Amari Dawn Pollard
Curry Chicken for Beginners
I have always viewed my parents as equal partners in their marriage. My understanding of gender roles didn’t come from within my home, but from observing how other couples moved in their relationships, flipping through the pages of books, and watching television on the weekends when it was allowed. My dad was just as likely to braid my hair in the morning as my mom, and sometimes that was preferred because he would pull back my curls and plait them tight enough to last throughout the entire day. I took pride in the fact that they both had a place in every facet of my life, in every part of our home, including the kitchen.
While my mom was definitely the head chef of our home, my dad was right beside her as her sous-chef. They would take turns cooking dinner each night, with mom spearheading Tuesday and Thursday’s menu, while dad worked the kitchen on Mondays and Wednesdays. There was always an element of surprise when my mom cooked because her repertoire was more expansive. It usually took a couple of weeks before she repeated menu items — except for Thursdays, those were generally dedicated to fish sticks and french fries. My dad on the other hand had about six solid recipes he liked to rotate through: tuna and rice, bully beef and rice, spaghetti, tacos, shepherd's pie, and curry chicken.
Throughout my 18 years at home, I closely watched my dad cook curry chicken probably a hundred times. I was acutely aware of this when entering my own kitchen this week to cook curry chicken. It was weird cooking it for the first time using a recipe that was not his; it felt wrong and I continuously found myself stopping throughout the process to double-check the ingredients. Something always felt like it was missing. I wanted to use my dad’s exact spice combinations but realized I didn’t even know what those were. He used potatoes but this recipe didn’t call for any. I cooked rice to go with mine and was immediately disappointed that I never thought to buy roti, a round Indian flatbread, which he often partnered with his. (But where does one even buy roti in Chapel Hill?)
By the time my curry chicken was fully cooked on the stove and nicely plated, I realized, I had only ever eaten my dad’s curry chicken. There was an uneasiness as I lifted my fork to take the first bite. How do you replicate a meal that you’ve associated with one person your whole life? How do you make it taste the way theirs does when they’re not around to show you how?
You can’t. So, you just make it your own and hope it’s good enough to eat. And it was.