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Mrs. Framji’s chicken

Mrs. Framji’s chicken never has been known by any other name in the household of the Editor, even though it is in essence a tomato curry. It is a simple Raj hybrid that, uncharacteristically, does not exploit the convenience of curry powder. It also is unusual, in David Burton’s version if not the original, in cooking the chicken and tomatoes alone together until addition of the separately prepared spicing at the end of the process. Mrs. Framji’s curry is foolproof and memorable enough for company. Four servings.


  • indianlady.jpg8 chicken thighs or 12 drumsticks
  • salt
  • about 1 Tablespoon ghee or clarified butter
  • 4 peeled, cored and chopped big tomatoes (see the Notes)
  • about 2 more teaspoons ghee or clarified butter
  • a peeled and minced onion
  • 6 smashed and minced cloves garlic
  • heaped Tablespoon or more minced fresh ginger
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne, more or less
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • about 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • juice of ½ lemon

  1. Melt the Tablespoon of ghee or butter in a heavy skillet over high heat; salt the chicken and brown it in the bubbling ghee.
  2. Stir the tomatoes into the chicken, let them bubble, reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and simmer the chicken until done, usually in 20-30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile assemble the seasoning in a separate, smaller skillet. Melt the remaining ghee over medium to medium high heat and cook the onion until golden; be vigilant to prevent scorching and regulate the heat as required.
  4. Stir the garlic, then the ginger into the onion and cook the mixture until the garlic loses its raw color, then add all the spice and fry the combination for a couple of minutes to toast the spice a little.
  5. Stir the seasoning mix into the chicken and tomato mixture, then add the cilantro and lemon juice.


-The dish takes well to canned tomatoes, which are superior to fresh ones out of season. Select San Marzano tomatoes and use about 2 cups.

-If the chicken and tomatoes threaten to scorch just add a little chicken stock.

-A good dish for a dinner party, Mrs. Framji’s chicken can be cooked ahead through Step 5. When you are ready to serve dinner, reheat the curry and then move on to Step 6.

-As we do reiterate, minced ginger from a jar is a more than serviceable alternative to peeling and grating fresh.

-Burton’s Raj at Table is by turns fascinating and exasperating. This dish reflects both attributes. It is not really like anything else in its austere combination of seasonings and the process is accessible to the most underconfident cook.It also is, as our introduction says, superb.

- Burton does not disclose the source of Mrs. Framji’s recipe, let alone give his reader any notion whom she was, although to be fair his bibliography does include the entry “Framji, Navroji, Indian Cookery ‘Local’ for Young Housekeepers (Bombay 1883).” Is this the source, and how does Burton know she was married? The title is extremely obscure and until recently was not available outside specialist libraries.

-Now, however, it has been published in facsimile and is available on demand from the Harvard Bookstore via Googlebooks. The ‘Local’ includes a somewhat similar but by no means identical recipe, called “Chicken curry with Tomatoes.” And therein, as they say, lies the rub. In his introduction to The Raj at Table, Burton claims that ‘[m]ost of the recipes in this book have been transcribed as they originally appeared.” Those that “have been rendered into modern idiom” are only some of the ones, he says, that “were either sent to me by men and women who lived in India at the end of the Raj era or have been updated from older recipes to take into account today’s standard weights and measures, food processors and thermostatically controlled ovens.” (Burton xi)

-His version of the Framji recipe is (apparently )neither from a manuscript nor does it call for the use of either food processor or oven; and the recipe found in the ‘Local’ is by no means unclear or unworkable. The allegorical separation of church and state in the form of chicken with tomato on the one hand and spicing on the other is Burton’s own; ‘Mrs.’ Framji herself mixes things up in the traditional manner.