Food talk
When chilli does the magic

No complicated grinding or fancy spices are required for
preparing surkh murg, writes Pushpesh Pant

WHO doesn’t know that the world of ‘chicken lovers’ is divided sharply between those who favour the robust-flavoured desi bird and those who prefer the softer flesh and milder taste of the ‘bred for the table’ broilers. Some time back, we were informed by a friend who claimed expertise in poultry that we could pick from the shelves of food marts ‘croilers’ that combined the virtues of two kinds. But that is another story.

Travelling with my son in the strife-torn countryside of Chhattisgarh, we were not long ago treated to a karak nag murg dinner. Not only was the bird khalis desi but also was of striking jet-black colour. This bird had plumage not shared with the gora leghorns or brownish monarchs. Our host made up in generosity of spirit what was lacking in terms of ingredients. The riches of poverty were stunning. We were surprised by what just red chillies and salt can do to a dish. No fancy aromatics, no complicated grinding to a fine paste of onions and garlic, ginger was not particularly missed either. The karak nag slaughter is prescribed ritual to propitiate local gods — to ward off the evil eye, as a thanksgiving after wish fulfilment and the special meal is greatly enjoyed by family and friends. Small leaf cups brimming over with intoxicating homemade mahua are passed and add to the joyous celebratory mood. The evening was magical and rekindled memories of jangal maans and banjara gosht dished out by the disciples of Maharaja Saheb Sailana.

A friend, who didn’t know when to stop, complained of lit up ‘taillights’ and thought that the surkh murg could only be compared to laal maans from Rajasthan. Wiser by his experience, we have toned down the recipe a little and found a few companions for the laal chhari maidan khari (mirchi) and are confident that you dear readers will enjoy the dish.

Surkh  Murg


Chicken (without skin and cut into 8-10 pieces) 800 gm

Kashmiri red chilli powder 2-3 tsp

Haldi powder ½ tsp

Dhania powder 1 tsp

Dahi (drained of water) 2 tbsp

Oil/ghee 2 tbsp

Salt to taste

Clean and wash the chicken pieces well and pat dry. Mix the powdered spices and the salt with dahi and rub this all over the chicken pieces. Let the pieces remain in this marinade for at least 45 minutes. Heat ghee or oil in a thick-bottomed pan and when it reaches smoking point, reduce heat and carefully put in the chicken pieces.

Stir-fry on medium heat till moisture evaporates and the chicken is browned. Remove from heat. Let cool and then pour in very slowly stirring constantly the remainder of the marinade so that the dahi doesn’t curdle.

Add ¼ cup water, cover with a tight lid and simmer for about 15 minutes or till done to taste. Tastes great hot or cold with roti. Even the broiler seems to yield its ‘flavour’ when cooked with tender loving care.

The temptation may be there but resist — no bay leaf, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and cardamoms.