Jalfrezi –  An Untold History

Jalfrezi –  An Untold History


Modern Jalfrezi is very different to it’s colonial predecessor

Chicken Jalfrezi is one of the most popular dishes across the world when it comes to Indian food and Grace of India is no exception.

In essence, the modern Jalfrezi represents exactly what Indian restaurant food is — a mixture of ‘Kareh Masale’ — raw spices (cardamom, garlic, ginger, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and more) cooked into a fat (ghee, oil or coconut oil for South Indian dishes) topped with fresh onions which slowly absorb the flavour of spices.

Kareh Masaleh
‘Masaleh’ — Masala is added into Indian food at three points during the cooking process


In my experience, perfecting the taste of a dish — especially the Jalfrezi comes down to the timing of adding your spices. ‘Masaleh’ — Masala is added into Indian food at three points during the cooking process and each stage will culminate into immediate taste, mid taste and after taste of the dish on the palate. Getting a stage wrong in the spices process will lead to too much or too little taste on the palate during each stage.

1st stage — Adding raw or complete spices into a pan fry

2nd stage — Adding ground masala after onions absorb 1st stage spices

3rd stage — Adding raw and/or ground masala right before serving

The History

Jalfrezi however didn’t have such a refined history — in fact it was born in a time where lots of Indians were forced into poverty — you guessed it — English occupation of India aka ‘The Raj’.

The English elite in India were fond of eating their own English specialities from time to time and left overs from large meals/ feasts/ celebratory events were then handed down to Indian servants.

Indians however were not fond of English food which they found bland and boring! Hence Jalfrezi was born! Indian servants would heat up a pot, throw in some ghee, spices and onion and once ready throw in the English leftovers. It gave them the kick the food needed to make the consumption bearable.

Jalfrezi 2


Although Jalfrezi has a new meaning today for Indian restaurants, I do believe the old way makes for a great lesson — make something of your circumstances! Give your leftover food the next day a little boost with my suggested recipe below:


Ghee or oil based on your leftovers

Crushed garlic and ginger (finely processed)

1 small cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

2 green cardamom

1 teaspoon whole cumin

2 Cups finely chopped onion

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

Chilli to preference

2 cups tomato puree

½ cup tomato paste

Your extra food from your earlier meal!

  1. Heat your pan and add ghee or oil.
  2. Once the ghee/oil is warm add your crushed garlic & ginger.
  3. Add your whole cumin, cinnamon stick, bay leaf and green cardamom. Mix well into pan.
  4. Add finely chopped onions and cook until your base becomes a thick brown sauce.
  5. Add salt to taste, ground cumin and tumeric
  6. Take out any large spices left in your cooking from earlier OR stop cooking and grind your paste with a blender/ processor
  7. Add chilli (based on your preferred level) and mix for a few minutes.
  8. Throw in your left overs and mix till hot
  9. Enjoy!

Good luck!


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