A small ode, if I may, to some pioneers of Indian cuisine. They are those culinary craftsmen who have shaped up Indian cuisine and their recipes continue to be the manual for that perfect dish. For example Kundal Lal Gujral of Moti Mahal fame for creating the Dal Makhni, and Mohan Das Shetty for creating the Ghee Roast recipe. And that is what I am attempting to make.
The star of this recipe is the byadgi red chilli that is native to Mangalore, Karnataka. In fact, the small village of Kundapur survives on it. It was here that Mohan Shetty gave up his day job in a bank and started Shetty Lunch Home that served the “original ghee roast”. If you have access to original byadgi chillies, take a handful, soak them and blend them to a paste. This what will give you the perfect ghee roast. Since, my local markets had no byadgi (some even hadn’t heard of it), I resorted to sourcing it online. I found a company, a Mangalore local, that sourced byadgi chillies and made a dry powder of the same. Once that was in my possession, I started with my LD chicken ghee roast.
Prepare the chicken
I like cleaning up the cuts of chicken. Also scored the flesh as I went along. This would help the flavours seep in while cooking. While I was at it, I made up a chicken stock with some whole spices, the usual suspects like a couple of bay leaves, 5-6 corns of black pepper, 2 black cardamoms, 2 green cardamoms. To this bubbling liquid, poach your chicken for about a minute and keep aside.
Remove everything from the chicken stock and throw in a handful of cashews (something that I learnt from popular Indian chef Ranveer Brar). Blend them in to make a milky frothy stock. Keep aside.
Now the Masala
Take 2 heaped tablespoons of that fantastic red masala in a bowl. To that add in a little of the stock and mix well. The aroma and the colour will hit you in tandem. My olfactory tingled with the aroma of the ground powder that had a hint of sweetness to it. And the colour was what my generation would associate with the entry of WWE wrestler Kane – a dark, blood red. Throbbing? Good, now on to the fire.
Put on your favourite semi-deep saucepan on fire and add 2-3 tablespoons of ghee in it. For those that are not able to handle the clarified butter, I clarify that they might want to leave here. Please feel free. Remember, you cannot make a bomb without gunpowder. Also, if the recipe is called ghee roast, what were you thinking? OK, by now, the ghee would have melted and swam all across the sauce pan. Add in the chicken and swirl them around a bit. Just when you see a bit of browning on the flesh, add in the masala solution. Oh mother of all good things, this looks as promising as sun rise. Keep stirring it in and make sure the chicken gets coated with the byadgi masala. The flavour of the ghee and the byadgi can be as euphoric as victory. And that should compel you to keep the pan moving. In case you feel that masala or the chicken is sticking to the pan, add in a bit more ghee.
5 minutes into this, the dish will look complete. Go on, take a taste test. But do it carefully. For uninitiated, the heat of the byadgi will hit your throat but while you feel like calling emergency services, you will notice the pleasant, and mild sweetness that will pervade your mouth. Byadgis stand apart on this account – they have a natural sugar that lends to this brilliant heat ‘n’ sweet combination. And so keep the cooking arm moving, so that the sugar is released and caramelised with the chicken. Check for salt. And now, ladle in a big spoon (or two) of the milky chicken stock. Stir, and cover and cook for 7-10 minutes more. Choose the kind of consistency that you fancy. Now is the time for a secret ingredient – jaggery pellets. I didn’t have any, so I added some date palm crystals. Cook on a low fire.
Technically, the ghee roast is done. Do a final check and take off the heat. The LD Ghee Roast Chicken is ready to serve. Pair it with some neer dosa or appams or porottas. That night, we went with paper thin dosas. I wouldn’t really want to pair rice with this. But do me a favour, take the first bite without anything else. Get a taste of this simple recipe that is fit for kings. Oh wait, I wouldn’t give it to the kings; I would have it all myself!