Chicken Rezala

Sunday chicken curry this week had to be in Mughal style. There are two reasons for that. First, the man of the house has decided to stop eating chicken due to the predictable monotonous taste of the Bengali style chicken curries every week. Chilly chicken, bengali chicken curry doesn’t tempt him anymore. Search for a different taste and flavour resulted in Chicken Rezala. And the second, I’m in love with the TV series Jodha Akbar. Undoubtedly the story is fictionalized and dramatized to make it a Hindi daily soap rather than depicting history, but the grandeur, efforts and performance is what keeps me hooked on. I’m in love with the actors and appreciate their efforts in bringing alive the characters.

Rezala, prepared with chicken or mutton, is thought to be a Mughal influenced Bengali recipe. Bengal has been ruled by Muslim governors since the days of the Delhi Sultanate. However, for more than 500 years, Muslim rule in Bengal was centred in Dhaka. Trade routes going from Delhi to Dhaka traversed almost the entire width of today’s Bengal, crossing most major rivers. Present-day West Bengal first came into prominence when Murshid Quli Jafar Khan became the first Nawab of Bengal under the Mughals in 1717, and moved the capital from Dhaka to the newly founded city of Murshidabad. From the culinary point of view, Dhaka evolved a vibrant cuisine based heavily on the influence of the Mughal courts, popularly called Mughlai (or Moglai) cuisine and characterised by rich sauces and a generous use of meat (especially beef). These food traditions continued in the courts of the Nawabs of Bengal.

Another key influence to the food came much later, when Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh, was exiled by the British 1856 to Metiabruz, on the outskirts of Kolkata. Rich and decadent, Awadhi cuisine was a giant in the world of food, and the Nawab is said to have brought with him hundreds of baburchis (“cooks”) and khansamas (“stewards”). On his death, these specialist workers dissipated into the population, starting restaurants and food carts all over Bengal and propagating a distinctly Awadhi legacy into the western parts of Bengal, especially the burgeoning megacity of Kolkata. While deriving from Mughlai cuisine, Awadh preferred mutton to beef and was liberal in the use of attor/ittar (“essence”) of aromatics such rose or kewra.

Chicken Rezala is a white gravy dish yet has so much of complex flavours and layers of taste. The aromatic soupy consistency of the gravy is a comfort to the taste buds and olfactory nerves. The use of spices, essences, nuts and ghee brings the luxurious Mughlai statement. Cooked over slow heat, this yogurt chicken recipe is perfect with rumali roti or rice.

To keep the recipe simple and less calorie rich yet retaining the Shahi flavour, I have made few shortcuts. This resulted in a quick and comfort chicken rezala recipe.

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What you need:
  • Chicken: 500-600 gms
  • Onion: 1 medium (cut into rough slices)
  • Ginger: 1″ piece
  • Garlic: 3-4 fat cloves
  • Thick yogurt: 1 cup
  • Cashew: 5-6 (whole)
  • Poppy seeds: 1/2 tsp
  • Whole dry chilies: 3-4
  • Whole clove: 4-5
  • Whole green cardamom: 2
  • Whole black cardamom: 1
  • Cinnamon: 2″ stick
  • Mace: little
  • Peppercorns : Wwa2g
  • Nutmeg powder: a pinch
  • Oil: 3 tbsp
  • Ghee: 1 tbsp
  • Salt
  • Sugar: 1/2 tsp
  • Kewra water: few drops

How to make:

  • Wash and drain all the water from the chicken.
  • Peel, chop and grind the ginger-garlic to a smooth paste
  • Soak the cashew and make a smooth paste with poppy seeds. Keep aside.
  • Dry roast cardamom, cinnamon, clove, mace black pepper, dry red chillies and make a fine powder (Garam Masala). Keep aside.
  • Beat the yogurt till smooth and add to the chicken pieces  along with the ginger garlic paste. Mix and keep aside at least for an hour.
  • Heat the oil and ghee. Fry the onion slices till golden brown.
  • Add the marinated chicken and cook till the water reduces and oil is released from the yogurt gravy.
  • Cook for 8-10 minutes and the add the poppy seeds paste. Pour 3/4 cup warm water. Check the seasoning (salt to taste) and cover. Let it simmer on low heat till oil starts to float on top and the chicken is cooked through.
  • Uncover and add the sugar, keowra water and the dry spice (garam masala) powder.  Keep covered till you are ready to serve.
  • Serve warm with roti or rice.

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