Cooking Mutton, Chicken Or Fish? Tips To Master The Cook
Image Credit: Chicken is a versatile protein | Unsplash

The most commonly consumed non-vegetarian foods in India are chicken, mutton, and fish. From north to south to east and west, we have several variations of these three protein ingredients and many regional dishes that we love to enjoy. Very few ingredients are as versatile and satisfying as mutton, chicken, and fish. So, understanding how to prepare these proteins is essential for crafting delicious and memorable meals.  

And even though we have listed all three together as the most commonly used non-vegetarian ingredients in India, they are very different from each other in terms of texture as well as tastes. So, you need to cook them in very different ways to bring out the true flavours in all of these dishes that you make with mutton, chicken, or fish. Today, we'll explore tips and tricks to help you cook mutton, chicken, and fish to perfection, ensuring your dishes are a triumph in flavour, texture, and presentation.

Cooking Mutton: Patience Pays Off

Mutton is a staple in many cuisines, celebrated for its rich, hearty flavour. You can make a kheema dish, a rich gravy, or the most delicious biryani with mutton. From Lucknow's kebabs to Bengal’s kosha mangsho to Kerala’s naadan mutton curry, here are cooking tips to achieve the perfect mutton dish: 

Recipe - Kunal Kapur

  • Marination Magic: For tender and flavorful mutton, marination is the key. Create a marinade with yoghurt, acidic elements like lemon juice or vinegar, and spices according to your choice of preparation. Let the mutton marinate for at least a few hours, or even overnight, for the best results. 
  • Choose the Right Cut: Different mutton cuts require various cooking methods. For stews and curries, choose tougher cuts that benefit from slow cooking. For grilling or roasting, opt for tender cuts like leg or loin.
  • Slow and Low: Slow cooking is the secret to tender mutton. Whether in a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or heavy-bottomed pan, a low simmer allows the meat to become tender and absorb flavours. Remember, patience pays off.
  • Spice Blend Magic: Indian cuisine thrives on spices. Use a blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric, and garam masala for depth of flavour. Toast the spices for a few seconds in hot oil to enhance their aroma.
  • Onions and Tomatoes: Achieve a well-cooked onion and tomato base. Sauté onions until golden brown, add tomatoes, and cook until the oil separates. This forms the foundation of many mutton dishes like korma, kadhai, and do pyaaza.
  • Rest Before Serving: After cooking, let the mutton rest for a few minutes. This helps redistribute the juices, resulting in succulent, melt-in-the-mouth meat.

Cooking Time – Mutton takes 2-2.5 hours to cook properly and becomes juicy and succulent. 

Crafting Chicken Dishes: Versatile And Easy Going 

Chicken, the culinary chameleon, offers endless possibilities in the kitchen. From sandwiches, burgers, and noodles to pulao, gravies, and tikkas, chicken is just perfect for every dish. Here are some cooking tips to create irresistible chicken dishes: 

  • Uniform Cuts: For even cooking, ensure your chicken pieces are of uniform size. This prevents some pieces from overcooking while others remain undercooked. Use curry cuts for gravy-based dishes, wings for Chinese dishes, leg pieces for biryani, and boneless cuts for succulent tikkas.
  • Freshly Ground Spices: Using freshly ground spices like cumin and coriander seeds imparts a more intense and authentic flavour to your desi-style chicken. This lean protein absorbs flavour very well, so adding fresh marination always helps make the dish more delicious.
  • Balancing Act: Achieve a balance of flavours using spices like chilli, ginger, and garlic, along with dairy products like curd or cream, for a rich and creamy texture. Adjust the level of heat to your taste. A good chicken dish is always balanced in taste. 
  • Cooking Techniques: Tailor your cooking technique to the dish. Grill, roast, stir-fry, or simmer as needed. Slow-cook the curries and stir-fry for quick biryani, marinate the chicken for a long time, but for bite-sized boneless chicken chilli, quick marination works too! Here are specifics for the cooking techniques:
  1. Grilling: Preheat your grill to the appropriate temperature and use direct or indirect heat as needed. Oil the grates to prevent sticking.
  2. Roasting: Preheat the oven and use a roasting pan or baking sheet. Place the chicken on a rack to allow air circulation for even cooking and crispy skin.
  3. Pan-searing: Heat a pan with oil or butter over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken on each side until it develops a golden-brown crust.
  4. Baking: When baking chicken, use a baking dish or casserole. Cover it with foil if you want to keep it moist, or leave it uncovered for a crispier finish.
  5. Slow Cooking: When cooking gravy dishes, use low heat to cook the chicken so that it does not become chewy. The secret to juicy chicken is cooking on low flame.

Cooking time – Boneless chicken takes less than half an hour to cook, while in-bone pieces might take an hour. A whole chicken, being roasted or grilled to perfection needs anywhere near 1-1.5 hours.

Fish: Flavours From The Sea:

Fish, a beloved ingredient in coastal Indian regions, offers a delicate and delightful experience. From pomfret to hilsa to rohu, fish can be made into several amazing dishes. Whether it is the curries from Goa or the snacks from Andhra Pradesh, here's how to create the perfect fish cooking technique: 

  • Freshness is Paramount: Start with fresh fish. Look for clear, bright eyes, firm flesh, and a clean, ocean-like aroma. Stale fish has an unpleasant smell and after-taste, so getting fresh fish from the market and cooking it the same day is the best way to enjoy it. 
  • Gentle Marination: Marinate fish briefly with ingredients like lemon juice, turmeric, and salt. This reduces the fishy odour and infuses flavour. Unlike chicken and mutton, fish does not require an overload of spices during marination. 
  • Cooking Methods: Fish is delicate and cooks quickly. Use gentle cooking methods like steaming, poaching, or pan-searing to preserve its tenderness. Deep-fried fish is also really popular and a huge part of regional coastal Indian cuisines. For deep-frying, put your fish cuts in hot oil-filled kadhai on a high flame initially, but gradually lower the flame for the flesh to be cooked through. 
  • Don't Overcrowd the Pan or Kadhai: When cooking multiple fish pieces, ensure there is enough space between them. Overcrowding can cause uneven cooking. Have patience and cook the fish pieces in small batches, unlike chicken or mutton, which can all go in a pot at once. 
  • Aromatic Additions: Enhance fish dishes with aromatic ingredients like curry leaves, ginger, garlic, and coconut milk. Coconut-based curries and tamarind sauces are popular choices in many parts of India, and they add depth of flavour to fish-based dishes. 

Cooking time – Fish does not need a lot of time to get cooked to perfection. Fatty, soft fish take 15-20 minutes while basa or rohu takes half an hour.