Isn’t this what you would call a showstopper? There’s nothing that can prematurely seize conversations giving way to a buzz of excitement when a whole bird is placed right in the centre of the table. The chatter resumes but it would all be in awe and appreciation for the bird that has arrived. Here she lies in crimson colored gravy that emanates the spices you are about to experience. And if it looks like a days’ worth of labour, the merit would have come your way even before she has been carved. Kozhi Nirachathu is one of the prized recipes of
Moplah cuisine. A light onion masala and hardboiled eggs are stuffed into a whole chicken which is then fried and baked alongside a caramelised onion gravy.
I don’t particularly enjoy butchering chicken or any meat for that matter. To me, this is an easy way out because I just have to wash the chicken really well rather than poking and prodding around joints before cutting and realizing I have cut through a bone, yet again. Which reminds me, I need to watch a video of butchering chicken on YouTube.
When it comes to the marinade, there’s not much much of a surprise here. There is a disconnect between the bird and the gravy given the fact that they only come together in the final stage of baking. This is why the chicken needs to be marinated seperately beforehand for it to be at par with the fiery gravy. Right before the marinade, I lavishly bathe the whole chicken inside out in lemon juice that tenderizes the flesh and removes that stale smell you can associate with raw chicken.
Before it is baked, the marinated chicken is shallow fried in hot oil. Aesthetically speaking, the outcome is far more glamorous than the chickens that makes it straight to the oven or the ones that are cooked through on the stovetop. It doesn’t provide those dark singed spots. Besides, nothing matches the flavour of frying. For the marinade, I use the Kashmiri variety of chili powder as its richer colour doesn’t tend to fade through the rigorous heat it is subjected to.
There’s quite a bit of onions at play in this recipe. A little goes into the stuffing for the chicken and then a lot is needed for there to be gravy everyone can dip their
Porottas into. Partly why you do not want to rush this recipe is because of the onions. It takes a while to fry them and to attain that golden caramelisation. The key is to slice the onions as thinly as it is physically possible. Some days I bring out my food processor and some days it’s me and the chopping board working together very patiently. While cooking the onions, should you crank up the heat to speed things up, you’re going to end up with a burnt hot mess. When it comes to toasted onions, there really isn’t any fix to eradicate its far from pleasant flavour. Be patient and keep an eye on it, stirring once in a while, where it will deepen to a golden hue releasing all its sweetness. To balance it, a smooth paste of pounded ginger and garlic is added once the onions start browning. I usually make my own paste that would last me a few days if I know I’m making curry or biriyani masala during the week. However, even if I do have that in the refrigerator, I make just enough to use in the recipe. It would be fresh with sharpness and wouldn’t have lost its potency.
A key ingredient used in this recipe is a fine powder of Aniseeds. It may be tempting to substitute it with fennel seeds, which is what is mostly used, but it is different. Place a handful of seeds in your palm and take a quick whiff. It smells more sweeter but pungent at the same time. I tried using fennel seed powder when I was in a hurry and didn’t want to grind aniseeds for its powder. That time after tasting the gravy, I realised that the flavour it brought to the gravy was marked and irreplaceable. So go ahead, and buy these Aniseeds. I thought I’d never finish them but considering I make this recipe quite often, I’m happy I have enough stock of these.
Please, PLEASE, pretty please use coconut oil exclusively throughout this recipe. Let me go as far as saying that if you’re thinking of using sunflower or any other oil for whatever reason(s), don’t bother reading any further. I’m sure I sound dramatic but to attain that inimitable flavour, you cannot do without coconut oil. Start with sautéing the stuffing. Then use a generous amount to shallow fry and brown the chicken. I continue using the same oil to make the gravy and I make sure there’s not a drop left in there when I spoon it into my oven dish.
Ali loves eggs and that’s what he usually eats when we sit down to eat Kozhi Nirachathu. I would think what else I could add to this recipe to make him sit a little longer instead of going back to play leaving us to finish our meal. That is when I added potatoes. Pan fried potatoes are one of his favourite accompaniments when he eats rice. I chop baby potatoes into small cubes with their skin intact and fry them in coconut oil till the skins are crisped and the potatoes cooked through. When I start making the onion gravy, I have a pan with the potatoes frying right beside it. They roughly come together around the same time and I stir them into gravy right before it goes into the oven. The potatoes pick up the flavors of the gravy when they are baked together.
Making the onion gravy is the most finicky part only because it requires time and your attention. This is one of the recipes that make the hours spent worthwhile. It is my go-to for weekend meals and certainly for potlucks. Hot fluffy
Appams and flakey Porottas are the bread options you should consider. Off late, I only bake Jalapeño cornbread to go with it. And if it was just me, I would toast a few slices of milk bread and get right into it. And I promise you, this is a recipe you will be going to more than you think you would.
Feeds 2 generously with leftovers or 4 comfortably.
Recipe adapted from
Chicken – 1 weighing between 800 – 1000g
Kashmiri chilli powder – 3 tsp
Turmeric – 1 tsp
Lemon juice – 6 tbsp
Salt – to taste
Hardboiled Eggs – as required
Onions – 1 medium
Chillies – 4
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Ginger Garlic paste – 1 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 tsp
¼ tsp Chilli powder – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste
Caramelised Onion Gravy
Onions – 5 medium
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Chillies – 4
Tomatoes – 4
Ginger Garlic paste – 2 tsp
Coriander Powder – 2 tsp
¼ tsp Chilli powder – 2 tsp
Aniseed powder – 1 tsp
Garam Masala – 1 tbsp
Salt – to taste
Potatoes – 4 small (optional)
Remove the skin from the chicken.
Cut the neck and tail portions off.
Thoroughly cleanse the inside portion of the chicken especially the rib cage.
Wash the chicken well making sure the water is clear and no longer has traces of blood.
Pat the chicken dry and place it in a clean bowl.
Pour lemon juice over and inside the chicken and rub it in.
Mix the spices of the marinade together.
Rub the spice mix all over the chicken.
Allow to marinate preferable overnight or minimum 6 hours.
Thinly slice the onions and green chilli.
Heat 3 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large saucepan.
When the oil is hot, add curry leaves, onions and chillies and saute.
When the onions start browning, add the ginger garlic paste and continue sautéing.
Should the mixture start sticking to saucepan, add a tablespoon of water and stir.
When the onions turn golden, lower the heat and add the spices and stir well for a minute.
Add the hardboiled eggs and set the stuffing aside in a bowl.
Crisp Fried Potatoes (optional)
If you’re adding potatoes to the gravy, clean and scrub potato skin thoroughly.
Roughly chop the potatoes into small cubes with the skin intact.
In a frying pan, add 4 tablespoons of coconut oil.
On medium to high flame, fry the potatoes.
Add salt and crushed pepper to taste and keep stirring ensuring all sides cook through.
Once the potatoes are cooked and the skin is crisp, remove from heat. This will take close to 20 minutes.
Stuffing the Chicken
Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator for a couple of hours to bring it to room temperature.
Start stuffing the chicken by placing one egg at a time and sealing it with prepared onion stuffing. Usually a chicken of this weight can not hold more than 2 eggs.
If your chicken is smaller, do not overstuff the chicken as this might cause the flesh to tear during the frying process.
Ensuring no stuffing is coming out, tie the legs and hands of the chicken using kitchen twine.
Caramelised Onion Gravy
Slice the onions and chilli finely.
Chop tomatoes roughly into cubes.
Heat 1/3 cup of coconut oil in a large saucepan large enough to hold the chicken.
Lower the chicken into the hot oil and fry on medium heat.
Turn the chicken on its side every 2 minutes and fry till all the sides are brown and crisp.
Remove the chicken and drain it on paper towels.
In the same oil, fry the onions, chilli, and curry leaves.
Once the onions start browning, add the the ginger garlic paste and cook till the raw smell disappears.
Lower the heat and add in the tomatoes.
Saute and let it cook until the tomatoes have broken down completely and the gravy has begun to form.
Add the gravy spices and aniseed powder and fry well.
Check for salt and season accordingly.
If your’e adding potatoes, add the cooked potatoes (method above) and give it a gentle stir.
Add the remaining eggs into the gravy.
Baking the Chicken
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
In an ovenproof dish, spread the gravy leaving
¼ behind. Place the fried chicken in the middle and spread the remaining gravy on top.
Cover the dish with aluminium foil and cook for 1 hour.
After an hour, switch off the heat.
Remove the aluminium foil and let the dish stay in the oven till you’re ready to serve.
Have a good food day.