Friday, 12 September 2014

Murgir Rajokiyo Roast

পুজো আসছে 

The other day while clearing my mail box I chanced upon an article I had written for a publication I used to work for a few years ago. It was about food offered to the mother Goddess during Durga Puja at some of the most illustrious homes of Calcutta. My colleague/friend S and I had a blast researching for the story, visiting these households with illustrious histories, where Durga Puja is celebrated with much pomp. And since this months is dedicated to Goddess Durga I though you might like reading it. In my next post I will share more about Durga Puja is these palatial Calcutta mansions and how life in these homes pivot around the 5 days of Durga Puja.

The delectable Khichudi, typically the runny variety that tends to run down to the edge of the banana leaves that serve as the plates and the variety of deep-fried vegetables, potatoes, brinjal, pumpkin et al, followed by the legendary chhanchra, a spicy concoction of assorted vegetables, a favourite with every khadyoroshik Bangali or a tasty cauliflower curry and finally the chaaler payesh, best savoured licked off your palms – Durga Puja’s bhog is by far the most coveted part of the festival. In fact, come Ashtami and most houses in almost every neighbourhood in the city, bolt their kitchen doors for the morning at least (much to the relief of the womenfolk) and head straight for the para pandal, in time to grab the seats for thebhog bitoron. But that’s only about baroari puja’s bhog. And the food that is cooked in mammoth pots and pans with giants ladles in enormous quantities is not really the food served to the Goddess, it is more like food had in her name and in a spirit of togetherness. You have to venture into some of the city’s Bonedihouses, to find out what they serve Durga on her visit home. Interestingly, although bhog and Khichudi are almost synonymous, Durga Puja’s bhog is not necessarily what is served at para pandals. And it may be mentioned here that bhog in these households is not only about mouthwatering delicacies, but involves elaborate ritual and follows strict rules and fixed conventions.
                At Shovabazaar Rajbari, Durga Puja is performed according to Vaishnavite traditions and since the Deb family is non-Brahmin they do not offer anna bhog to the goddess. That is to say, no cooked rice is offered as bhog. The Naividya, a vital offering, comprises mounds of uncooked rice, bananas, ghee, honey, curd, Sandesh, kheerer nadu and more. On Ashtami, on gigantic salvers, the size of the wheels of a tonga, one mon of rice is offered to the Goddess and in the evenings Michhrir jal (sugar-candy water) and butter are a must. If you are a trifle disappointed at the thought of bhog without khhichdi, you will be surprised by array of delightful delicacies that are offered to the Goddess, besides the Naividya. Under a tent constructed in the lawns, a group of confectioners remain busy tossing up fresh khaja, gaja, Balushahi, pantuas and more mouthwatering sweets along with piping hot Kochuri and crusty nimki. Besides, special cooks hired for the occasion cook typical Bengali recipes like, scrumptious Radhaballabi, a type of fried bread with a spicy dal stuffing, mishti chholar dal, Chhanar Kalia (cottage cheese dumpling in tangy gravy), kumror chhokka and more for the guests and family members. Only vegetarian cuisine is served during Puja, but on Dashami, it is custom for everyone to feast on fish curry and rice.
          The culinary arrangements at the Ranir Bari or the house of Raj Krishna Deb, across the street are also grand. From piping hot singara and Kochuri to syrupy jilipi, motichurer laddu doused in ghee, katkati, mithey gaja, juicy peraki stuffed with cinnamon flavoured kheer, the list is long and mouthwatering. A must is the sujir payesh, made of milk and semolina and spiced with cardamom and bay leaves. “According to a special family tradition, the Devi is also offered a bowl of rabri which is shared among the family members and everyone eats with the same spoon,” informs Alok Krishna Deb. The Ranir Bari is also the dining stop for the West Bengal Tourism buses full of enthusiastic tourists and city-dwellers out on Puja Parikrama. A sumptuous lunch of pulao, luchi, aludum and sweets is served within the premises of the house to the tourists and usually it is the children of the Deb family who serve the food.
           At Chhatu Babu Latu Babu’s house,yet another famous destination for those seeking a peak of the city’s Bonedi Barir Pujo, an austere meal is served to the Goddess, comprising luchi fried in clarified butter and three types of fried vegetables. The food offered to the Goddess is cooked without salt. Besides, the Naividya comprising rice, fruits, sweets and curd is a must. But here too the feast for the guests is elaborate and sumptuous. Radhaballabi, chhanar dalna, dhokar dalna (split pulse cakes in spicy gravy), stuffed capsicum, cauliflower and dices potato curry, mishti doi, darbesh and ledikeni are the usual entrees on the menu.
                At Laha Bari, more than twenty different types of sweets if offered to the goddess, but here too no anna bhog is offered. Tiler nadu, narkel nadu, Sujir nadu, paan gaja, jibey gaja, jhad gaja, mugger daler laddu, maidar laddu, chholar daler nadu, peraki, ledikeni, pantuas and more – the list is mind-boggling. Here too the bhiyen system prevails, and every delicacy is made at home. The cooks also toss up a variety of deep-fried delicacies including beguni, phuluri, alur chop et al. Definitely Durga doesn’t miss the Khichudi or the chhanchra, when the options are so many and so tasty.

However no matter how much I love Bhog er khabar, I cannot imagine a celebration of that scale without my meat. And loads of meat. But while I was reading my own article about Calcutta's fabled rajbaris, it occured to me that I must creat something Rajokiyo (royal) for my next post.

 I had a whole chicken lying in the refrigerator. And some minced chicken. AT first I considered a traditional Murg Mussallam. Then I changed thins around a little. I roasted in chicken in a pot in a minced chicken gravy with a choice of spices and herbs. My mother says this is perhaps one of my best dishes till date, I do notknow about that, but I definitely loved it. I think you will too.


Whole chicken (cleaned) – 1 (a kilo by weight)
Minced chicken – 600 g
Pearl onions: 200 g
Vinegar – 1 cup
Chopped tomatoes
Mustard oil
Ghee – 2 tbsp
Whole spices
Cardamomn – 6-7
Cinnamon – 2 inch
Cloves – 5-6
Javtri/Mace – 3-4
Nutmeg powder – ½ tsp         
For marination
Caramelised onion – 1 cup
Whole red chili – 8-10
Garlic paste – 2 tbsp
Ginger paste – 2 tbsp
Finely chopped Coriander leaves – 1 cup (packed)
Finely chopped Mint leaves – ½ cup
Turmeric powder – 1 tbsp
Kashmiri red chili powder – 1 tsp
Cumin powder – 1.5 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 tbsp
Cinnamon powder – ½ tsp
Vinegar – 6 tbsp
Dates (seeded) – 10-12
Salt  to taste
Sugar – ½ tsp 


In a blender add the caramelised onions and whole red chilies and grind into a thick paste.

In a blender grind the dates into a paste.

In a bowl take the pearl onions, sprinkle some salt and add a cup of vinegar and cover and store. 

Now marinate the whole chicken with the onion paste, date paste and all the other ingredients listed under “For Marination”. Also add the minced chicken into the marinade.

Cover and refrigerate overnight or for 10-12 hours.

Take out chicken from the refrigerator at least an hour before you start the cooking process.

How in a heavy bottomed pan, I used a dutch oven, heat mustard oil and ghee. Once the oil reaches smoking point, turn down flame and add the whole spices and nutmeg powder. Once they begin to splutter, place the whole chicken, just the chicken, not the marinated mince. 

Turn up heat and sear the chicken on both sides to a golden brown.

Then add the remaining marinade and the mince in it. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to minimum and cook covered for an hour. Turn the whole chicken over from time to time.

Half way through the cooking process toss in the chopped tomatoes and pearl onions.

Once chicken is tender and the minced chicken is cooked, open cover and simmer for a few more minutes or until oil separates.

Take off heat, garnish with sliced boiled eggs and chopped coriader leaves. Serve with bread of your choice.

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