Chicken Rezala: A Bengali Classic With Mughai Heritage
- Shireen Jamooji
Updated : December 18, 2022 07:12 IST
West Bengal is a state with many cultural influences and a rich culinary history. There are some dishes that have stood the test of time and the Rezala is one that is as popular today and when it first came into being.
For over 500 years, Muslim rule in Bengal was headed from Dhaka although it was under Mughal influence from the days of the Delhi Sultanate. Trade routes between Delhi and Dhaka extended across almost the entire width of Bengal traversing most major rivers as they went. When Murshid Quli Jafar Khan became the first Nawab of Bengal under the Mughals in 1717, the capital moved from Dhaka to the newly founded Murshidabad and the food influences of the Mughlai cuisine carried on into the courts of the Nawabs of Bengal.
Another key influence on Bengali cuisine was when Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh, was exiled by the British in 1856 to Metiabruz which was on the outskirts of Kolkata. With him came the decadence of Awadhi cuisine and hundreds of cooks who were skilled in its secrets. After his death, they dispersed into the population of Kolkata and started to share their cuisine with the public.
Chicken Rezala is one of the dishes that emerged from this confluence of cultures. A white gravy dish, more traditionally made with mutton, it’s full of complex flavours and many layers of tastes. In the Awadhi style, it's highly fragrant with the liberal use of kewra and is an experience for all the senses. The use of dry fruits and nuts echoes the luxurious Mughlai style and although it's a dish most associated with Bengal, it has a wide range of influences.
To Marinate The Chicken
- 1 kg skinless bone-in chicken
- 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
- 1 cup plain yoghurt
To Make The Paste
- 10-12 cashew nuts
- 2 tablespoons white poppy seeds
- 4-5 green chillies
For The Curry
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons ghee
- 3-4 clove
- 6-8 whole black peppercorns
- 2-inch piece of cinnamon stick
- 2 whole green cardamoms
- 2 whole black cardamoms
- 4-5 whole dry red chillies
- 1 teaspoon white pepper powder
- 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon garam masala powder
- ½ cup onion paste
- 2-3 drops Kewra essence
- 1 pinch saffron (soaked in 1 tablespoon milk)
- Cube the chicken, and mix it with the ginger garlic paste, and yoghurt in a bowl. Marinate for an hour.
- Soak cashew nuts and poppy seeds in 2 tablespoons of warm water each for 10 minutes and then blend them along with the water and some chopped chillies into a smooth paste.
- Heat some oil and ghee in a pan and add in the cloves, black peppercorns, cinnamon, green cardamoms, black cardamoms, and dry red chillies to saute for 10 seconds.
- Add the chicken pieces and fry for 5 minutes before adding the remaining marinade, cashew poppy paste, garam masala, white pepper and salt.
- Add onion paste and 1 cup of water to the pan and mix well.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook covered for 45-50 minutes under the chicken is cooked through.
- Add another spoonful of ghee, some kewra essence, and salt to taste.
- Garnish with saffron soaked in milk and serve hot with rice or rotis.