An ode to the Mughals – Chicken Rezala Tarts

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The word ‘Moghlai’ that features prominently on so many restaurant boards back home conjures up images of a rich, heavy meal followed closely by Antacids, in many of us. While it’s understandable, that is a shame. While there is a tendency towards richness in that cuisine, it often gets short shrift for the oily, over-spiced onion and tomato concoctions so many restaurants serve up as an excuse for Moghlai food.

But a well-executed Moghlai dish is a thing of joy. From its Central Asian roots, it grew into a deep and complex cuisine with its kebabs, koftas, pulaos, a range of curries, and some unfairly delicious things done to breads. Don’t plan on eating a Moghlai meal before a run, but be prepared to taste some very subtle spices, a range of sauces and flavours in meats and vegetables.

The Chicken Rezala is an offspring of this cuisine and very popular in Calcutta with its rich tradition of Moghlai food that travelled there with the Nawabs from Avadh. It is a white gravy cooked in yoghurt and cashew paste (sans poppy seeds in Singapore, which is a part of the recipe back home), and we love it because it looks and tastes different to the many of the more onion and tomato centric dishes. It is a white creamy sauce and has sweet and floral notes with the saffron, kewra (screw pine) essence that plays against the garam masala spices. It is normally had with roomali rotis or as an accompaniment to a biryani, but we decided to give it a modern twist by serving it as a filling in an open tart.

The recipe for the Rezala and the tarts:

Chicken Rezala

Ingredients

  • 400 gms Chicken – ideally thigh and leg pieces cut into 2 inch pieces (for the tart, else use bone-in pieces and keep it intact if using just for a rezala curry)

Marinade

  • ½ cup boiled onion paste (boiling the onion before making a paste makes it sweeter)
  • ¾ cup Yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
  • ½ cup whole unroasted cashews
  • 1 tbsp poppy seeds (if you can use poppy seeds where you live!)
  • Whole garam masala
  • 1 inch cassia bark / cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 cardamom pods
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 1 small strip of mace
  • 6-8 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 teaspoons coriander powder
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon kewra water
  • 4-5 strands of saffron soaked in a table spoon of warm milk, and ground to release the colour
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Salt and sugar to taste

Steps:

  • Soak the cashews and poppy seeds in 2 tablespoons of water and after about half an hour, grind them in a smooth paste in the food processor
  • Combine the boiled onion paste, ginger garlic paste, and yoghurt with salt and the white pepper powder and marinate the chicken pieces for 3-4 hours in the refrigerator
  • Heat the ghee and oil in a heavy-bottomed pan add the whole garam masala pieces and fry them gently till aromatic
  • Add the marinated chicken pieces to the pan, fry to seal the chicken – about 10 minutes
  • Add the coriander powder, cashew (and poppy seed) paste, salt and sugar to the pan, coat the chicken pieces evenly, and cook on medium heat for another 15-20 minutes with a closed lid, stirring occasionally
  •  Open the lid, add the kewra water and saffron, and reduce the sauce to a creamy consistency for the tart filling (if you’re making just a rezala curry with rotis, you may want to keep it a little runny)

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The tart shells

Ingredients:

  • 200gms plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 120gm salted butter, chilled and diced
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ½ tbsp ice water

Steps:

  • Put flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and pulse a few times to combine. Add butter and process till the mixture reaches a crumbly texture. Add the egg yolk and add a little ice water at a time to bring the dough together (you may not need the full tablespoon of ice water). Make a disc with the dough, wrap in cling wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 15-20 minutes
  • Cut out the dough in portions and roll it out to about 2mm thick between 2 sheets of parchment paper
  • Carefully ease the dough into 3 inch diameter tart pans, ease it into the flutes and the base evenly with some overhang
  • Prick the base of the tarts with a fork. Run the roller over the tart edge to remove the extra dough. Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees C, Gas Mark 3
  • Put the tarts in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, and then check for a golden crust. If it’s not quite done, give it another 2 minutes at a time till they are done
  • You can save the tarts in an airtight container for up to a day – we assemble them pretty much fresh, with the chicken rezala pieces and gravy, and top it with some chopped spring onions.

Aniruddha

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