One of my favorite chicken dishes is the South Indian staple Chicken 65 for it’s robust flavor and deep red color. This seems to be a running pattern with popular Indian chicken dishes, i.e. butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, and tandoori chicken are all vibrantly red!
It has a funky origin story – most of them attributed to Hotel Buhari in Chennai, India. But some of them say that it’s called Chicken 65 because it was the 65th dish on the menu, or it was marinated for 65 days, or even that it uses 65 ingredients. The list goes on and on – with more absurd stories like it was made from 65-day old chickens, 65 different types of chilis, or that it was created in 1965 for soldiers.
INGREDIENTS – NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
There are two sets of ingredients during the marination and tadka portions. Most of them overlap but maximizes the flavor in both steps.
CHICKEN 65 MARINADE
- Chicken – It’s crucial to use chicken thighs, not chicken breast. It’s easy to overcook chicken breast to where it’s dry and sinewy with this dish. Chicken 65 is first fried, then tossed in a tadka which makes the fatty thighs very forgiving. Use paneer or cauliflower as a vegetarian variant.
- Dahi – Translates to curd, is cultured milk that is boiled, frothed, and mixed with a starter to make an Indian-style yogurt in the Indian subcontinent. The dahi in the marinade balances out the chili powder. Substitute it with plain yogurt.
- Ginger garlic paste – Ginger garlic paste is very common to Indian cuisine. Substitute it with finely minced garlic and ginger in a 1-to-1 ratio.
- Spices – The spices for Chicken 65 marinade are kashmiri chili powder, turmeric, salt, pepper, cumin powder, and garam masala. Kashmiri chili powder is what lends the natural bright red color, without any food coloring necessary. A little bit of turmeric adds additional color. Everyone has their own blend of spices. In fact, you can also purchase boxed Chicken 65 Masala blends.
- Curry Leaves – Curry leaves, also known as kadi patta in Hindi or sweet neem leaves, are an aromatic herb found on tropical curry trees which are native to Asia, specifically the Indian subcontinent. There’s no substitute. It’s used in the marinade to really permeate the chicken with its flavor along with the chili powder. Curry leaves can easily be found fresh at Indian grocers and even come in bundles on Etsy. Dried curry leaves also work.
- Flours – This dish is gluten-free, and we’re using corn flour and rice flour to get the crispy fried chicken. Substitute corn flour with corn starch. The rice flour can be substituted with all-purpose flour.
FRYING AND TADKA : For frying the chicken, you’ll just need any neutral oil of preference. The tadka, or tempering, portion requires a tablespoon of a fat like olive oil or ghee to roast the ginger garlic paste, green chilis (like serranos), kashmiri chili powder, and curry leaves. This is where the curry leaves will get extra crispy and crunchy. The kashmiri chili powder will redden the chicken again, since it becomes a bit brown-ish after frying.
HOW TO MAKE CHICKEN 65 : There are three main portions to making a very flavorful, restaurant-style Chicken 65.
- Marinate the Chicken
- Fry the Chicken
- Toss the Chicken in a Spicy Tadka
Each step is crucial for maximum flavor, crisp, and getting the deep red color on the finished product. So, let’s break it down.
MARINATE THE CHICKEN : To marinate the chicken, add the dahi, ginger garlic paste, kashmiri chili powder, cumin powder, turmeric, garam masala, black pepper, and salt to a bowl. Remove the curry leaves from the sprig and layer them on top of each other. Chop them as evenly as possible with a sharp knife. Toss them in with the marinade.
Next, prepare the chicken. I remove the extra fat from chicken thighs – but this is entirely up to you. Pat the chicken dry. Slice the chicken into about 1-inch cubes. Add them to the marinade and toss it all together.
Cover the chicken with plastic wrap and allow it to marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes, but ideally for 24 hours for the most robust flavors. When you’re ready to fry, add the rice flour and corn flour into the bowl with the chicken and toss it all together so that the flour mixes with the thick yogurt-based marinade. It’ll form a wet batter that’s perfect for frying. If it’s still too wet, add a half tablespoon of rice flour and corn flour at a time.
FRY THE CHICKEN : When you’re ready to fry the chicken, pour neutral oil into a wide, deep pan so that it’s around 3 inches high. Turn the heat on medium, and measure the temperature until it gets to 350°F. While waiting for the oil to get hot, place a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Then, carefully drop in 10-15 pieces of chicken using tongs or your hands. Leave plenty of space between each piece so they don’t get stuck together.
Once the chicken has started browning, use a slotted spoon to gently give them a toss so each side gets crispy. You don’t want to do this too early, otherwise the breading will fall off. The chicken fries up really fast but will be a deep reddish-brown when it’s done. Transfer the chicken to the cooling rack and allow it to drain off the oil. Get started on the next batch of chicken.
To get the chicken even crispier, you can twice fry them as well! By now, the oil will also get a little reddish from the chili powder so it’ll deepen the flavor. Add the chicken back into the oil. This time, fry them for no more than a minute and return them back to the cooling rack.
TOSS THE CHICKEN IN TADKA : While the chicken drains the excess oil, get started on the tadka. A tadka is tempering or blooming spices in a fat to get maximum flavor. Slice the chili peppers at a diagonal.
In a skillet or wok, add about a tablespoon of oil or ghee on low to medium heat. Let it pool to one side, and then add in sliced chilis, kashmiri chili powder, ginger garlic paste, and curry leaves. Fry them until the curry leaves get nice and crispy which will take around a minute or two. Then, add in the fried chicken.
Toss everything completely so it coats the chicken. The skin of the chicken will be a brilliant deep red. This only needs a minute or two to rewarm the chicken before it’s ready to serve.