Imagine a scorching summer day. Usually by the end of April, it is unbearable heat in the city. Ashok, the house help, was not allowed to enter our complex for the lockdown. It was an absolute chaos with the bored and cranky kids and too much house work to do. Almost all through the lockdown, Madhushree had been trying to put together easy meals but then sometimes, all of us craved for some deliciousness. However, with so much of heat, even an enthusiastic cook like Madhushree, was put off. Almost every time that we ran out of options of a hearty meal, which was easy to cook and was delicious nonetheless, she made a big pressure cooker full of Kolkata chicken stew. And each time, I was put off with the idea until I had a spoonful and ended up having bowls of the stew for both meals.
Kolkata Chicken Stew and Daydreams in Dacres Lane
By definition, a stew is “to boil slowly with simmering heat”. The easy way out for the entire family was the stew. Sunday lunch calls for chicken/ mutton yet anything overloaded with spices and oil would have been overbearing. I am yet to find the reason, why it’s called Kolkata Chicken stew, as basically, the one which is served at Chitto Babu’s dokan in Dacres Lane is as European as possible. Minimum spices to none, par boiled vegetables which won’t melt, soft chicken legs. Add a long slice of buttered toast to it.
As I did my MBA from an Institute in Dacres Lane, I remember the fun of brotherhood with Amarnath, my foodie batchmate. Sitting on the same bench facing each other, the large white concave bowls placed over a white plate, which could hold the over the top papaya, potato, slices of carrots and beans and large chicken pieces together and discussing about the future. With very less pocket money, this was a luxury and like most MBA students, we used to daydream of campus placements and 5 star meals. The one which is served here looks bland (almost colourless), generous crushed pepper is sprinkled, which can be added as per the preference but the size of the chicken and the quality is never compromised.
Kolkata style chicken stew is almost white in colour
Just like pan to plate, Kolkata chicken stew is from pressure cooker to plate. After a heavy breakfast and unbearable heat, I was reluctant to have lunch. Then the aroma of the stew spread in the room. The first helping in a bowl was meant for pictures, which I posted in social media and I will share the feedback later. I liked it with my bhaat as Sundays are meant for bhaat ghoom. Although I must point out, that tradition and parampara says, it should be had with bread. However, you cannot have a bread ghoom right? It’s Bhaat ghoom on a Sunday and bread nap? Agree?
Ma would always make chicken stew with turmeric powder. Perhaps, that’s how a Bengali chicken stew is. However, we are talking about Kolkata chicken stew. This one is a pale white stew with bobs of red from the carrot, a pale chicken leg, some potatoes and green papaya. And even though it looks muted and insipid, I can assure you, the flavour of this stew is remarkable. Large pieces of soft papaya and potatoes, sink and float up in the bowl as you refill the juice as the chicken pieces afloat with pride. The rice disappeared in no time but the pressure cooker remained on table. Tugga and Madhushree kept a hawk eye watch over the pressure cooker but I managed to smuggle few more ladles of the juice. What worked? Simple, light on palate yet flavourful taste, the aroma of vegetables and black pepper with some cardamom too.
Kolkata chicken stew is, almost all the time, served with toast and butter. However, you can choose to have it with steamed rice or roti as well. You can store the chicken stew in the refrigerator for upto 4 days. While reheating, add a blob of butter to enhance the flavour. You can portion it and freeze for a month. It tastes absolutely fresh when thawed in the microwave and a blob of butter added.
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Kolkata style chicken stew with a twist on a scorching Summer sunday
- 1 kg chicken (see notes)
- 2 large onions
- 1/2 a green papaya
- 2 -3 nos potatoes
- 2- 3 nos carrots
- 1.5 tsp garlic paste
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 10 nos black peppercorn
- 3 nos green cardamom
- 4 nos cloves
- 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
- 1.5 tsp flour
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- salt to taste
- 1 cup chicken stock optional
- Wash the chicken and marinade with salt, ginger paste and garlic paste. Keep aside while you prep the vegetables.
- Peel the potatoes and cut them into halves or quarters depending on the size of the potatoes. What we need here are large sized pieces.
- Same with the papaya. Discard the seeds and cut into big pieces about 3.5 inches in length. Peel the carrots and cut them length wise into 3 - 4 large pieces.
- Wash all the vegetables under running water and them keep aside.
- Finely slice the onions too.
- In a large saucepan or a kadai, heat the vegetable oil. Add black peppercorn and the other whole spices.
- When the spices release aroma, add the sliced onions and gently fry the onions. This step is crucial for getting the correct texture of the stew. You cannot fry the onions but you have to let the sliced onions sweat.
- What I mean is that keep the heat at medium and spread the onion and slowly let the onions become soft and translucent. At that point, add the chicken and increase the heat and stir fry the chicken for a couple of minutes.
- Then add the vegetables and give everything a good stir. Stir around for another 3 - 4 minutes.
- Then transfer everything to a pressure cooker. Add chicken stock and water to completely sink the vegetables and chicken in liquid. If you don't have stock, just add water.
- Add salt to taste and sprinkle sugar. Let it boil and then cover the lid and cook for two whistles or upto 15 minutes.
- Once done, release the pressure and open the lid.
- In a small tadka pan or a small frying pan, melt the butter and add flour to it. Stir and add 2 - 4 tbsp of water or liquid from the stew and make a roux. Add this to the stew and stir.
- Give it another boil and chek the seasoning. If you want, you can add a few green chillies to this.
- Serve chicken stew with buttered toast or hot rotis or even rice.
- Alternately, you can buy one whole bird. Buy a smaller weight of chicken, preferably 1. 2 kg bird. And cut it into 8 to 10 pieces.