Sunday, 9 May 2010

Scrumptious Soccer Snacks: Mini Bunny Chow with Butter Chicken

A classic of South African cuisine, the splendidly named bunny chow is a hollowed-out half- or quarter-loaf of white bread, filled to the brim with a hot, spicy curry of mutton, beef, chicken, beans, vegetables, or a combination of the above. Welcome to the second in my series of delicious, easy football snacks with a South African flavour!

Scrumptious Soccer Snacks: Mini Bunny Chow with Butter Chicken
Little rolls stuffed with butter chicken.
Durban is the home of bunny chow: a hot 'bunny' is a favourite lunch-time meal for labourers, office workers and surfers, and for late-night revellers.  And tourists too: if you're planning on visiting Durban during the Fifa World Cup, please don't leave without trying this delicious, inexpensive rib-sticker of a meal.  You'll have no problem finding where to buy one: ask any local, and you'll be pointed in the direction of a curry outlet claiming to make 'the best bunny in Durbs'.

There is much debate about the etymology of the name 'bunny chow'; you can learn more about this at Wikipedia, which has an interesting entry on the topic. What is certain is that the dish originated among Indian indentured labours, mostly Hindus, who came to South Africa in the 19th century to work on the sugar-cane fields.

Scrumptious Soccer Snacks: Mini Bunny Chow with Butter Chicken
An authentic bunny chow must use a white Government loaf (that is, an inexpensive, fluffy square loaf), and should be filled to the brim with a Durban-style curry which - whether meaty or vegetarian - is generally highly spiced and very hot.

In this recipe, I've taken the idea of a bunny chow and adapted it (or, okay, corrupted it) to create a light, bite-sized snack that I think will blow your socks off.  I've used one of my all-time favourite curries, based on the classic butter chicken formula.  There are many variations of butter chicken (in a nutshell, tandoori chicken tossed in a rich tomato-based sauce, enriched at the last minute with butter), but this formula is one that I've settled on after many attempts at coming up with the perfect taste and texture.

 This recipe is delicately spiced, which is the way I like it, but you are free to add more heat to it - some fresh chopped green chilli, perhaps, or red chilli flakes -  if you prefer a tongue-blisterer of a curry.

I've miniaturized this recipe to make the bunnies easy to pop into your mouth, but there is no reason you should not use normal sized breadrolls or, indeed, cut a loaf of white bread in half and fill it to the brim with the mixture.

 This is a complicated and long recipe, I admit.  The chicken is marinated twice, and the same spices are added at different times. But follow the recipe to the letter, and I promise you won't be disappointed by the succulence and subtle spicing of this lovely dish.

You can make the chicken and its sauce in advance (see recipe) but the cold butter must be added to the hot gravy at the very last moment, and cooked for no longer than three minutes, or it will separate into a greasy muddle.

All the spices in this recipe can be bought from an Indian spice shop. Butter chicken is usually made with powdered dried fenugreek leaves (methi), but as these aren't that easy to find, I've used whole fenugreek seeds in this recipe.  If you can lay your hands on ground methi, used 2 tsp (10 ml) in place of the teaspoon of seeds.

For this recipe in Afrikaans, see: Maklik en eg Suid-Afrikaanse 'bunny chow'

Mini Bunny Chow with Butter Chicken

8 deboned, skinned chicken breasts

Marinade 1:
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled
2 T (30 ml) grated fresh ginger
the juice of a large lemon
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli powder
½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt

Marinade 2:
1 cup (250 ml) thick white yoghurt
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) garam masala
½ tsp (2.5 ml) powdered coriander
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt
1 T (30 ml) vegetable oil

750 g ripe, juicy tomatoes
1 tsp (5 ml) fenugreek seeds
2 T (30 ml) vegetable oil
2 T (30 ml) tomato paste
1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli powder
1 tsp (5 ml) garam masala
½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
1 cup (250 ml) cream
50 g cold butter
salt and milled black pepper

To serve:
30 cocktail rolls
melted butter
sprigs of fresh coriander [cilantro]

Cut three or four deep slashes into the chicken breasts and place in a bowl. Crush the garlic and add it to the bowl along with the ginger, lemon juice and chilli powder. Using your hands, rub the marinade into the chicken, pressing it well into the slashes. Set aside for 20 minutes.

 In a separate bowl, combine all the ingredients for the second marinade. Pour this mixture over the chicken breasts, mix well, cover and place in the fridge for one to two hours. Don't allow it to marinate for more than 3 hours, which will make the chicken mushy.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Remove the breasts from their marinade and, without wiping off the marinade, place in a flat ceramic dish. Discard any marinade left in the bowl. Bake at 200°C for seven minutes, then turn down the heat to 170°C and bake for a further 10-12 minutes, or until there is no trace of pinkness when you cut into the flesh of the chicken. Set aside.

In the meantime, make the gravy. Cut the tomatoes in half and grate by pressing the cut side of the tomato against the coarse teeth of a grater and vigorously grating until the skin flattens out under your palm. Discard the skin. (Alternatively, you can dip the tomatoes in boiling water for a few moments, peel of the skin, and then chop them finely). Coarsely crush the fenugreek seeds using a mortar and pestle. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the tomato pulp, tomato paste, crushed fenugreek seeds, cumin, garam masala, turmeric and salt. Cook over a brisk heat for about seven minutes, or until the pulp has thickened slightly (when you pull a wooden spoon through the pulp, it should leave a gap that closes reluctantly). Stir in the cream, reduce the heat, and simmer for another five minutes. (At this point, the sauce can be set aside for reheating later).

Heat the oven to 200°C. Cut the tops off the rolls and hollow out the insides, leaving a 5mm 'wall'. Brush the cut edges, lids and sides of the rolls with a little melted butter. Place the rolls and their lids on a baking sheet and bake for a few minutes - watch them like a hawk - or until the edges are golden and beginning to crisp. Keep warm.

Cut or pull the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and add to the tomato sauce. Stir well to combine. Heat, over a medium flame, and allow to bubble gently so the chicken is heated right through. Cut the cold butter into little pieces, add it to the sauce and cook, for no more than three minutes, stirring gently. Add the pepper, and more salt, if necessary.

Pile the butter chicken into the warm rolls, top each one with its lid, garnish with a sprig of fresh coriander and serve immediately.

Makes about 30, depending on the size of your cocktail rolls, or 8-10 servings if served in normal bread rolls.

Like this soccer snack? Try my Mini Pita Breads with Spicy Meatballs and Hoummous. Coming soon: mini South African Lamb Sosaties, marinated in a spicy sauce and cooked with apricots and lemon leaves.
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Nina Timm said...

I was aiming to post a bunny chow today too! Would you mind? Mine is the real deal...white government loaf and all!!
I like these bite size versions...must be a very popular snack at parties!!

Juno said...

Of course I don't mind, Nina!

Marisa said...

These look adorable - the perfect soccer watching snack.