Chicken Kanji: Nik Sharma's recipe for a simple but very savoury soup from his childhood
From his cookbook The Flavor Equation, this is definitely one to make — don’t skip the mouth-watering chutney
In Nik Sharma's cookbook, The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking in 114 Essential Recipes, he shares exactly that — how to make homemade meals as delicious as possible based on his technical, taste-based research. His recipe for chicken kanji comes with his notes for amplifying the flavour and getting the texture of this comforting dish just right. It’s a simple and savoury soup his mother used to make, and that you’ll definitely want to try. Don’t skip the mouth-watering chutney!
By Nik Sharma
The Sanskrit kanji refers to the thick, starchy water that’s left behind when rice is cooked for a while; it is also the origin for congee, which is also eaten in other parts of Asia where rice is a staple. While this is the dish my mother always served me when I was unwell (she cooked it with bits of chicken), I’ve given it a bit of a makeover and brought in a few spices.
The flavor approach:
You can use any kind of rice here; both short-grain and long-grain work well. Unlike the pulaos or other recipes in which long-grain basmati rice is left undisturbed while it cooks, here the rice must be stirred occasionally. This helps break up the grains as they soften, creating a thicker consistency.
The savory character of this porridge-like soup comes from the chicken, which is first seasoned and seared to build flavor molecules through the Maillard reaction.
Lime juice provides the necessary touch of sourness to the taste of the congee.
The crunchy shallots and the sour notes of the chutney provide a much-needed contrast to the smooth and soft texture of this simple dish.
For the kanji:
- ½ cup [100 g] rice
- 4 chicken thighs (about 1½ lb [680 g]), bone-in and skin left on
- Fine sea salt
- 1 tbsp grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 4 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 shallots (total weight 6 ½ oz [180 g]), thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
For the chutney:
- 2 tbsp [60 mL] extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup [20 g] chopped cilantro leaves
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ½ tsp red chilli flakes such as Aleppo, Maras, or Urfa
To prepare the kanji, clean and pick through the rice for any debris. Rinse the rice in a fine-mesh sieve under running tap water. Transfer the rice to a small bowl, add enough water to cover, and let soak for 30 minutes.
Use clean paper towels to wipe the chicken and pat dry. Season both sides with salt. Heat the grapeseed oil in a medium saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken on each side until the skin turns golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the black pepper, cloves, and bay leaves and cook until fragrant, 30 to 45 seconds. Drain the rice, add it to the pan with the chicken, and stir in 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to low and let simmer until the chicken is completely cooked, the rice is falling apart, and the liquid is thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir occasionally to break the rice grains. The liquid should have a thick, soupy consistency. Add more water if needed.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove the thighs with a pair of kitchen tongs and separate the meat from the bones. Shred the meat and discard the bones.
While the chicken and rice cook, prepare the shallots. Preheat the oven to 300°F [149°C]. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Trim and discard the ends of the shallots and cut them into thin slices. Toss the shallots with the olive oil in a small bowl and season with salt. Spread the shallots in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and cook until the shallots turn golden brown and crisp, 30 to 45 minutes. Stir them occasionally during cooking to ensure even browning.
To prepare the chutney, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, cilantro, lime juice, garlic, and red chilli flakes. Taste and season with salt.
When ready to eat, serve the kanji warm or hot topped with chicken, shallots, and chutney on the side.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Excerpted from The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking in 114 Essential Recipes by Nik Sharma (C) 2020 Reproduced by permission of Chronicle Books. All rights reserved.