Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Gondhoraj Murgi or Chicken Gondhoraj

The seasons have acted up a bit curiously this year. In Pune, usually by end of February the summers would gradually crawl in and by March end it would transform into the typical summer days with blazing sun and scorching heat. But this year it had rained pretty hard in the first week of March. There after we had a week of summer like weather in mid March but again with the onset of April the weather changed. Last Sunday, people of Pune witnessed a strange phenomenon. From morning onward a feathery layer of cloud like thing engulfed the city. My apartment is located on a hill; hence I can almost see the whole span of the city from my patio. It seemed like a layer of fog had formed in the distance and the visibility became quite low. Fog in summer? Quite baffling. This is a verdant part of the city hence smog was also out of question. Clouds could not come so low and neither could be this thin. When I could not logically decipher the strange thing I decided it must be all my perception, nothing was actually different.

I place rice all over my patio in the night so that the neighborhood pigeons can eat in the morning. That night when I went out to place the rice, I noticed that the foggy mass was still very much present. And since I was not able to clearly see the highway which otherwise I could very well see every day, I became quite certain that it was not just my perception that something was there but it actually was there, only thing I could not understand what. My imagination flew high. Maybe it was an alien invasion and they had spread some kind of a sleeping gas on the unsuspecting earthlings. I smiled at my own thought. But whatever it was, it seemed quite strange and mysterious.

Next day the newspaper solved the mystery. The dust storm that had occurred in Saudi the week before was behind this sudden change in air quality.  Apparently the light particulate matter traveled all the way from Saudi and reached the western part of the Indian sub-continent. These floating particulate matters created this mysterious haze over the city. The condition in Mumbai was worse for the PM level (particulate matter) crossed the safe level. High concentration of PM is bad for babies, elders and asthmatic patients hence it was suggested to take care while going out. Actually you could only see the haze but not feel anything once you were on the road because the particle size was in microns which was more dangerous because such particles are not even restricted by masks. By Tuesday evening things cleared up. But again a dust storm in Iran brought back the haze on Friday morning, only this time it was little thinner.

Anyway the met department had predicted hailstorm and thundershowers over the weekend, which was a pleasant respite in summer days. Usually Kalbaishakhi is a signature storm that occurs in Bengal leading to abrupt heavy rainfall but it rarely happens that rainfall occurs in summer months in Pune. But this year as I have said we are getting all kinds of weather fluctuations in summer months.

Weekend means a chicken dish is must in our household. A is a hard core chikeniterian. He can strive on only chicken all throughout the year. I am more of a fishiterian and get quite bored eating chicken regularly. Unless you put your heart into a dish it doesn't come out well. And when I get bored of a dish or ingredient it becomes a grueling task to make a good dish out of it. So just to keep me engaged I try to experiment a lot with the chicken dishes. My signature dish Doi Chicken (curd chicken) is the household favorite. It’s a light soupy dish but for the summer months it still seems a bit heavy on the stomach.

The summer months result in loss of appetite especially during the hot afternoons. Your heart starts craving for light hearted dishes. Anything tangy or sour really piques the taste buds. Saturday started off on a pretty warm and humid note. So I decided if it had to be chicken then it had to be a tangy one this time. When we talk about tangy chicken the first thing that comes to my mind is using kokum or tamarind to prepare a coastal style chicken, but I was not in mood for that. I wanted something earthy yet light.

Some brainstorming later I remembered a dish that I had once seen on a TV show. A quick search on the net brought of the video and I was all set to prepare Gondhoraj Chicken. Pretty easy to cook and requires very little ingredients. It’s a recipe from the kitchens of the famous Bhojo Hori Manna Restaurant in Kolkata. It’s one of their signature dishes and is known as “Lebu Lonka Murgi”. But I prefer to call it Gondhoraj Murgi because the hero of this dish is not any regular lemon but the king of lemons or Gondhoraj. Also the name imparts the necessary zing for this dish :)


Gondhoraj lebu is endemic to Bengal. During my childhood I had seen almost all Bengali households used to have a Gondhoraj Lebu tree in their garden. We had one in our quarters too in Kharagpur. My mom is a passionate gardener and used to grow many things in her garden at that time. We had peas, chillies, and of course Gondhoraj. The Gandhoraj shrub was located very near to our dining room. Gondhoraj is not known as the king of lemons for nothing. The divine aroma of the lemon is simply out of the world. No other lemon can compete with this in terms of flavor and taste but the sad thing is that it only thrives in the soil of Bengal. You try to plant it elsewhere in the country and you would end up getting a normal lemon. The soil is the differentiator. Aroma per say only Kaffir lime leaves can slightly measure up to the Gondhoraj leaves. But again the actual Kaffir lime is rarely used in cooking only the leaves are used for flavoring. With Gondhoraj you can use every bit of it.

The aroma of the Gondhoraj on summer evenings would very therapeutic and appetizing at the same time. It was a joy to pick the lemons from the tree and hold the fragrant leaves in our hands. Crush it slightly in your palms and the aroma would remain with you for the rest of the day. The lemon is dark green in color with a woody thick exterior and bigger in size compared to normal lemon. It has very little flesh and juice inside but a couple of drops of this ambrosia is effective enough for the whole meal.  A few drops of gondhoraj lebu, masoor daal tempered with radhuni and any ghonto or bhaja – an unforgettable combo during summer months.

Once I left Bengal I left Ghondhoraj also behind. Nowhere did I find them again. Only some specialty Bengali restaurants like Oh! Calcutta has these lemons on the menu in Pune. So whenever I go to Kolkata I bring back a couple of these lemons back with me to Pune. But once they run out it’s again a long wait till I visit home.

The best way to preserve these lemons for a longer time in fridge keeping their aroma intact is to keep them wrapped up in a moist cloth inside the vegetable tray.

Now the recipe.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Marination Time : 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 60 minutes

Serves: 4

Cuisine: Bengali 

Ingredients:


  • Chicken on the bone - 1 kg 

  • Onion Juice - 2 tbsp

  • Ginger Juice - 2 tbsp 

  • Garlic Juice - 2 tbsp

  • Green Chilli Paste - 1 tbsp (adjust according to tolerance level)

  • Curd - 1 cup

  • Coriander Powder - 1 1/2 tsp

  • Regular lemon - 1

  • Gondhoraj Lebu - 1 

  • Gondhoraj Lebu Leaves or Kaffir lime leaves - 7-8

  • Cardamom Pods - 5-6

  • Refined Oil - 1 tbsp

  • Green Chilli - 3-4 slitted

  • Salt as per taste

  • Sugar as per taste

  • Ghee or clarified butter - 4 tbsp


  • Scale up or down the other ingredients as per the amount of chicken.





    Procedure 1 : Quick Fix Method
    1. Wash and pat dry the chicken pieces. Take 1/2 cup of the curd and beat it uniformly. Add it to the chicken.

    2. Make a paste of 1 big onion, 7-8 garlic pods, 4 inch garlic and 5-6 green chillies in the grinder. Adjust chillies according to tolerance level. Add water to the paste and with the help of a strainer strain the entire juice from the paste using a spoon to squeeze out the juice. Add a bit of water if required to strain easily.Add this strained juice to the chicken.

    3. Add the juice of the regular lemon and Gondhoraj lebu to the chicken. Carefully scrape out some zest of the Gondhoraj lebu and add that too to the chicken



    4. Add the coriander powder, salt and refiled oil to the chicken. Mix everything together. Marinate the chicken for 30 mins at least.

    5. Heat ghee in a wok. When the ghee is fragrant temper it with cardamom pods.

    6. When the cardamom pods crackle, shake off the extra marinade and add the chicken pieces one by one to the ghee.

    7. Add the chillies and the Gondhoraj lebu leaves. I substituted with Kaffir lime leaves as I didn't have the Gondhoraj leaves. Toss around the chicken for a couple of minutes, taking care to slightly brown the pieces.

    8. Add half cup of water to the marinade and add it to the wok. Adjust the salt and sugar now. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of beaten curd. Add a little Gondhoraj zest. Fold everything in. 





    Notice that I have added potatoes at this stage. The original recipe does not have potatoes but in our house its inevitable in every chicken dish courtesy hubby. So if you want to add potatoes like me you can do so, only thing don't fry the potatoes before adding to the gravy. For turmericless recipes adding fried potatoes to the gravies might alter the actual flavor, hence I prefer to add it raw. The potatoes will get cooked along with the chicken.

    9. Cook the chicken on medium flame for an hour or till the chicken is cooked. Keep stirring 

    Procedure 2 : Actual Method
    1.  Extract the juice of the onion, ginger and garlic separately and then add everything according to the measurement written in the ingredient list. 

    Everything else remains the same in this procedure. Believe me there is practically no difference to the end result in both the process. The later one only adds to the task list. Flavor and taste per say both are same. So for lazy people like me the first process also works out perfectly!

    Serving Suggestion: Serve the dish with steamed Basmati rice. Drizzle some Gondhoraj juice on top of the chicken before serving.


    I had prepared the recipe keeping in mind the hot summer afternoon. But by the time we sat down for lunch the weather had changed again. Rain clouds had gathered all over and it became pretty windy too. Almost felt like a Kalbaishakhi coming over on a summer afternoon in Kolkata. The aroma of Gondhoraj added to this beautiful weather kind of transported me back in time when as kids we would have lunch together as a family in Kolkata. Those afternoons were much more than just having meals, it was a time when we bonded over a common love - food. No doubt sometimes a good dish can stir up a lot of fond memories!





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