Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chicken In Creamy Tomato Sauce

There's this little tiny ingredient that I used in this recipe that stirred hot debate in my country 4 years ago, much to my amusement and maybe to foodies abroad as well. This little itsy, bitsy ingredient had been used worldwide in cookies, bread, cakes, spice mixes and curries but illegal in some countries! You and I ate this 'secret' ingredient food in stollen, bagel, mohn, challah, Korma, Mutton Posto, Japanese's Shichimi Togarashi, medicinal purposes (yes, you saw it correctly!) and in artist's paints (surprised, surprised!) I'm refering to kaskas or khashkhash, paparounospori, pavot somnifère, haşhaş tohumu, etc... or better simply known as poppy seeds!

Don't panic and thinking of boycotting your favourite Indian, Indian Muslim or Middle Eastern restaurants or stop using on your traditional baking goods. Poppy seeds that come from ripe seeds contain no narcotic chemicals and it's safe to consume as its alkaloid content is very low (about 50 parts per million.)It's the dried latex from the unripe seed pods that opium is derived. You need to consume 1 kg or more of poppy seeds to get high and the taste is very bitter in large quantities but morphine could still be detected in the urine after such heavy consumption. There's no experiments to date to prove poppy seed consumption could lead to addiction :-P What about Coca-cola or Coke? There are interesting topics about poppy seeds, its' history and culinary uses in, the nutrition content of the seeds in Indianet and the Encyclopedia of Spices by The Epicentre.

As for me, I love Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines because of the combination of spices and herbs that made their food so addictive! Back to this recipe I wanted to share ;-P I used the Asian white poppy seed variety which is smaller, creamier and nutty than its Western Blue Poppy Seeds. You can use which ever available locally in your area. The purpose of the poppy seeds in this recipe is to thicken the gravy or sauce.

Chicken in Creamy Tomato Gravy
Serves 4-6 servings

1 tbl Cooking oil
1.5 kg Chicken meat - washed and cut to pieces (I used chicken thighs)
2 nos Onion - medium size, sliced into rings
1/2 tsp Ground Cloves
1 tsp Tumeric Powder
2 tsp Garam Masala
3 tsp Chilli Powder

To be blended until smooth with 2 tbl Coconut Milk:
4 cloves Garlic
1 tbl Fresh Ginger - finely chopped
1 tbl Poppy Seeds
2 tsp Fennel Seeds
3 pods Cardamom - smashed and reserved the black seeds

150 ml Coconut Milk - fresh 1st-pressed thick coconut from 1 coconut
1 pc Star Anise
1 pc Cinnamon Stick
4 nos Large Tomatoes - roughly chopped
1-2 nos Limes - quartered

1. Pat dry the chicken meat before frying.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan/pot. When it's hot, add in the chicken pieces slowly in batches into the pan. Cook for 5-10 minutes or until browned. Remove and keep aside in another plate. Continue to fry the rest of the chicken.
*When it's finished, remove some of the oil from the pan (the extra oil came from the chicken skin/fat) but use enough oil for the next step.
3. While the pot/pan is still hot, add in onions and stir-fry until golden in color. Stir in the grounded cloves, tumeric, garam masala and chilli powder. Stir for 1 minute and add in the pre-fried chicken pieces.
4. Add in the blended spice mixture, remaining of Coconut milk, star anise, cinnamon stick, chopped tomatoes and water. Give the chicken and spices a good stir so that the meat is well coated.
5. Cover the pot/pan and simmer in medium heat for 30-45 minutes or until the meat is tender and the gravy thickens to your preference. Serve with some quartered limes at the side with steamed rice and plain yogurt. You can even add some vegetables like cucumber, onions, okra, achar or pickles.

As the pots or pans use are different with individuals, the gravy may take longer to thicken. Since the chicken meat produced more liquid into the gravy, you need to adjust the time accordingly.
You can use packed or tinned coconut milk if you can't find fresh pressed coconut milk.
If you don't have grounded cloves, you can pound/grind about 1 tbl of cloves until fine. Scoop the powdered cloves into the required measurement and leveled the top.
Use quality cardamoms - discard any browned or dried seeds or pods.
Lastly, if you still unsure about the poppy seeds, you can use grounded Cashew Nuts, Pine Nuts or Candlenuts as thickening agent for this recipe :-P

I'm also sending this recipe to the event, ' Think Spice... Think Twice: Mastic Gum and Fennel Seeds' by Ivy of Kopiaste... to Greek Hospitality who is hosting this month's Think Spice, created by Sunita of Sunita's World.



  1. I like your artful presentation.

  2. A lot of people believe that it has opium in it and I have never used it before. Your recipe sounds delicious with all the spices used.

  3. Hi Cynthia,

    Thank you :-) I L-o-v-e the picts you took of the breadfruit!

  4. Hello Ivy,

    I hope now you're not afraid of trying it :-) I don't feel any addiction whatsoever. Imagined I'd been eating Indian & Middle East dishes since I was a child! I rather eat food laden with poppy seeds than opium,heroine, morphine or those designer drugs!

    I did an experiment actually couple of times of cooking dishes added with poppy seeds without telling the diners :-P After couple of days, I called them up asking how they were. Then I popped up the question. You will be surprise that they don't feel tipsy or any sorts of weird hallucinations :-D They sure got the message because now, they don't bother about it.

  5. This looks great! I will have to bookmark this to make soon! All of your ingredients sound so tasty!

  6. Another great chicken recipe. I like your presentation. About hashas tohumu, I think a little of it in a recipe does not hurt. I don't use them often in my cooking though.

  7. How beautiful is that plate?! Every part of it is gorgeous and the recipe sounds quite good.

  8. Wow! What a great combination of herbs and spices in this dish! Definitely a yummy and flavoursome sauce!

  9. The pictures are so lovely to look at; thanks for sharing the recipe! =)

  10. Fantastic shots! The colors are superb!

  11. This chicken in creamy tomato sauce definitely looks beautiful and delicious.

  12. Poppy seeds are used very widely in North America - particularly in baking. Gee, I never thought of it for a potential source of opiates although I do know opium is harvested from the plant.

  13. finsmom... do let me know if you like the taste. Btw, I love your Baklava Apple!

  14. Nihal... yes, a bit won't hurt and who's going to eat kilos of it to get high? Besides, it's also a medicine to ease the pain. Everything including herbs and spices, if consumed moderately it's a cure and aphrodisiac.

  15. Maria ~ thank you for the compliment. Do try out the recipe. I will love to know your taste on this recipe.

  16. Foodfortots... LOL... Nasi Kandar Mamak style

  17. Helene ~ thank you and welcome to my humble virtual kitchen :-D

  18. Salut Laura ~ thank you for the compliment :-)

    Selby ~ enak banget... LOL. The whole pot gone in 1.5 days. It tasted even better the next day.

  19. Hi Giz, thank you for visiting my kitchen. There's no harm if such a small amount of poppy seeds in our meals.I believed that every herbs, spices and plants existed on Earth are for good uses. It just us... humans took it overboard and used them to reap benefit and destroyed other living lives as in the case of poppies. We can't denied the poppies existence. They are part of Mother Nature...


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