Indian food is the ethnic food that grabs, and holds, my attention more than any other. I am always intrigued by the rich array of spices and amazing depth of flavors that Indian food brings to the table. Floyd Cardoz’s One Spice, Two Spice views “American food through the kaleidoscope of Indian spices,” as New York Times critic Ruth Reichl wrote about Cardoz’s restaurant Tabla when it opened in 1997. Cardoz, who trained in Swiss culinary school, is a native of India, and Tabla is his bridge between Western and Indian cuisine. I’ve yet to eat at Tabla, but if One Spice, Two Spice is any indication of the food served there, I think I would probably be floored.
I bought One Spice, Two Spice with a little gift certificate my parents gave me for Valentines day. I took a chance on this cookbook, having never eaten at Cardoz’s restaurant and having read mixed reviews of the book. Some complained that the cookbook was inaccessible to inexperienced cooks, and that Cardoz’s recipes were terse and full of hard-to-find ingredients. I had reservations, wondering just how inaccessible it would really be, though I’m no stranger to Indian cooking (I’ve been worshipping Madhur Jaffrey for years). Flipping through the pages when the book arrived, I knew that my anxiety had been for naught. Of all the ingredients in all of the recipes, only a few — kokum, dried fenugreek leaves, dried pomegranate seeds, and jaggery — don’t already live in my spice cabinet, though I must admit that my spice cabinet is better stocked than most. Spices that live there, are called for in Cardoz’s book, and might not live in any run of the mill cabinet include black cumin seeds, asafetida, Szechwan peppercorns, ajwain seeds, tamarind paste, and star anise.
I’ve yet to build up enough confidence in Indian cooking to create my own spice blends, and I hope that seeing how Cardoz marries Indian and Western cooking will give me some ideas of my own. So far I’ve made three dishes from the book (panfried black pepper shrimp, chicken cafreal, and kashmiri greens) and I’ve bookmarked several more (goan shrimp curry, curry leaf-marinated flank steak, chickpeas with coconut and tamarind, braised romaine, and tamarind chutney, to name a few).
The standout of the three dishes that I’ve made is the chicken cafreal, which I made tonight for my father, Henning, and one of Henning’s high school friends, who is visiting from Germany. Though not exactly traditional Easter fare, it certainly seemed celebratory. It is one of those wonderful dishes for which all preparation is done hours in advance, and it just cooks itself in the oven, leaving you free to relax in the hot tub and visit with your friends. When the timer beeped, I emerged from the hot tub to a kitchen fragrant with spices from the chicken — cilantro, garlic, ginger, lime, cumin, cloves, cinnamon all wafting through the air at once. Oh man, this was one lovely pair of birds. As if this weren’t already enough, the dish is self-saucing. Cardoz recommends filling a bit of water in the roasting pan, which combines with the marinade and chicken juices to a thick, bright green sauce, fragrant with all of those aromas that tickled my nose when I walked into the kitchen. I was happy that I followed Cardoz’s advice and cooked a large amount of basmati rice to soak up all of that sauce. The chicken was moist and juicy, seeping with the fresh complexity of the marinade (which requires at least 6 hours, take note). It is really one of the most delicious chicken recipes I’ve come across.
From One Spice, Two Spice by Floyd Cardoz
2 small chickens (2 1/2 to 3 lbs each)
1/2 lb cilantro
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup peeled and sliced fresh ginger
1 green chile, such as serrano
1 tbs cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 tbs kosher salt
Cut the backbones from the chickens with a large knife or heavy duty kitchen shears. Lay the chickens cavity-side down on a cutting board and crack the keel bone so that they lay flat. Place them cavity-side down in a roasting dish which fits them snugly (for me, this was a 10 x 15 inch pyrex dish). Pierce their skin all over with a fork.
Cut off the bottom 1 1/2 inches from the cilantro stalks and discard. Put the rest in a food processor together with the lime juice, garlic, ginger, and chile. Puree until smooth.
Finely grind the cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon in a clean electric coffee grinder.
Combine the spice mixture with the cilantro mixture, and stir in the salt. Rub the marinade all over the chickens, pushing it under the skin where you can. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 and up to 24 hours, turning once or twice in that time.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add enough water to the pan with the chickens to come about 1/4 inch, about 1 1/2 cups. Cook the chickens in the middle of the oven until browned and cooked through, about 45 min to 1 hour, depending on your oven and pan. After 35 minutes, check the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh. You are aiming for 155 to 160 degrees.
When the chickens are done, remove them to a carving board and transfer the gorgeous sauce to a serving bowl. Allow the chickens to rest for 10 minutes, while you skim some of the fat from the sauce (this will be easier if it is in a small bowl). Carve the chickens in to serving pieces. Serve the chicken pieces with steamed basmati rice, passing the sauce along side.