Those who can’t live without chicken certainly believe in the dictum, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” What can be more mouth-watering than a tangri kebab held lovingly between the thumb and the forefinger, all set for the first bite? Ditto for the breast piece in tandoori murgh.
From chicken chaat to the more pretentious murgh musallam, chicken has long been synonymous with great food. Who can — young or old — resist the seductions of murgh makhani aka butter chicken or not take pride in the murgh tikka masala that has conquered Great Britain?
In recent years, scared of the hazards of red meat, many have become loyal patrons of chicken. Worried about choked arteries and rising blood pressure, many have made the switch. A whole new profitable business is thus flourishing — supplying chicken, salami, sausages, etc. Alas, good times don’t last forever. Just as non-vegetarian food was recovering from the blow dealt by coronavirus, avian influenza has descended upon us. In a knee-jerk reaction, the government has found itself trapped in flip-fops. At several places, sale of chicken was first banned; wherever the ban was lifted, consumers were advised on cooking the fowl properly. As fear persists, the million dollar question before the chicken lovers is: how to deal with the craving.
Can one switch to mutton and fish, at least to tide over the crisis? Easier said than done. First, there is the difference in cost. Chicken (broiler) usually sells between Rs225 and Rs300, depending on the quality. The bird can be cut into pieces that make equitable distribution among diners possible. Some prefer leg piece, the others, breast and some like thighs. Be it tandoori, roasted or curried, the division of assets is easy. Chicken takes far less time to marinate and cook and, except the musallam, the recipes are not difficult to master.
Mutton, to mix metaphors, is a different kettle of fish. Not many who relish it know what cuts to buy. It is easy to confuse between raan and dasti, seena and pasli. It is far more bothersome to trim and cut it in bite-size pieces or crack the bones, eliminating sharp edges at home. Membranes, tendons and excess fat are a problem as well. Then there is the important question of costs. Mixed mutton (curry cut) sells around Rs700-850 per kg. Choice cuts and boneless obviously command a high premium. Pressure cooking cuts the time to tenderise the meat. However, what was good for the toothless nabob of yore puts off hardcore carnivores who like a bite in their meaty fare.
This brings us to the other option: fish. Babur found the fish in India bothersome; he said it had too many bones. Now, unless you were born by the coastline, the riverside or in Bengal, where almost all houses in the countryside have a pokhar (pond) to farm fish in, chances are that you will uphold Babur’s objection. Also, not everyone can put up with the strong smell. Matsyagandha mesmerised a prince in the Mahabharata, but that is a story about a fisherman’s beautiful daughter, not an edible fish. Here again, the costs are a barrier. Boneless fish that isn’t overpowering smelly — river sole, surmai and bekti — all come in the range of Rs800-1,200. Cleaned and cut, the net weight is less than 700gms. To cut a long story short, it is not very easy or possible for everyone to switch from chicken to mutton and fish.
We can’t bring down the prices, but can certainly suggest recipes that allow you to hold a meaty morsel with a slim chicken-like bone in your hand or indulge guilt-free in machchi tikka. Burra kebab, tawa chaamp fry and pan-grilled fish fillets are close to familiar chicken breast. At a pinch, even seekh kebab can dispel the blues. Until the bird flies back to our platter!
Mutton chops 8
Onion 1 (medium sized, peeled, chopped)
Garlic cloves 6 (crushed)
Ginger-garlic paste 1 tbsp
Cinnamon stick 1x 2-inch piece
Green cardamom 1
Mace, a few blades
Curd 1/4 cup
Malt vinegar 1 tsp
Lemon juice 1 tsp (optional)
Red chilli powder 1 tsp
Cumin powder 1 tsp (dry roasted, freshly ground)
Coriander powder 1 tsp (dry roasted, freshly ground)
Mustard oil 1 tsp
Butter or ghee to baste 2 tbsp
Salt to taste
(Home ground or readymade)
- Wash, pat dry and trim the chops. Pierce the meat with a fork. Place it in a marinade prepared with curd, ginger-garlic paste, salt, malt vinegar, lime juice, mustard oil, red chilli, cumin powder and coriander powder. Keep it aside overnight.
- Boil 2 cups of water in a pan and add the whole spices, chopped onions and garlic cloves. Remove the marinated chops from the bowl and wipe the excess marinade. Place gently in boiling water and cover and cook on medium heat till tender and until the water dries up.
- Heat a thick-bottom grilling pan on high flame and place the boiled chops on it. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, basting with a little butter. Remove when golden and scorch over open gas flame to get the charred look and flavour. Sprinkle over with tandoori masala, salt, black peppercorns powder or a mix of green cardamom and cloves powder.
Tawa fry chaamp
Same as in burra kebab recipe plus 2 tsp cornflour
Oil to deep/shallow fry
After marination, you may proceed with frying straight away, coating the chops with cornflour to keep the spices of the marinade from ‘spilling’ out. Heat oil in a wok or a shallow kadahi or tawa with a rim and fry the chops in batches till golden, around 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove carefully and place on kitchen towels to remove excess fat. Sprinkle tandoori masala, chilli flakes, a pinch of rock salt and lemon juice. Garnish with onion rings and chopped green chillies.
River sole or any boneless
Fish with firm flesh 750 g
Kasundi 1 tbsp
Lemon juice 1 tsp
Black peppercorns 1 tsp (freshly pounded coarsely)
Salt to taste
Wash and pat dry the fish. Cut into chunky cubes. Place in a bowl of marinade prepared with kasundi and salt for 15 minutes. Carefully wipe off the marinade and steam the fish for 3-5 minutes or pan grill for 3 minutes on each side with the pan lined with a thin film of butter or oil. Sprinkle black peppercorn powder and salt. Enjoy hot with kasundi or any chutney you prefer.
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