In March Chris and I went on a sun-drenched jaunt to Goa, where we fell in love with its unique Portuguese-tinged culture and cuisine. We particularly fell in love with a Goan dish called Xacuti.
The Xacuti (also Shaguthi / Sagoti) recipe dates back many hundreds of years. It was originally a vegetarian dish made from diced vegetables. With the arrival of the Portuguese in the early 16th century and introduction of Christianity, locals began to eat poultry and meat. And as Goa is on the coastal belt of West India, rice, coconut and a range of seafood have always formed the staple ingredients of its cuisine. Today Xacuti is an ideal mixture to cook chicken, fish or mutton.
The Xacuti masala mix itself is very complex, consisting of ground coriander, aniseed, cumin, turmeric, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and so on… You could attempt to make your own, in which case a good recipe is here. However, I picked up a handy little packet of pre-prepared Xacuti masala which made my recipe much easier :)!
Chris had been pestering me to make him chicken Xacuti for quite some while, so it seemed a perfect recipe for trying out the chicken from my Well Hung Meat box. However, when it came to reading the instructions on the back of the Xacuti masala packet, none of it made sense – so I just improvised. And it turned out to be a delicious and honest interpretation of authentican Goan Xacuti indeed.
You will need:
- An onion
- Half a grated coconut – if not, dessicated coconut will do
- Tamarind water, which can be made using tamarind paste – found in most Asian supermarkets
- Xacuti masala mix
- About 500g Chicken, fish, lamb or mutton
- Ginger and garlic – either freshly chopped or in a paste form
- Potatoes – optional. I added okra instead, for bulk and variety.
First I prepared the coconut and tamarind water. As it’s hard to get hold of freshly grated coconut in London, I put a handful of dessicated coconut in a little warm water to reconstitute it. As for the tamarind water, I put a ping pong ball sized lump of tamarind paste in 250ml of hot water, squished it now and again for 20 minutes and strained the pulp to get a sweet and thick liquid.
I browned the diced onion with the coconut, then added 4 tsps of the Xacuti masala with some ginger and garlic paste, which made the whole mix wonderfully fragrant.
As I only had 350g chicken, I bulked up the dish with some chopped okra. I love okra, or ladyfingers – whenever I visited my mum’s childhood home in Malaysia we would have spicy okra as a side dish. Thankfully they are in abundance in my local Asian supermarkets and the Whitechapel market. Then I gradually added the tamarind water to make a slightly wet paste. Finally I browned the diced chicken in the whole mix, and simmered for about 30 minutes.
We ate the Xacuti chicken with white rice and lemon wedges, as is typical in Goan cuisine. The chicken turned out just right – it can be easy to overcook – and the dish was a pungent melting pot of Indian spices and coconut, transporting us straight back to Varca Beach. The grated coconut adds an interesting texture in the sauce, and the aniseed packs a particular punch. The only thing that was missing was some feni, which is Goan for poison (it isn’t, but it’s a high strength cashew liqueur!). Ahh let’s have a sad little moment for our holiday blues…
I highly recommend you try Goan cuisine if you haven’t. Preferably in Goa ;). I can only describe it as India x Portugal x beach shack.
I had the leftovers for lunch today. It’s even better the day after.. and the day after that..