Keeping things simple and the recipe for Jasha Maroo, a Bhutanese chicken stew
Staying in a 100 year old house, I had to learn this one simple recipe to remember the picture perfect setting that defined my entire travel to Bhutan
I sat in the balcony of the 100 year old wooden house staring at the fabulous view of the Himalayas. The golden glow of the dusk was going to go in my diaries as one of my favourite sunsets. As I stood there thanking my stars that made me end up in this small hamlet in the Phobjika valley of Bhutan, my homestay hostess came to call me for dinner. You see, there is not much to do after nightfall , sitting and staring at the blanket of stars is an option of course , so is lying under the 5 covers of blankets while I read a Japanese thriller was another. But all of that I had already been doing for a few days. I don’t mean to sound cynical or worst a town mouse who starts complaining that there was not much to do in the mountains . Trust me I know of someone who said this about being in Ladakh hence , I wish to make it clear I was here in one of the remotest places that I had ever been, out of choice and what I was looking for is solitude. I arrive in the small kitchen where we sit on the floor with utensils kept on open shelves covering 3 walls, to have a traditional home-cooked meal (It was of course home-cooked, it’s not as if there are options for home delivery or takeout or even a shop anywhere in the next 10 kms). Dinner today is the Kewa Datshi (again), potatoes boiled and cooked in copious amount of butter and cow milk cheese, organically grown brown rice and Jasha Maroo. My hostess informs me that Jasha Maroo is something made out of chicken, the language barrier prevents me from knowing what has gone in to this chicken based dish, I decide to taste it, it looks like a soup, white and watery but with just the right consistency not too thick and not too watery thin, but just the right consistency (I abhor cornstarch based soups which were an Indian restaurant staple whilst I was growing up, not sure if they still exist , I don't know if its because of those thick soups that stopped ordering soups at restaurants a decade ago, I even avoid them at places which promise me organic vegan options). I first taste a sharp tang of ginger followed by a rich smell of butter (homemade no doubt) and succulent pieces of chicken which are floating in the broth that obviously was made of the stock from the same chicken, in my second bite I discover some vegetables floating , carrots , parsnips and a few things I don’t recognize but fall in love with. While traveling in the Himalayas, I often find a lot of veggies I don’t recognize, I also know a lot of foraging happens here and then converted to beautiful simple dishes. Super fun fact, did you know all the food available in Bhutan is organically grown , how awesome is that? I don’t know if the chicken counts as organic but I am sure it was fed organic grains or whatever else chickens are supposed to be fed. It is important to note here that a small country like Bhutan has made organic practices a mandate or maybe they are just preserving traditions while brands in developed countries are busy filling up shelves with organic products.The chicken stew is refreshing, it is invigorating and perfect for the cool weather. It warms me up and makes my traveling a few hundreds of miles from India and a few more to reach this remote village with no apparent purpose even better and as it often does, restores my faith in humanity. Think about it,if we as a race can create such beautiful food with what nature has to give us , preserve our cultures through food , still have an entire country even if it’s as small as Bhutan grow food organically maybe we still have a chance.
I try to talk to my hostess to teach me the recipe, but her choice of english vocabulary is limited to calling me beautiful and scolding me for being late when I go for my strolls to explore the area but this is what I was able to glean the recipe from her. Back home I re-created this & also added my own flare to it . Do me a favour , eat this without the distraction of Netflix or the phone, think of how it is eaten in the mountains, after a long hard day working in the fields, coming home to this simple nourishing meal. So, mix it with some brown or red rice , scoop it with your hands and enjoy.
Recipe makes for 2 people
Boneless chicken pieces- Breasts are fine but thighs are better - 2 pieces.
Chicken stock- make fresh with a few chicken pieces in bones boiled in the water till the water boils and the liquid turns almost translucent, now strain the liquid and keep it aside (I would say keep 2 litres ready at least) , you can create this and keep a night before as well
Vegetables like baby carrots (or larger carrots cut in long thin 2-3 inch slices), parsnips , red radish, cauliflower - take a bunch and make sure cut them in bite size pieces
Ginger & garlic as spices, chopped into small pieces (6-7 cloves of garlic, 1 large piece of ginger, the ginger flavour is key here and you should be able to taste it )
7-8 pieces of spring onions , chopped
Salt & pepper
Lemon for marinating the chicken
If possible the night before, marinate the chicken in lime juice , salt and pepper or a couple of hours before you make the stew if you’re pressed for time
Prepare the chicken stock by boiling chicken in bones as stated above in Point no.2 . You can use these pieces later for a soup.
Shred the chicken pieces, in to thin long 2 inch or bite sized pieces
Heat butter (3 big spoonful) in the pot (a nice deep pot works well for this as there will be liquid)
Add the small pieces of garlic and fry for a bit, once the garlic is almost brown , add the chopped ginger , fry slightly , don’t let it burn
Add the spring onions and fry for a little bit , let it cook for a minute but make sure it does not become mushy
Add the vegetables and cook a little, not too much as it will be cooked later in the liquid as well
Now, add the shredded chicken pieces and cook
Add two large tbsp of pepper and salt as per taste , add 3 hot green /red chillies slit in the middle
Add the chicken stock- first measure in 4-5 cups (I use a Pyrex measuring cup), now lower the flame , cover the pot and cook on low heat for 15-20 minutes
Check if the vegetables and chicken are cooked after every 15 minutes
I like the vegetables to be super soft almost melting
Garnish with a few pieces of ginger cut in uber thin slices and serve with red rice or brown rice