spices are easily found at any Indian spice store in the Bay Area. India Cash & Carry’s locations in Sunnyvale and Cupertino are two great options that offer all spices used in this recipe.

Delhi, where I come from, is famous for classic butter chicken, stuffed parathas, chaat and kebabs – it is the capital haven for North Indian delicacies. Goa is along the coast, so cooking with fresh seafood and coconuts is its delicacy. Because canned coconut milk is a relatively recent innovation, most coconut stews and curries in western India start out using the grated flesh from a fresh coconut, also available at local Indian or Asian stores. You can start by grating fresh coconut (a cumbersome process – first crack open a fresh coconut and then remove the flesh and grate it). When I don’t want that work, I typically use dried or frozen (thawed) coconut. My favorite brand is Deep, which you can find stocked in local Indian markets. If you want to start from a fresh coconut, look for the hairy brown ones – they are fully mature. Young green coconuts – prized for their refreshing and healthy water – don’t have flesh mature enough for cooking.

The optional sprinkle of garam masala to finish is a matter of preference. Most Indian dishes I make, I garnish with garam masala, which has numerous recipes and can get complicated as every chef has his or her own version. I recommend using a store-bought blend for beginners to Indian cooking.

A basic North Indian homemade garam masala will start with whole black peppercorns, cumin seeds, black cardamom pods, whole cloves and cinnamon stick, but as India has so many regions, each state has its own recipe.

Gitika Baveja, a Sunnyvale resident, is author of “Indian Flavors to Savor: The Easy Home-Cooked Way.” For additional recipes and more information, visit flavorstosavor.com.

Chicken Xacuti

Chicken:
• 1 cup chicken breast cut in small pieces (or lamb, see note below)
• 1 medium red or white onion, chopped
• 1/2 cup fresh or frozen coconut, shredded (use Deep brand in frozen section)
• 1/2 cup water
• 1 tablespoon tamarind paste (bottled is fine)
• 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
• 1/2 teaspoon ginger, minced
• Salt to taste
• 1 teaspoon white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
• 3-4 tablespoons oil
• 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped (to garnish)
Masala powder:
• 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
• 3-4 black peppercorns
• A few fennel seeds
• A few carom seeds (ajwain)
• 1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
• 2 whole cloves
• Small piece cinnamon stick
• 1/2 whole star anise
• 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 1/4 teaspoon ground mace (javathri)
• 1 dry red chili (optional)

Wash chicken and cut into small pieces.

Roast spices for masala powder in small pan over low heat just to warm them – after about a minute on heat, they will become fragrant. Do not burn them or they will be bitter. Grind them to powder in coffee grinder.

Heat oil in pan and fry onions until they start to brown. Add coconut and fry 2-4 minutes until brown. Add ginger and garlic paste. Place this and ground spices in blender with some water and process to smooth paste. Set aside.

In same pan, heat oil and stir-fry chicken until no longer pink. Add wet masala paste, ground spice mixture, sugar, turmeric powder, salt and tamarind paste. Stir. Add water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check for taste.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and dash of garam masala.

Serve with basmati rice or Indian bread.

Note: If you want to make this with boneless lamb, add more water and simmer on low heat until fully cooked and soft. This could take about an hour unless you are using a pressure cooker.

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