Micro cuisines need champions. I believe that we will see more regional cuisines from across India occupy their much deserved space in the spotlight in the 2020s as we start looking within for exotic cuisine. It's fair to say that Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni (who passed away in 2012) was one of the biggest advocates for Kongunad cuisine. I had my first brush with this cuisine that typifies Tamil Nadu's south-western belt (that includes regions like Coimbatore, Salem and Erode) at Grand by GRT in Chennai in the early 2000s. And it was the flavours of the Pallipalayam chicken that linger to this day. Pan fried nuggets of chicken flavoured with a zesty masala and finished with coconut slivers. Chef Jacob and his team had organised a food promotion that showcased this unique cuisine in Chennai.
Coimbatore may not enjoy the same status as Madurai as one of the state's culinary hubs but it's never short of surprises. There are two restaurants that I visit almost each time I'm in this city - Valarmathi Mess and Hari Bhavan. Both these restaurants do an authentic version of Pallipalayam chicken, easily one of the most scrumptious chicken dishes in Tamil Nadu. Located along the banks of the Cauvery, Pallipalayam is located just next to Erode and is one of the state's turmeric production hubs. It's no surprise that fresh turmeric is a mainstay in Kongunad cuisine. The region is synonymous with the Cheras who lorded over this area in the Sangam era (1st to 4th century CE). Free range chicken is a recurring ingredient in Kongunad cuisine. There's pitchu potta kozhi (shredded chicken), which is a popular dish in some of Coimbatore's tiny non-vegetarian eateries (or mess in local parlance) but nothing quite matches the popularity of Pallipalayam chicken.
Chef Sheik Mohideen, who helms the kitchens at Savya Rasa - a fine-dining South Indian restaurant chain, is from the Kongunad region and was part of Chef Jacob's team that spent years researching this cuisine with travels across towns like Pollachi, Erode and Kangeyam. He believes that it's the unique spice mix - the Pallipalayam chicken powder - that defines this dish. A couple of major spice brands have added this to their masalas portfolio. You can also snag this on online platforms like Amazon. He remembers a time when you had to travel to Pallipalyam to buy this spice powder. The pandaram (cooks and wedding caterers) community in Pallipalayam make this powder as an additional revenue stream. Chef Sheik believes that local ingredients - like fresh turmeric, dried red chillies and coconut - are the key to the piquant flavours in Kongunad cuisine.
The Kongunad region is famous for chicken farming and poultry - Namakkal is one of Tamil Nadu's centres for egg production. That's one reason why high quality free-range chicken is always in the mix. While some homes and restaurants have shifted to broiler chicken, the traditional recipe for Pallipalayam chicken involves free-range chicken. The other interesting element in this dish is the whole coconut slivers that provide the perfect contrast. Pallipalayam chicken is the perfect dish to start your discovery of Kongunad cuisine. You can serve this as an accompaniment with rice and pepper rasam.
Here's How To Make Pallipalayam Chicken At Home | Pallipalayam Chicken Recipe:
Recipe Courtesy - Chef Sheik Mohideen - Savya Rasa, Chennai
- Chicken Boneless -250 gms
- Shallots - 100 gms
- Red Chilly (cut into two pieces) - 2 nos
- Coconut Oil - 2 tbsp
- Coconut (slivers) - 1/4 no
- Pallipalayam Masala* - 1 tbsp
- Ginger Garlic Paste - 1 tsp
- Tomato (Chopped) - Half
- Salt - to taste
- Curry Leaves - 1 sprig
- Coriander Leaves - 1 sprig
- Turmeric Powder - 1 tsp
- Saunf - 1/2 tsp
- Cumin - 1/4 tsp
1. Cut the chicken into small pieces and wash it. Slice the shallots.
2. Remove the curry leaves from the sprig.
3. Chop the coriander leaves.
1. Heat oil in a pan and splutter the cumin, fennel then add the curry leaves and Red Chillies.
2. Add the slivers of coconut and allow it turn light golden colour.
3. Add sliced shallots and sauté it well till the shallots turns translucent.
4. Add ginger and garlic paste and sauté well till the raw flavour goes off.
5. Add turmeric powder and Pallipalyam masala and mix it well and then add the chopped tomatoes and salt.
6. Add required water and allow it to boil till the masala becomes mushy.
7. Add the cut chicken and cover the pan till the chicken cook's soft and masala gets thickened like a thick sauce.
8. Finally, add the chopped coriander leaves and switch off the flame.
*Note: You can find Pallipalayam Masala on Amazon.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.