The Parsi community of India is of Persian descent. When the Parsis fled Iran in the 10th century, they settled on India’s west coast, where they managed to preserve not only their religious traditions – they are Zoroastrians – but many of their culinary traditions as well. This delicately sweet-and-sour dish of chicken cooked with dried apricots is one of them. However, Parsis gradually picked up customs from their Gujarati neighbours, and their 19th-century colonial masters, the British, in Bombay. I have a Parsi friend who puts in a healthy glug of Madeira towards the end of the cooking. This dish is generally served with a mountain of very fine, crisp potato straws but it may also be served with rice
1.25 kg/21/2 lb chicken pieces (I use 8 thighs or drumsticks, or a mixture of the two, but a cut-up chicken would be fine)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 dried apricots, preferably the orange Turkish ones
3 tablespoons olive or rapeseed oil
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into fine half-rings
3 teaspoons peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon tomato purée
11/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon garam masala, preferably home-made, but shop-bought will do
1/2–3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sprinkle the chicken on all sides with 1/2 teaspoon salt and generous amounts of black pepper. Pat in and set aside.
Put the apricots in a small pan with 250 ml/8 fl oz water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and gently simmer for 15 minutes, or until the apricots have softened but are firm enough to be cooked again later. Leave in their liquid.
Put the oil in a large frying pan or sauté pan and set over a medium–high heat. When hot, put in the cinnamon sticks and cumin. Ten seconds later, put in half the chicken pieces and brown them on all sides. Transfer to a bowl. Cook the remaining chicken in the same way. Add to the bowl.
Add the onions to the pan. Stir and fry until they brown at the edges. Add the ginger and stir for a few seconds. Add the tomato purée and stir once. Now return the chicken and all the accumulated juices to the pan, along with 350 ml/12 fl oz water and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and cook gently for 15 minutes, turning the chicken once during this time.
Remove the cover and add the sugar, vinegar, apricots and their cooking liquid, garam masala and cayenne pepper. Stir and cook over a high heat until the sauce is a bit syrupy.