Dak Bangalow Chicken Curry

9:18 AM


From Time immemorial the fertile lands of Bengal has lured many traders and settlers. If you look at Bengal in the World map then you will find that not only it's the gateway to the Eastern parts of the Indian subcontinent but also has the shortest distance from any port (Bay of Bengal) to the Himalayan foothills (the Silk route). No wonder the traders have always found Bengal a convenient place to settle in, as carrying their goods through the sea and trading through Silk Route was way easier than any other place.

Apart from this huge geographical advantage The Ganges Bramhaputra Delta, the biggest of it's kind in the whole world, that had one of the most fertile land made Bengal another advantageous place. History has witnessed this land could grow almost all commercial crops like Indigo and opium so very profitably. Add to that the exquisite craftsmanship of Bengali weavers and their finest quality of Muslin which at one point of time made Bengal the foremost muslin exporter of the world.

These were reasons enough for many traders, settlers, invaders, rulers to come, trade, stay, fought with each other,  and exploit the natural as well as the human resources of Bengal. From Aryans  some 4000 years ago to British East India Company, traders and settlers from various countries  at various point of time came to this land to reap it's advantage. As a result of which slowly there was an amalgamation of cultures and traditions. While the settlers had to learn new ways to adapt to the hot and humid Bengal and it's surrounding, in return we also learnt new things from them. Which with time has become so innate to our culture that not without deep knowledge one can trace its origin.

But of all the settlers Kolkata's history is most affected by the British East India Company, Who came to Kolkata in 1690 and eventually ruled the country for 200 years with Kolkata as their capital (most part of the time). Till today Kolkata which as per the tourists is 'a city to feel and experience than to see' carries a great legacy from this era. But no not only  the state's landscape got changed during the Raj rather It's the very lifestyle of the Bengalis that gradually changed and evolved to what it is today.  

If you look at our culinary history then it's no more a secret that we have a lot to owe to the Raj period and to other European settlers. The very existence of our sweet shops are a result of the Portuguese settlers who taught us how to curdle milk...which eventually became the main ingredient of our most famous rasogolla and sondesh. Similarly Kolkata's food scenario clearly carries the remnants of the British Era, from a small hole in the wall snack shop to the Gentleman's pucca club all still serve food that evolved or were created during the British Raj. 

One of such tradition of food was the Dakbangalow cuisine. Daak means mail and during the Raj it was the common name for the Imperial mail services. Likewise these Daak bungalows served as resting house for Officials, who often had to travel through the remotest areas through the mail route for work. These were mostly created in areas where no other form of shelters were available. The Bungalows were sprawled over huge piece of land and had a caretaker cum cook who due to scarcity of ingredients would always keep some jungle fowl or goat in the premises for easy access to meat and poultry. The skill of the chowkidaar or caretaker were sparse and so were his kitchen tools and ingredients, yet on such visits he indefinitely would make a jungle fowl or goat meat curry to suit the Sahib's taste. This easy to make style of cooking  later came to be known as Dak Bungalow food, which definitely is one hidden gem of the vast repertoire of Indian delicacies. 

Since both my father and grand father worked in the Govt. in my childhood I have spent quite sometime travelling to the remotest Dak Bungalows. Though they have lost the glory of the earlier times yet the charm of a Colonial building with sprawling big rooms and heavy wooden furniture is still intact. The food definitely has changed and now they serve to the demand of the officials but the cooking style is still the same , easy to cook recipes with freshly ground spices.  The Dak Bungalow chicken that I have tasted or the one my maa used to cook whenever she was in short of time is the one redolent with the smell of freshly ground onion-ginger-garlic-cumin-coriander. ours always had a little over powering aroma of coriander. 

Below is my recipe that I learnt from Maa with pieces of potatoes and boiled egg.

Dak Bungalow Chicken curry:

Ingredients:
Chicken: 1 kg (I used Deshi Murgi or country chicken)
Potato: 4 medium pieces
Yogurt: 1/3 cup
Tomato: 1 (optional as I am little skeptical if tomatoes were used back then)
Boiled Eggs: 4 pieces
Onion: 4 large Indian variety
Ginger: 1" piece
Garlic: 1 bulb
Cumin: 1/2 tsp
Coriander: 1 tsp
Cinnamon: 1" piece
Cloves: 4-5
Green cardamom: 2
Freshly pound garam masala: 1/2 tsp
Bay leaf: 1
Red chillies: 4 or as per your heat tolerance
Oil: 1/2 cup (Mustard or white oil)
salt
turmeric

Method:
Make a paste with ginger-garlic-red chilly-cumin-coriander. I use my mortar and pestle for this but you can do it in mixer grinder. Use the smallest jar and start with pre-soaked cumin and coriander (soak at least for 15 minutes in hot water). Once the cumin coriander is ground then add the ginger garlic and red chillies. make a smooth paste and keep aside.
Wash the chicken and drain the water completely. Add the beaten yogurt, salt, 1 tsp of the spice paste and 1 tbsp of mustard oil. Mix and keep aside.
Finely slice the onion and keep aside.
Heat the oil and fry the peeled and halved potatoes with salt till golden. Take out. Fry the boiled eggs with pinch of salt and keep aside.
add a handful of sliced onion to the oil and fry on low till its golden brown. This is called Birista which lends a caramelised flavour to the curry. Take it out with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Now add the bay leaf and lightly pounded whole cinnamon, clove and cardamom. When the spices release their aroma, then add the rest of the onion. Fry on low with a pinch of salt and cook till they turn golden in colour (8-10 minutes). Add the spice paste and again cook on low with some salt and turmeric. Cook till the raw smell is gone and oil starts to ooze at the sides. Add tomato if you are using and cook till its mushy (4-5 minutes).

Now pour in the chicken with all the marinade. Mix and cook along with the fried potatoes. Keep the flame low so that the chicken is cooked perfectly. This stage is called Kashano where meat is browned on low flame till the juices caramelise and oil starts to separate. It takes minimum 20-30 minutes for chicken to brown properly before we can add water. add 11/2 cups of warm water, mix and cover. Let it come to a boil and then add the eggs and the browned onions. Mix and cook till the gravy thickens and the meat is cooked. 

Sometimes country chicken might need 2-3 whistles in the pressure cooker as the meat is tougher than broiler chicken. Keep checking and proceed accordingly.

Finish with a generous sprinkling of freshly ground garam masala powder. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.

This dish pairs well with roti, partha, rice or even bread. We generally cook this for lunch and keep the eggs for dinner to have with roti.





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