So what's the big deal about sharing a recipe. . .?!

April 11th, 2012

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

I thought the days of ‘secret recipes’ and family secrets were long gone till I reached a place called Nagpur in Central India and found that they are both alive and kicking!!

Nagpur brings back a lot of memories. It is one of my favorite places to visit when in India along with Hyderabad, Madras and Bangalore.

Bangalore is where I made my mark as a chef, Madras is where the seeds were planted for becoming a chef, Hyderabad is where I realized that there is more to life than just becoming a doctor, or an engineer, but it was in Nagpur where my journey in life began.

I was born here, my sisters were born here, my brother was born here and finally, just to round off the circle perfectly, my mother was born here too!!!

Nagpur is an amazing place, deeply soaked in history, rich in culture and, of course, lots of good  food to go!!

Bhakri and kandaycha zhunka with lahsanaa chi chatni is something to die for; there is bhakar wadi, pooda chi wadi and much much more . . . and, standing on its own in this list, there is saoji chicken or mutton!!

This dish can have vindaloo added to it and be served for breakfast, lunch and dinner and still have room for more chillies and spices! It is hot but not fiery, it is spicy but not overpowering, and it is the best blo..y dish that man has created, in this part of the world, that has never been adulterated!!

The dish has stayed  true to its roots, the recipe has been passed on from one generation to the next (at least in this case) and has never been documented, and never photographed before, whilst being cooked!!

I learnt this the hard way when my brother-in-law,Subhash Dada and I, were promised a complete experience in the making of this dish by a famous restaurant in Nagpur. We were so excited about being able to photograph the dish being made we promptly packed our photographic equipment and reached the destination full of enthusiasm and having chatted about how we’d take the photos and what the end product would look like, only to be told that we were not welcome and that the owner/chef was happy and content with the business he generated and did not desire any extra publicity!!

We were, however, more than welcome to buy any amount of the said dish, or any dish for that matter, but no photography of any sort was allowed, and certainly no questions were to be asked about the recipe.

We returned home with two servings each of the chicken and mutton dish, wondering what could happen to the dish if the chef decided to, or rather just did –the bucket without ever passing on the recipe to any heir apparent!!

It’s all well and good having a secret recipe, or one that’s never written down but shared by word of mouth, and then only to a select few, but what about the recipe itself? If one of those chefs with all their knowledge goes, so does the recipe.

However, that is my dilemma and not the chef’s who mainly believes that the less the recipe is shared, the less chances of it getting ‘diluted‘ are and the more chances the recipe has of staying pure!!

I admire this way of thinking and when I see what’s happened to so many of our dishes, and how ‘diluted’ some recipes have become, I sometimes wish all the ustaads and the great chefs of the past had been wise like this chef of ours  we would never have been classified as a cuisine that serves only ‘curry’!!

If each recipe had been locked away,  every dish would be called by its true name just as in France and China.

We would have maans ke soole,avsaara vada,papite ka achaar,thatte vadai, kane rawa, gushtaba,erisseri,kosha mangsho,charmagaz ka murgh . .to name just a few from a few million dishes!

But then there is also the remote chance that this cuisine would never have gained the popularity that it has today. Maybe someone could have documented the recipes so that we had uniformity in what we cooked, à la Larousse Gastronomique!!

As for me, I am very happy to share any recipe as long as it is called by its true name, like this recipe which I was fortunate to pick up from a little restaurannt in Hyderabad a long time ago.

The dish is called “ginger chicken” and not adraki murgh or kozhi  appakari, . . . it uses no spices except for those that are present in the tomato ketchup [and yes, I do mean that bottled  stuff!].

This is a secret recipe that the chef of this restaurant shared with me with a promise from me never to dilute it!! So here it is, a secret recipe that is out of its locked box as long as you follow it as it is done. Keep it concentrated, no diluting, please!

The cook of this particular dish is a young and enthusiastic engineer, Bakul, who wants to run her own restaurant serving ethnic Indian food. The young engineer skipped her assignment to help make this dish and stood in the kitchen stirring the pot (wok) for nearly 2½ hours.

Indian food could do with a few more Bakuls in its kitchens!!

The photographer is, you guessed it right, not John Slaytor my friend who is still back home in Sydney, but someone called Ajoy who is, for the moment, back ‘home’ in India!

The quality of the photographs is definitely not as good as  the earlier blogs but I promise you that John will accompany me on my next venture into this country when we will go around the entire Malabar coast, the Coromandel coast, central India, North India, the east and, of course, Hyderabad.

And we will bring back some classic dishes and some little known dishes with plenty of photos and great stories!! I do hope you’ll join us.

The Ingredients

Ingredients clockwise (starting at the 9 o’clock position): oil, kari leaves, onion paste, salt, garlic paste, ginger paste, ground chillies, tomato ketchup, chicken (cut into small pieces and soaked in iced water to remove blood)”

Step 1


Heat oil in a wok and add the kari leaves and onion paste, salt and cook till the oil comes to the surface

Step 2 – Adding garlic paste: To learn how to prepare a garlic paste, click how to make garlic  paste  and scroll down to Step 2

add garlic paste and fold

Step 3 -Adding ginger paste: To learn how to prepare a ginger paste, click how to make ginger  paste  and scroll down to Step 2

add the ginger paste and fold

Step 4


whisk, or fold, slowly to prevent the onions from popping out of the wok

Step 5

fold till oil comes to the surface

Step 6

savour the fragrance like this young chef here!

Step 7

add ground fresh red chillies

Step 8

add tomato ketchup, reduce heat to low and slow cook till the oil comes to the surface

Step 9

add chicken pieces and fold

Step 10

fold all contents together gradually

Step 11 – Add kari leaves and serve. To learn how to temper kari leaves, click kari leaves technique

ginger chicken

How I wish I could steal the recipe of saoji chicken and do a step-by-step with John!! For a single page summary of this blog’s recipe, click ginger chicken recipe.

Anah daata sukhi bhaava!!


  1. Ajoy Joshi

    hi shruti
    You may add some water if need be, but if the chicken is soaking in cold water, which is what we did, you may not need to add any moisture.
    happy cooking!!

  2. shrutisharma

    I’m kind of thinking that after you add the chicken you need to add some water, cover and cook?

  3. Ajoy Joshi

    Hello Rajiv,
    happy you enjoyed the dish.
    I think we need to thank the ‘karta’ in this case, who did a tremendous job!!

  4. rajiv charde

    Great!!! Agree in to-to re Indian dishes r much beyond “curry”. As for the Ginger Chicken, having tasted it straight from “kadhai” (wok), simply delisious.

  5. Ajoy Joshi

    Oops, forgot to mention, it is in step 8.
    But mind you keep cooking till most of the oil come to the surface.
    happy cooking!

  6. Anonymous

    Love your blog and recipes and especially the stories!! I want to try this above recipe, but see that the ketchup does not feature anywhere in the method. At what time is the ketchup added?

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