Memories of chicken chaap...Arsalan, Mumbai

Chicken chaap Arsalan

I was about seven or eight years old when I first tasted a chaap. A dish from the Muslim restaurants of Calcutta serving 'Moghlai' food, a cuisine which sees its origins in Avadh. 

I don't remember if the chaap I had then was a chicken or a mutton chaap. I think it was the former. This was at Gol Park at Kolkata at the house of someone my father and I were visiting. We had just moved into Calcutta.

Three decades later the memory of that chaap floated in from nowhere tonight just as I opened the left over chicken chaap from the previous night's dinner. This chaap was from Arsalan at Khar, Mumbai.

In case we are connected on facebook or on Twitter then you would have seen me rave about this place a lot in the last few days. In fact this is my second post on Arsalan in a week.

But then consider the facts. A few days after I had my first dinner there, we had our Christmas lunch  at Arsalan too. And then called for dinner from there too on Christmas!

If it was the rezala, naan and biryani which wooed me on day one, it was the chaap which pushed its way up after that. The food was quite consistent and that too right at the beginning.

It was the left over chicken chaap from the Christmas dinner that I opened tonight. As I placed the small and tender leg piece of chicken on my plate, spooned out the granulated curry paste over steamed the melodious aromas of the chaap enrobed me, I was taken back thirty years.

I remembered the earthen pot or bhaar in which the chaap was served that night in the early 1980s as if it was yesterday. I could vividly remember the pasty curry base of the meat draped on to the red earthen pot, the slightly pinkish hue of chicken cooked just right ...the vibrant flavours with a hint of sweetness...the choppy rough primordial masala ... memories of an enthralled seven or eight year old awakened decades later in a city at the other end of the country...that's the power of great food.

I have had many chaaps after the one at Gol Park. One of the rare Indian meat preparations that I have come across which is all about texture. When it comes to chaaps I prefer chicken chaaps...a good tender and yet demure piece of chicken is just the right foil for the intricate choppy paste of the chaap...mutton being a heavier meat tends to offset this masala in my opinion.

Over the years quite a few chaaps at Calcutta have given me pleasure...ironically one of the places that messed it up was Arsalan at Calcutta's Park Circus...but tonight the chaap from Mumbai's Arsalan was special

With the Calcutta based Arsalan and Bijoli Grill putting up stellar performances at is only the absence of phuckhas, lemon tart and chicken and mushroom envelopes of Kookie Jar and the strawberry cubes of Flury's at Mumbai that still causes angst.

Is Santa taking any more  requests?

Update: I called Arsalan at Khar this morning (9920222873) and asked for Mr Ahmad, the manager. I complimented him on the chaap and wanted to know what all went into it. This is what I managed to put together. Not the recipe but gives you an idea of what goes into the dish:

"The chicken is first mixed in 'garam masala'. The masala is roughly pounded. You don't want a smooth paste."

 On further questioning I figured out that the 'masala' paste includes cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon and black pepper, green chillies and dry red chillies too.

"What about curd?" I asked.

"All Mughlai dishes have cream and curd. That is understood and we don't even mention it"

Well to be fair Ahmed wasn't really giving me the recipe. I just wanted to know what went into the dish.

Ahmad told me that crushed kharbuja (melon) seeds were added to the mix after these were dried overnight. And, the big surprise, crushed coconut! Though the coconut is quite subtle and more for the texture.

"You cannot taste or smell the coconut unlike in Goan curries" said Ahmed.

The meat is marinated for about an hour and then placed in a very broad round pan typical of Muslim restaurants at Calcutta. Cooking oil is added to this. This is then covered with a lid which is sealed and slow cooked. This is the 'dum' method of cooking. About 45 minutes for chicken and more than an hour for mutton. They serve only leg pieces of chicken in the chaap at Arsalan Mumbai. The mutton is cut into small boti pieces.

When a customer places an order, the cooks take out a portion of chaap out, finish it in a small pan over a fire...they add some rogan here... fat from mutton fat which is the red film at this stage.

But that's what Ahmad and I could put together over the phone.

Ahmad said that the chaap is best enjoyed with plump tandoori rotis.

I agree.