When I was moving house the second last time, after having lived in one of the convenient parts of town for nearly seven years, a few of my friends had one request, “Can you please find a flat that is close to Coast II Coast? We need our regular fix of Chicken Ghee Roast and neer dosa.” Even today, when I don’t live within the easy reach of this restaurant, the combination of ghee roast and neer dosa is one of the most frequent suggestions made, when the invariable question – “what do we eat?” – comes up.
This Mangalorean delicacy, credited to have originated in Kundapura district, and in the kitchen of the famous Shetty Lunch Home, is one of the hottest selling, and most loved dishes of the cuisine. What is Indian food without its spices? And the case of the chicken ghee roast is no different; it’s the Kundapur masala that makes it stand out, and the gheeof course.
From the ‘secret’ combination of spices in the one found at Shetty Lunch home, to the subtle flavours at Kanua on Sarjapur Road, the posh upgrade at Karavalli at The Gateway Hotel, to the absolutely simple and home-style version at Bekal in Indiranagar – the Chicken Ghee Roast in the city has found its way to small hole-in-the-wall joints, to pubs, and five star hotels. In fact, few Mangalorean restaurants in the city don’t have it on the menu, with each place serving their own rendition of the dish.
Author Jane M D’Souza, who’s an expert on Mangalorean catholic cuisine, says in her book that there is no such thing as an ‘original’ recipe. “The dish originated in the Mangalorean Bunt community yes, but that community is a dynamic one that sees an overlap of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian cultures. Therefore, one naturally adapts from the other, and almost every community of the area has its version of the Chicken Ghee Roast. My recipe for instance is a mix of each of these cultures, and an experimentation of variations over time. In fact, only recently I began to include a squeeze of lemon juice, along with the curd and turmeric in the marinade. The result has been great,” she writes in Jane’s Cook Book.
What goes into the marinade of this delightful preparation? It’s mostly curd, turmeric powder, jaggery, dry red chillies (a combination of Kashmiri red or Bydagi, and Guntur), black peppercorn, cloves, fenugreek (methi) seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, garlic, and tamarind paste. Plus, you need curry leaves for tempering, and quite a bit of ghee of course. And as D’Souza says, you could also add a little lemon juice to the marinade.
D’Souza says that in her recipe, she omits the fennel seeds. “While the marinade of curd, turmeric powder and salt stands the same in most recipes, variations appear in the use ofchillies, onions and sometimes fennel seeds. In my version of the recipe, I use a mix of Bydagi and Kashmiri chillies in the masala. I do not skimp on the ghee and ensure that I use a lot of curry leaves when frying the masala as this adds an additional dimension to the taste and makes for the perfect spoon to wipe a plate clean of all the masala.”
The Kundapura Masala, which is pretty much makes the chicken ghee roast what it is today can be found on the shelves and that means you don’t have to go through the arduous process of grinding all the spices, and prepping them.
A cook by passion, and profession, Vishal Shetty’s version of this Mangalorean dish is slightly different. “Typically, I make a paste with Bydagi chillies, garlic, and jeera. But first, I soak them for a bit and boil it. In the meanwhile, I half-steam the chicken with turmeric and salt and then sauté the masala paste well with ghee, add the chicken and let it cook. I also use curry leaves or sometimes coriander leaves for the tempering. I don’t always add curd, but if I do, it’s towards the end to add a bit of tanginess to the dish.”
Journalist, and a passionate cook, Anupama B, who also happens to be my private supplier of Chicken Ghee Roast should a moment of desperation arise, began making the Mangalore or Kundapur Ghee Roast Chicken after “my friends started singing ‘hosannas’ to this dish they had tried at Mangalorean restaurants. She says her ‘Mangalore-ness’ was called into question because she had never served this dish at her home. “And with good reason. This is a dish that’s a signature in Bunt homes, and my Saraswat Brahmin ethnicity was being whitewashed again with the generic Mangalorean term. Since I loved the dish too, I asked my Bunt friends to share this recipe with me and what I make at home and is much requested by my friends, is an improvised version of all the recipes for Mangalore Ghee Roast I have in my handwritten recipe book.”
And while Mangalorean cuisine uses coconut generously in their food, the ghee roast is quite unique in that way. This one ideally is not cooked in coconut oil, or uses coconut. Anupama, however, does add a little coconut to her recipe. She also doesn’t cook the dish with ghee only, using it only towards the end of fragrance and flavour.
There are two ways to make this dish; the first is the long and from-scratch way, and the second calls for snipping open a Kundapur chicken masala packet. “The masala I use is not branded, and is sourced from Mangalore,” she adds.
When it comes to picking the best place to find this dish, people have their favourites. While Shetty says she’s likes the one at Coast II Coast, Anupama’s favourite would be Shetty Lunch Home at Kundapur. D’Souza, however, says that the best she ever had was a Bunt friend’s home. “I believe that no restaurant can create a Chicken Ghee Roast to beat the ones made in a home. The aroma and the flavour of what I ate at my friend’s daughter’s wedding has remained with me for more than 15 years.”
And as far as I am concerned, I will go anywhere for a good Chicken Ghee Roast, even if that means packing an overnight bag.
- 1 kg chicken (cut and cleaned)
- 4 tbsp curd
- Turmeric powder
- Ginger-garlic paste (as per requirement)
- 1 onion
- 10 red chillies (Bydagi seems to be the popular choice) for dry roasting
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 3/4 tsp jeera
- 1/4 methi seeds
- 6 to 8 pepper corns
- Half a coconut, grated, and roasted on a fresh clean pan without oil till it’s lightly browned
- 3 sprigs of curry leaves
- Tamarind paste
- A pinch of sugar (replace with jaggery if preferred)
- Roast the red chillies on a low flame. Keep aside. Roast coriander, jeera, methi, and peppercorn. Powder all the roasted spices finely, and keep aside.
- Give the roasted coconut a quick pulse. It has to be coarse.
- In a pan, heat 4 tbsps of cooking oil. Add 3 sprigs of curry leaves, 1 finely chopped onion and fry till onion is just about to turn golden brown.
- Add marinated chicken and sauté till almost done. You can add 1/4 cup water if you feel the chicken is too dry.
- Add ground masala, coconut, tamarind paste, a pinch of sugar, and 2 tbsps of ghee and let it cook on low flame for about ten minutes, giving it a stir now and then.
- Check for salt and chilli powder.
- Just before you turn off the heat, add two tbsp of ghee.
- Serve hot with neer dose or rice and gassi.