If you're anything like me the first thing you think when reading chicken 65 is where on earth does that numerical name come from. It seems no one knows for definite. Some say it was originally number 65 on a menu, others say it contains 65 spices, yet more say a chicken was cut into 65 pieces. We're still not at the end though. Maybe the dish first cost 65 rupees or maybe, and this seemed the most common version when we asked people, it was named that by the Chennai hotel that invented the dish, in 1965 obviously.
Name aside what is it? It's little nuggets of chicken, on or off the bone (as a snack I have to go with off), marinaded in a fiery paste of ginger, chili powder, vinegar and mustard before being deep fried till crisp and tender. Served with some fried curry leaves, sliced shallots and lime wedges it's a fine start to a meal or snack with a cold beer.
On my recent Keralan holiday we went for a trek around the tea plantations of Munnar and I got talking to the guide about the dish, this started off with me asking the origin of the name but soon he was telling us about a famous chicken 65 based joke from a movie. As he told it a man walked into a restaurant and ordered some chicken 65 at a cost of 35 rupees. He sat and waited for the chicken and when it came out and they placed it before him he complained that he had ordered chicken 65 yet there was only 6 pieces. The waiter tried and failed to placate the man, saying it was only a name, but he wouldn't let up. Then a hero (?) turned up and said 'Sir, see this 10 rupee note, it is only one item but within it are 10 rupees. It is the same with your chicken 65, this piece here is one piece but contains 12 pieces, this here contains 11...' and so on until he reached a total of 65, so saving the day. All the way through telling us this joke our guide was in hysterics so we politely chuckled along.
Whilst Chicken 65 based jokes may not work well for the British ear the dish certainly works well for the British palate.
Chicken 65 Recipe
Serves 2-4 as a snack, definitely 2 in this house
450gr skinless chicken thigh fillets, breast would work too but be careful not to overcook
2 cloves of garlic
2 ts chili powder
2 TB plain yoghurt
1 ts vinegar
1/2 ts mustard powder
3/4 ts salt
1 TB cornflour
1 TB plain flour
1 shallot, peeled and finely sliced
Small handful of curry leaves
1/2 a lime, cut into wedges
This couldn't be much simpler. Cut the chicken into 2.5cm cubes, blitz the marinade ingredients till smooth (add the flours at the end) and then mix together. Leave for 1-4 hours.
Heat the oil to 180 C (or hot) and add the curry leaves, fry for 20 seconds till crisp then sieve out and drain on kitchen paper.
Cook the chicken for 3-4 mins, or until dark and cooked through. It's good to chuck any extra marinade in too as it makes nice little crispy bits.
Drain the chicken onto kitchen paper then place on a plate and scatter with the fried curry leaves, shallots and lime.