Chicken Xacuti or ‘Shagoti’ is an intense Goan curry made with chicken and a host of spices, carefully roasted and ground with the quintessential coconut that’s so definitive of Goa. The chicken is often replaced with mutton and tastes equally good. We rather like our Goan food full of spice and heat but do feel free to cut down on the amount of Chilli to suit your taste. It’s all about experimenting with the diverse flavours till you find a version of the Chicken Xacuti that you can call your own.
“Hurry, hurry! It’s nearly time to eat!” said Prakash as he and his band of cousins raced home. They’d spent the afternoon catching tadpoles from the emerald-green pond near the Shantadurga temple. Oil lamps were being lit in the huts surrounding the fields and smoke curled out the chimneys. The Peacocks, hidden from view in the fruit orchards, cried out as the setting sun coloured the sky a deep bronze. Peace and harmony reigned over the small, beautiful village of Kavalem in Goa.
The children weaved their way through the narrow village lanes, pushing and pulling one another, calling out to their neighbors as they passed by. They rushed past old Susparsha, who carried the dried laundry back into the house every evening. Prakash, particularly fond of scaring the poor old maid, crept behind her and howled, nearly toppling her basket in the process and drawing her ire.
Slippers were flung off at the main door to the Nayak household and the children hurried down the long winding corridors, taking the narrow shortcut to the well. “Don’t step on the chillies!” called out Jaya kaki (aunt), as they raced across the courtyard. White muslin sheets were laid out all around, to dry mounds of hot red Goan chillies and large pink onions. The aroma of spiced curries and fried fish wafted out the kitchen door and the children, ravenous with hunger, jostled with one another. The older ones bullied their way to the front while the younger ones, hungry and exhausted, began to cry. Their grandmother, watching the commotion from her bedroom window, chastised Prakash and his cousin Pradeep, “You’re the elders of the lot! Why can’t you let the younger ones have a go first? Move aside and give them some space!” She slowly made her way down the steep, narrow steps, to mop up the little ones’ tears, the edge of her voile sari was always soft and comforting. It was all a part of growing up in a large family, living in a beautiful, sprawling home in this delightful Goan village.
Once clean, the children joined the rest of the family in the Devachikud (Prayer Room), a very special sanctum within the house. It was a small room, filled with figurines of the family’s revered Gods and the heady frangrance of Parijat (Jasmine) blossoms. The oil lamps cast beautiful shadows across the walls and Dada (grandfather) held a small, golden bell, its sweet, tinkling sound accompanying the evening prayers. The children stood quietly now, not wanting to draw a glare from their elders. They silently counted down the moments, knowing that prayers done, it would be time for the family to eat.
It was Dada‘s birthday today and the entire house was filled with the excited chatter of relatives from all over the village. Special prayers were offered for Dada‘s good health and the prosperity of the Nayak family. Dada was given the first bite of delicious rawa ladu (semolina sweets), specially made for him by Aai (grandmother). The rest of the ladus were quickly handed around the room. A feast would be laid out in Dada‘s honour and relatives would celebrate together, over a variety of delicious Goan delicacies.
Dinner usually included lightly spiced vegetables, lentils and steamed rice but on special evenings like this one, meat curries and fried fish would take centre stage. The aroma of rich, intense Mutton Xacuti wafted out the kitchen window. It would be accompanied by gleaming white pearls of Basmati rice, purchased from a special grocery in the village and carefully ‘aged’ till its flavour ripened. ‘Pão‘, the typical Goan bread bun sold by the local village baker, had the perfect crust to scoop up the rich mutton curry, and Prakash couldn’t wait to dine! Food was always served by the women of the family on enormous banana leaves and best enjoyed with one’s fingers, the better to keep the food warm as you relished your meal.
The evening feast over, the men gathered in the large hall, chatting about local politics and business. The children played in the varaand (veranda), taking advantage of the fact that they’d be able to stay up past their bedtime tonight. The women gathered in the kitchen and the inner halls, sharing stories and the latest village news. Exclamations of “We really should be heading home now,” would usually be met with “Oh no! Not yet! Stay awhile and chat with us, we haven’t seen you in days!” followed by another hour of shared confidences in the kitchen. The entire family stayed up late, enjoying this very special day. This story would repeat over the generations, with the Nayak family celebrating life, love and exceptionally good food.
All the credit for this delicious dish goes to my mom Kamakshi, who taught me the recipe the first time I visited my husband’s home in Goa. It’s a very popular curry that’s made on most special occasions in our family, usually accompanied by slices of fried fish and a delectable fish curry.
- 1 kg Chicken on the bone
For the Xacuti Spice Powder:
- 2 teaspoons Coriander seeds (Dhania)
- 8 dry, Red Chillies
- 1 inch piece of Cinnamon (Dalchini)
- 7-8 Cloves (Lavang)
- 7-8 Peppercorns (Kali Mirch)
- 1 Star Anise (Chakriphool)
- 1 teaspoon Fennel seeds (Badishep)
- 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg (Jaiphal)
- 1/4 teaspoon Mace (Jaipatri)
For the Coconut-Onion Paste:
- 1 medium Onion, chopped fine
- 1/2 of a fresh grated Coconut or 100g Desiccated Coconut
For the Green Masala Paste:
- 12-14 cloves of Garlic
- 5 Green Chillies
- 1 1/2 inch piece of Ginger
- 1 bunch of fresh Coriander leaves
- 1 teaspoon Turmeric powder (Haldi)
- 1 tablespoon Tamarind paste (Imli)
For the Curry Base:
- 3 small Onions, chopped fine
- 1 Tomato, chopped fine
- Salt, to taste
- 6-8 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
- 1/2 cup Water
Dry roast the coriander seeds, red chillies, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, star anise, fennel seeds, nutmeg and mace in a pan, over low heat. Keep stirring the spices as they heat so as not to burn them. This releases all their flavour and makes the Xacuti fragrant as well. Once the spices turn light brown, take the pan off the heat and cool the spices on a plate. Grind the roasted spices to a fine powder and keep aside.
In the same pan, dry roast the coconut scrapings (or dessicated coconut) on low heat, stirring often, till light brown and fragrant and keep aside. Next, fry the finely chopped medium onion in 3-4 tablespoons of oil till golden-brown. Grind the roasted coconut and golden-brown onion to a fine paste.
Grind the garlic cloves, green chillies, ginger, turmeric, tamarind and about 2 handfuls of fresh, green coriander leaves into a fine paste. Marinate the cleaned chicken pieces in this green masala paste for at least half an hour.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, fry the three small onions, chopped fine, in 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil until brown. Add the chopped tomato and fry till it loses all its moisture and leaves oil. Add salt to taste, the marinated chicken and 1/2 a cup of water. Cover the pan and boil the chicken for fifteen minutes.
Add the coconut paste and the spice powder to the chicken and cook, covered, until the chicken pieces are tender. At this point, you might need to add in another handful of coriander leaves (ground to a paste) to give the Xacuti its distinctive greenish-brown colour. Boil the curry once, having added the extra coriander paste, take the pan off the heat, cover it and let the curry rest for at least half an hour. Serve the Xacuti with warm steamed rice or Goan Pão (Bread).
Recipe Note: We’ve used Nutmeg and Mace powders in our curry, instead of the whole spices, since we’ve not been able to source them locally.
Story Notes: Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books.