Monday, June 25, 2007

Chicken, Sweet Potato, Fennel, and Spinach in Cashew-Cream Sauce

Last week for cooking night, I was in a rush so I just knocked out a no-cook mango raita and a simple cashew chutney and picked up some naan from The Clay Pit, my favorite Indian restaurant in Austin.

The Clay Pit makes a Korma sauce that they describe as a "rich cashew-almond-cream sauce" and I describe as "incredibly delicious." I've always wanted to try imitating it, but never got around to it.

While I ate the cashew chutney, though, I realized it wasn't too far off, and then I had a bunch left over from cooking night, so tonight I tried my hand at reusing it and adapting it into something like the Clay Pit's Korma. Here's the chutney, first:
Cashew Chutney

From India: The Vegetarian Table by Yamuna Devi

2/3c dried chana dal or yellow split peas
1/2t fennel seeds
1c cashew nuts
water as needed
1/2- to 1-inch piece fresh ginger
1/2 to 3 hot green chiles (BHS: I used 2 serranos and it had noticeable heat)
1/3c chopped cilantro
salt to taste

Place the dal, fennel seeds, and nuts in a skillet and toast until the dal and nuts brown in a few places. Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Set aside for an hour or so (BHS: The goal is to let the nuts and dal plump up a bit, so don't skimp on this too much), then drain and transfer to a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the ginger, chiles, cilantro, and 1 3/4c water. Process until very smooth, for 2 or 3 minutes, adding enough water to make a thin sauce; season with salt. (BHS: I used a blender, which was fine, but I had to slice the ginger and chiles up before blending, and had to add water immediately with the nuts to get things moving in there.)

The essence of Clay Pit's Korma is a rich creaminess from the fat and protein in the nuts, paired with a subtle sweetness from hints of anise and raisins plumped in the sauce. I went for the same thing by thinning that chutney with a bit more water, then bringing it to a simmer with a generous handful of currants and 6 or 7 star anise before cooking the chicken and veggies in it. Here, I'll write it up like a real recipe:

Chicken with Sweet Potatoes, Fennel, and Spinach in Cashew-Cream Sauce
Chicken with Sweet Potatoes, Fennel, and Spinach in Cashew-Cream Sauce

3-4c cashew chutney (very liquid; if yours is thicker start with less and add water)
1 large handful currants or raisins
6 star anise

1 large fennel bulb, chopped very thin (I used a mandolin & then a knife)
1 large sweet potato, diced
1 bunch spinach, rinsed and chopped
1.5lbs skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks

Bring the chutney, raisins or currants, and star anise to a gentle simmer in a wok or very large skillet over medium-low heat. When the sauce has been visibly simmering for a couple minutes, remove the star anise and add the sweet potato and fennel, cover, and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until the potato can be pierced with a fork but isn't fully cooked. Add the chicken and continue simmering, covered, occasionally stirring to keep the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan, until the chicken is just cooked through. Turn off the heat and fold in the spinach until it is just wilted. Salt to taste and serve either in a bowl on its own or over rice.

Serves 6 (maybe 8.)

It came out really well, I have to say. Not quite the same as the Clay Pit, since I only used cashews. Maybe next time I'll add almonds and pistachios, too. And I think some chopped nuts tossed in to plump up with the raisins in the sauce would be nice, too, rather than just pureeing them all.



Lulu said...

6 star anise, are you crazy?? that seems like a lot. wasn't it?

June 26, 2007 10:20 AM  
brian said...

Well, I am crazy, but I don't think it was overkill. It's definitely a very prominent flavor in the dish, with the fennel seed and sliced fennel bulb in there with the star anise. But you're only simmering the anise in the sauce for the beginning anyway.

Then again, I have been known to eat a quarter pound of the best licorice I can find in a single sitting. So I'm probably biased.

June 26, 2007 10:29 AM  
Kami said...

I was stumbling around and reading blogs and came across yours. This recipe looks delicious! Great blogs.

June 26, 2007 10:46 PM  

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