Anyone who has eaten at the Muslim restaurants of Calcutta, in the Shirazs, the Nizams, the Zeeshans, the Rahmanias, the Ameenias, or the Badshahs, would have had the biriyanis there. These are biriyanis which most Calcuttans have given their hearts to. Fragrant rice, subtle masala, well flavoured meat, the mandatory boiled egg and the much sought after boiled potato ... very different from the heavier biriyanis of the rest of India. This cuisine was introduced to the city when the Nawabs of Oudh sought refuge here after the British defeated them.
But there's a lot more to these shops than biriyani. Some of the landmark dishes range from the lofty Chaaps (a meat dish in a very thick, grainy masala paste) to the delicate Rezalas. They are often had as accompaniments to the dryish biriyanis. Or with parathas or roomali rotis.
Rezala has more gravy than chaap. Chitrita Banerjee has written about the popularity of rezala in Bangladesh on the other side of Bengal.
The gravy in Rezala is translucent. The colour is off white. It normally has a thin film of oil on the surface when served in restaurants.
It is an incredibly well flavoured dish. A harmony of the Nawabi taste of ghee, tempered by a slight tanginess brought in by curd, balanced by a subtle sweetness of sugar, climaxing with majestic whole spices or garam masala such as green cardamom, dry red chillies and bay leaves.
The amazing thing is that this exotic princess of a dish is quite easy to make at home. Its subtlety seems ephemeral but is actually quite well proletarian. In fact you can even make a very healthy version of it by not adding any ghee at all. Kainaz used to do that. If you make it with chicken, for example, the natural oil of the chicken and the curd combine to make quite a mesmerising dish. So you get the royal flavour without bothering the Opec for oil.
It is a useful dish to make if you have a sore throat. This is the season for sore throats, and both K and I are down with it. That's why I asked Banu to make it when she called me at work for instructions on what to make for dinner. I didn't have the recipe as K used to make it earlier. So I Googled a few recipes, made my interpretation and then instructed Banu on what to do.
Here's the recipe that I gave her (translated back from broken Hindi):
Take four chicken drumsticks. Put these in a pressure pan. Add 100 g of whipped curd, paste of one ground onion, one tablespoon garlic paste, one tablespoon salt and one teaspoon sugar to the chicken in the pan. (Ideally let this be for half an hour)
Close the lid and pressure cook till you get three whistles. Then let it simmer for ten minutes on a low flame.
Take a tablespoon of ghee heat it and add 5,6 green cardamoms (elaich), 2 bay leaves and one dried red chilly (not if you have a sore throat) to the hot ghee.
Open the pressure cooker lid and add the ghee and spice mix to it.
The oil/ ghee free version could be made by adding the whole spices to the marinade before pressure cooking. On the other hand you can add a lot more ghee if you want a restaurant like feel.
The dish turned out quite well. You can top it with a few drops of rose water if you like. We had it with plain chapatis. The perfect royal broth for angry throats, discerning palates and hungry tummies.
Disclaimer: I did not make the dish myself and instructed Banu over the phone. So I wouldn't know if she instinctively made some changes like adding water, etc. I wouldn't advise the first time cook to try it himself till I cook it myself and ratify the recipe.