This recipe for Long Pepper Chicken comes from the Arthashastra and is one of the oldest known Indian recipes dating to around 200-300 BCE. It’s a lovely spiced chicken dish that has some major similarities as well as differences from modern Indian chicken dishes.
About the Recipe
I learned about this dish from KT Achaya’s book, Indian Food: A Historical Companion. It’s something I went looking for because of my interest in long pepper. I’ve been asking around for recipes that use long pepper, but most people use it in Ayurvedic concoctions, such as in a tea as a cold remedy.
In the past, long pepper was one of the main spices of India. It is a close relative of black pepper and of betel. Many people consider long pepper superior to black pepper with a complex fruitiness and heat. It was once a very common spice but is now treated as a rare specialty item.
The Arthashastra is an ancient text that describes economics and statecraft. Recipes like this were written to give instructions to what were likely state-run slaughterhouses for the preparation of poultry. It gives a list of ingredients and proportions, but no instructions, and it is not specific about additional spices. According to KT Achaya, dishes would have been spiced in a much more muted way than they are today. Spices such as coriander, cinnamon, and nutmeg were not widely available then.
I took that information and created my interpretation of this dish. The original recipe called for a lot more ghee, which I reduced to make it more reasonable for today’s tastes. It makes for a lovely, peppery chicken meal with an unusual ingredient, the long pepper. Even though the long pepper is not a common food item, it is still commonly used in Ayurvedic remedies and is widely available at Indian stores.
Long pepper (lili pepper) – in ancient times, long pepper was grown in North and Northeast India but was available across India. Today it is used mainly in Ayurveda. My family has always grown long pepper. It’s used as a remedy for colds in tea. You can get it from an Indian store.
In winter, we boil lili pepper with milk for colds or coughs. The roots of long pepper (“ganthoda”), are used for head colds, cough, congestion, and digestion.
Chicken – I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs. It’s a favorite choice of mine because it is flavorful and easy to work with. A more authentic version of this recipe might use bone-in chicken or even whole chicken.
Yogurt – provides the base for the marinade. This ingredient is used as much today as it was back then.
Mustard seeds – a pungent spice likely found in the original recipe.
Ginger Paste – ginger is also an ancient seasoning.
Lemon juice – an authentic ingredient; although the variety used might have had some difference in taste, lemons are believed to have originated in India.
Turmeric (optional) – I didn’t include turmeric in my recipe to keep the emphasis on the long pepper. Still, it would be a valid addition since turmeric was commonly used back then.
What you won’t find in this recipe:
- Tomato and chillies – two ingredients from the New World that had a major impact on Indian cuisine. Over time, chilies have come to replace the long pepper in Indian and European cuisine.
- Onion – existed in India at the time but was not part of this recipe.
- For a punchier long pepper flavor, add more long pepper. They soften as they cook and provide a fruity, peppery accent.
- Add turmeric, a common ingredient even at the time of this dish. I didn’t include it in my recipe to highlight the long pepper.
This dish will keep well in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Reheat in the microwave or stovetop as you would any chicken curry like achari chicken.
Long Pepper Chicken
- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- ¼ cup ghee
- ¾ cup yogurt
- 1 tsp salt
- 12 long peppers crushed with mortar and pestle
- ½ tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp ginger paste grated with microplane
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Whisk the yogurt in a bowl to smooth it out. Add crushed long pepper, ginger, and salt. Stir to combine. Add chicken and stir to coat. Cover and let marinate for at least 30 minutes to overnight.
- Heat oil in a large pan. Add mustard seeds and allow them to pop for a few seconds. Add whole peppers and let them cook for about 20 seconds.
- Add marinated chicken and let it brown, then turn the pieces and allow the other side to brown. It will take about 6 minutes on each side.
- Add 1/4 cup of water to the marinade. Stir and pour over the chicken. Deglaze the pan by scraping it with a spatula.
- Cook the chicken in the sauce until it has reduced to half, about 6-8 minutes. Add water to adjust consistency. Finish with a squeeze of lemon.