Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

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This chicken dish is believed to be a result of the Mughal influence on Bengali cooking, due to the gloriously creamy texture from poppy seeds and the use of saffron and mace

Bengali cuisine is richly influenced by the food and cooking techniques of several other parts of the world. One of the biggest influences has been from the Mughals and so you can find many traditional Bengali dishes with the distinct Mughlai touch.
Apart from the Mughlai and Awadhi influence, Bengali food has also been shaped by European culture through the British Raj, Jewish traders, Anglo-Indians and other Christian settlers in the region. A lasting result of this is the famous Jewish bakeries which still remain extremely popular among the masses.
Chinese immigrants have also greatly influenced the cuisine of Bengal and contributed to developing the most famous fusion cuisine of India, Indo-Chinese cooking. The Chinese settlers of Bengal opened eateries and restaurants, but they were not able to find the ingredients. Also keeping in mind the Indian love for spice, the settlers created unique dishes like chilli chicken, Manchurian, chicken corn soup and so on.
While fish and seafood enjoy cult status in Bengali cuisine, the people also enjoy other meats, especially chicken and lamb. Rice is a staple and can be eaten at all times of the day.
A classic feature of Bengali cooking is the use of certain spices and blends like kalonji (black onion or nigella seeds), radhuni (celery seeds) and panch phoron (or five-spice incorporating cumin, fennel, fenugreek, kalonji and mustard seeds).
Mustard is the other ingredient that enjoys a distinct status in Bengali cooking. It is used in several different forms, as seeds, oil, powder or paste.
This recipe is Bengali chicken chaap or chanp, a very common and revered dish, especially as an accompaniment to biryani. It is a classic and traditional chicken preparation found in many regions of Kolkata (or Calcutta, for many of you) and is prepared during all festivals or special occasions. The dish is believed to be a result of the Mughal influence on Bengali cooking due to the gloriously creamy texture from poppy seeds and the use of saffron and mace.
This dish is traditionally prepared using chicken drumsticks, hence the name ‘chaap’, but I found some fresh, organic chicken breast fillets at the local farmer’s market and used them instead.
The Bengali chicken chaap is a luxuriously creamy dish where the succulent pieces of chicken are coated with the richness of hung curd and the quirky pungency of poppy seeds indulged with saffron, mace, black pepper and red chillies.
This is a truly divine dish to start your culinary journey into the heart of Bengali cuisine.
Bengali Chicken Chaap
500gm boneless chicken (use leg pieces for a traditional preparation)
½ cup hung curd
1 tsp grated ginger
1 ½ tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp mace powder
1 tsp black pepper powder
1 tbsp red chilli powder
8-10 strand saffron soaked in 3 tbsp warm milk
2 tsp lime juice
¼ cup poppy seeds, soaked in warm water
Salt, to taste
1 tsp sugar
4 tbsp mustard oil
1) Soak the poppy seeds in warm water for at least 30 minutes; grind to a fine paste and keep aside.
2) In a bowl, beat the hung curd to soften and add ginger, garlic, mace, black pepper and red chilli powder; mix to make a marinade.
3) Marinate the chicken pieces in this and refrigerate for at least six hours or longer if time permits.
4) Bring the chicken to room temperature.
5) Heat oil in a wok or deep pan and add the chicken pieces without the excess marinade. Lightly fry the chicken pieces on both sides for about 2 minutes.
6) Add the rest of the marinade along with sugar and mix well to combine. Cook uncovered on low to medium heat till you can see the oil bubbling at the sides. Do not add any water.
7) Add the poppy seed paste along with saffron milk; stir well and continue cooking till the chicken is done.
8) Once the chicken is almost cooked, adjust the consistency of the gravy to suit your preferences. If dry, add a bit of water to loosen up and if too watery, turn up the flame to thicken up the gravy.
Serve hot.
Note – To prepare hung curd, place ordinary curd/yoghurt in a cheese or muslin cloth. Tie up the ends of the cloth and let it hang for at least 6-8 hours for all the moisture to drain out. What’s left behind is creamy, thick hung curd.

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