The prestigious and highly educated Kayastha clan of India, all men of the pen, have founded dynasties and advised rulers, but funnily enough, their recipes and cooking traditions have not been recorded or spoken about until very recently. Kayastha food in the north veers towards a more non-vegetarian way of eating, whereas the cuisine of the coasts includes quite a bit of seafood. Their cooking relies a lot on Dum (food that is tightly sealed and cooked), bhuna (dry roasting spices or a spice paste by itself or in hot oil to extract maximum flavour) and dhungar (using a hot charcoal topped with hot ghee or butter to introduce an element of smoke to a dish, can be added before the cooking process, or as a finishing touch) – all techniques we’re familiar with, but would prefer to save for a special dish.
Kayastha is not a cuisine in the true sense, but rather a more sophisticated version of a regional cuisine, explains Preeta Mathur by way of her cookbook, ‘The Courtly Cuisine’. Much like any other cuisine, as the Kayastha clan expands, the cuisine adapts to the region’s offerings and morphs into something new- for example a Rui Maach or mustard fish curry can be made in both the traditional Bengali style where the fish is fried first, as well as the Bengali Kayastha-style, where yoghurt is added to bhuna masalas before the fish goes in. The same goes for a dish called Takke Paise, which is a close relative of Rajasthani Gatte ki sabzi, but also very Kayastha.
Come Eid, I’m always on the lookout for some new way of cooking raan, or putting a biryani on the table, but this Kayastha recipe from Preeta Mathur’s book fits the bill perfectly. A whole chicken stuffed with dry fruits, cooked in a thick yoghurt-based gravy that is made richer and more robust with the addition of crushed fried onions and ground char magaz or the seeds of four fruits, namely watermelon, musk melon, cucumber and pumpkin. Try this recipe and order the book here to try your hand at Kayastha preparations like Bhure Pasanda (choicest cuts of lamb cooked in a thick onion gravy), Dhungare Kathal Biryani (smoked jackfruit biryani) and Khubani Ka Meetha (stewed apricots served with cream)
Char Magaz Ka Bharwan Murgh from The Courtly Cuisine: Kayastha Kitchens Through India
Whole chicken 1 kg, skin removed, pat-dried, rubbed with salt and a tsp of black pepper and pricked all over with a fork (mine was approximately 1.3 kg)
The Stuffing (this will make extra stuffing, but careful not to overstuff the bird)
Eggs 2, hard-boiled and chopped
Onions 2, medium-sized, sliced, fried, ground to a paste
Green Chillies 2, chopped
Mixed Dry fruits 2 tbsp
Fresh Coriander 1/4 cup, chopped
Lamb Mince 1 cup
Ginger 1 tbsp, finely chopped
Garlic 1 tbsp, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Ghee 1 cup
Onions 2, medium-sized, chopped
Ginger paste 2 tsp
Garlic paste 2 tsp
Red chilli powder 1 tsp
Ground coriander 1 tsp
Char magaz seeds 2 tbsp
Yoghurt 2 cups, I used the homemade kind
Salt to taste
Stuff the chicken with the stuffing ingredients, being careful not to overpack your chicken. Fasten the chicken’s cavity with toothpicks and set aside.
Use a large pan that would fit your chicken snugly, while allowing room for some gravy. Heat the ghee in this pan and fry the onions until golden brown. Fish the onions out with a slotted spoon and let it cool. As it cools, it will start to harden. Crush these onions. In the same ghee, add the ginger garlic paste and fry for a few minutes. Then, add the chicken on it’s side to the pan and let it sizzle on one side for 10 minutes, before turning it. Let it cook on this side too for five minutes more.
Add in the red chilli powder, ground coriander and char magaz seeds and stir together before adding the yoghurt. Add 1/2 cup water and simmer till the chicken is done and all the liquid has dried up and only the ghee remains. This is the time you can pour out the excess fat if you don’t want it to float on your gravy. Remove the toothpicks and serve hot with rice and onions, garnished with soem more chopped coriander.