- I discovered this dish when it was served at a beautiful little spot named Phulwari (now closed) in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.
This recipe for making Methi Chicken took years to perfect. It beautifully captures the essence of fresh fenugreek leaves, especially leveraging asafetida to make it shine. The dish is effort-intensive but highly rewarding. It is meant to be made for a special occasion when entertaining a special clientele/guests.
Fresh tender Methi (fenugreek leaves) is usually hard to find, but one may have better luck with finding these at the local Indian grocery stores. If this is the first time you are seeing fresh Methi leaves being used in a non-vegetarian dish, it is probably because it has never been embraced by restaurant chains or even trendy eateries. That is probably because of a lack of awareness of this amazing dish, but maybe also because of a lack of a mass appeal.
First off, the Methi used must be very tender and fresh. Secondly, from the bunch, only the Methi leaves get used, and stems are discarded because they are stringy and tough.
I first discovered this dish when it was served at a beautiful little spot named Phulwari (now closed) in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi. The chef must have done one heck of a job because I and my brother Rajeev kept reminiscing about how great this dish was. Later on, I found references to Methi chicken in cookbooks (one by Madhur Jaffrey), but none tasted even remotely close to the Phulwari version. However, instead of giving up, I kept experimenting over the years, and finally, I have a recipe that can stack up to the best.
There is some planning required if you are planning to re-create this dish in your own kitchen, especially as it concerns the ingredients. This can be great to treat someone special, given the hard work needed to make it.
Methi Chicken (Chicken Fenugreek)
Serves 4-7 regular adults, or two hungry teenagers.
3.5 Lbs bone-in de-skinned chicken dark meat (thighs or leg quarters), cut into medium-large serving pieces, washed and pat-dried using paper towels to remove any excess moisture. A thing to note is I used a farmer-raised heritage chicken that had been pastured. I feel this kind of chicken can stand up better to a longer cooking cycle. Reduce the length of cooking if you are using store-bought chicken.
4x 2.5-cm/1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
One whole head of medium-large garlic, separated into cloves, peeled afresh
3x 1Inch pieces of fresh turmeric roots (Whole Foods, natural food stores and Co-Ops)
6 whole red or green hot Thai chilies
Juice from ½ medium-sized lime
2 Tsp Kashmiri Red Chili powder (I used Brahmin brand). This provides a nice hue to the dish.
6-7 whole cloves
2 Tbsp green papaya paste (available in Indian grocery stores). This is because green papayas contain the enzyme papain, a natural meat tenderizer.
½ of a large onion
Dried, crushed fenugreek leaves (sold as Kasoori Methi in Indian groceries) – 1 Tbsp
4 Cherry peppers in brine (sold in jars – If needed, substitute with crushed Calabria chilies in a jar. I used Tutto Calabria bought from Amazon.com) (optional ingredient)
7-8 whole black peppercorns, preferably the Tellicherry kind which comes from the Malabar coast of India. These have a higher pungency to them that the regular peppercorns
A few sprigs of cilantro leaves
6 tbs/90 ml/½ cup cold-pressed mustard oil (I used Tej brand)
Blend the following into a paste using as little water as possible –
Ginger, Garlic, Turmeric roots, Green/Red Chilies, Brined Cherry Peppers (if using), black peppercorns, papaya paste, cilantro leaves, chopped ½ onion.
Add the paste to the cleaned and cut chicken pieces. Now heat the mustard oil in a pan, once hot, add asafetida powder followed by black cumin seeds, cloves and black cardamom. After 30 seconds or so, remove the oil from the fire into a heat-safe ceramic bowl. After a few seconds, add in the Kasoori Methi leaves into the cooling oil. Once cool, pour the oil over the chicken marinated with the spice paste. Now sprinkle 2 tsp roasted cumin powder, 2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder, salt as needed then squeeze the ½ lime over the marinated chicken. Mix well, then leave the chicken to marinate in a glass/ceramic vessel for 2+ hours or even overnight.
Main Dish Ingredients:
About 3-1/2 large red onions, peeled, cut lengthwise and then crosswise into fine half rings.
1¼ cups plain whole milk non-Greek yogurt.
Well-packed, chopped, fresh coriander to fill a glass measuring jug to the 1 cup level.
Enough well-packed, chopped, fresh fenugreek (Methi) leaves 1-1/2 cups, firmly packed.
A few strands of saffron (optional).
2 small black cardamoms.
Black cumin seeds – 1 Tsp (Sold as Kala Jeera, which is different from the lighter colored cumin seeds).
Asafetida powdered – 1/4th teaspoon.
Dried, crushed fenugreek leaves (sold as Kasoori Methi in Indian groceries) – 1 Tbsp.
Green Thai chilies – 2.
Vegetable oil such as Grapeseed oil – ½ cup.
- Heat the oil in a wide, heavy-bottom, cast iron 6-8 Qt Dutch oven over a medium-high flame. When oil is near smoking hot, put the asafetida powder followed by two slightly cracked black cardamoms, followed by the bay leaves and black cumin seeds. Add in the sliced onions quickly after.
- Stir and sauté the onions until they brown lightly in a few spots.
- Add in the marinated chicken and the marinating paste all from the prior step. Stir gently until chicken pieces begin to brown as well, with a few darkening spots. Stir and cook on medium-high heat for another 10 minutes. Now put in the beaten yogurt, stir.
- Scrape up anything that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer.
- Cover, lower the heat and simmer for about 28-30 minutes or until the chicken is almost done. While the chicken is simmering, put the fresh coriander, green chilies and 2 Fl oz water into the container of a blender. Blend until smooth.
- When the chicken is almost done, remove the lid and turn the heat up to medium-high heat. Boil away some of the liquid to thicken the sauce. Now pour in the cilantro green chili mixture from the blender.
- Blend 80% of the fresh, chopped fenugreek leaves with the gravy of the cooking chicken (the idea is to avoid adding any more water to the dish).
- Heat a stainless pan, add 1-1/2 Tbsp Ghee combined with 2 Tbsp of an oil of your choice. You can certainly use infused oils here, and I did use rosemary-infused olive oil.
- Heat the oil ghee mix, then add in the fresh, finely chopped fenugreek leaves, followed a minute later by the gravy blended fenugreek leaves to the pan.
- Cook on low-medium heat for 3-4 minutes, then add the pan contents to the cooking chicken.
- Add saffron if you are using it (better to toast the saffron a little in aluminum foil beforehand for special flavor). If we had added fenugreek leaves directly, it would have led to some bitter taste (for me, a lesson learned from a prior effort), but just a few minutes of cooking reduces such possibility.
- Simmer the chicken with the pureed greens for another 7-8 minutes.
- Taste the final product for chicken doneness, adjust salt and spices and get ready to serve.
You can serve Methi chicken with Naan, French Baguette, Sourdough bread, roti, or naan of your choice. Bon Appetit.
Ansh Sarkari has varied interests which range from gourmet cooking to foraging for wild mushrooms, photography to knife sharpening to politics. He researches foods from around the globe and using his nearly four decades of food-centric travels, he has amassed keen insights into food identities of various nations and cultures, and how some even may correlate. He is always tinkering with techniques, and spices and uses his deep expertise in all things fire to try to elevate foods of all kinds. Sarkari lives in the Midwest with his wife and two grown-up children. You can find him on Facebook and Instagram.