I was in Goa earlier this year eating, drinking, cooking and basking in the sunny beachy glory which always brings back a lot of memories for me. It’s a city I have been visiting since I was 15yrs of age. One thing that till date I’m awestruck by is not just the abundance of fresh seafood that is available in the region but also how unique in flavour each goan dish is and the spicing that goes into it. Permutations with which curries are cooked and served as dry to wet cooking styles. Goan Brahmins and Goan Christians have their own individual take on the food and cooking as well. Coming from a Maharashtrian community myself; our family influences have always been fairly similar to the coastal feast in Goa. Konkan & Marathi (part of the western coast of India) food is what I have grown up eating and also where some of my favourite dishes stem from. People tend to associate Goa with coastal cooking but there are a lot of elements including meats and even a diverse vegetarian fare that are a popular part of the culture.
Xacuti can be made even with prawns, crabs or simply as a vegetarian option. The ingredients that are key for this dish are the warmth and aniseedy flavours from nutmeg and star anise. Chillies in this recipe are a vibrant red; as always I tend to opt for Kashmiri chillies which give that beautiful red tinge to the resulting curry. The paste needs to be fine enough to give all the depth and flavour to the resultant gravy. For that added heat in the gravy a dose of black peppercorns are a must. You can swap tamarind paste for lemon juice if you prefer. If your using desiccated coconut make sure to soak it in warm water for 15minutes, drain the water and then proceed.
Goa encompasses Portuguese dishes yet keeping true to its local tropical notes and flavours. My fondest food memories always include eating thick Xacuti gravy with moist chicken pieces; with the spicy curry clinging onto little pieces of pav/ bread at quaint little busy Goan restaurants and homes.
Eating this dish today takes me back every time to the scenic views of Goa, busy markets bustling all through the day and the effervescent vibes from the Goan people; now all I need is that gorgeous beachy backdrop!
Heat a dry frying pan on a low heat and add the coconut shards and roast for 5-7 minutes until they start to brown around the edges. Set aside and in the same pan add the chillies, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cloves & star anise. Roast for 2-3 mins and stir well to make sure it gets even heat all over
It will start to give out a spiced aroma; at this stage add the poppy seeds and roast for a further 3 minutes. Cool the mix and transfer to a blender along with the garlic cloves. Add a little water at a time (about 90 mls) to make a thick smooth paste.
Heat the oil in a heavy bottom sauce pan and add the sliced onions. Fry on a medium heat for 7-10 minutes until they soften and start to turn light brown in colour. At this stage add the spice paste and stir frying well for a further 5 minutes. It will start to leave oil from the sides of the pan.
Tip in the chicken pieces and seal them all over. Coat all the pieces in the spice paste and fry for a couple of minutes. Now add 200mls of water stir & bring to a boil. Simmer the gravy on a low heat for 20 minutes until the chicken pieces are tender. Stir half way through the cooking and add a little more water if you wish for a little more gravy.
Add the nutmeg powder and tamarind paste giving it a further 5 minutes to cook. Garnish with fresh coriander or chillies if you prefer. Serve Chicken Xacuti with pav bread and steamed plan basmati rice.