Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chicken ChaaNp or Chaap-- Mughal influence on Bengal

Chicken Chaap
I wish I could have said this recipe is my Mother's given to her by her great-great-grandfather Wajid Ali Shah's master bawarchi.

I wish I could have said I was born into this recipe. But sorry to disappoint. Many of you have been born into it for sure as you have been with recipes of creme brulee and chocolate gateau. But nope. Not me. Darn, my Ma.

In fact for a large part of my childhood, the chaanp and biriyani, the Mughlai influence on Bengali cuisine eluded me. You see we were probashi bangalis, the clan of Bengalis that live and breathe oxygen outside the state of West Bengal or rather Calcutta. In the town steeped in history that we lived, chaap or chaaNp was not a much known affair. At least wasn't in the years when I was a 8-9 year old. When we ate out, it was largely Naan and chicken curry, dosa and sambhar, even chowmein and chilli chicken. But never a "Chicken ChaaNp".

In our annual pilgrimage to Calcutta, the heart of Bengal, during the winter vacation, the "chaaNp" and "biriyani" should have showed up frequently. But surprisingly it didn't with that much regularity. My maternal grandparents lived in North Calcutta, a more traditional neighborhood where sweet stores like "Kalika Mistanno Bhandar" selling karapak sandesh and mishti doi in earthen pots and small telebhaja stores selling beguni and chop, dotted the streets. Moghlai Parota and fish kabiraji were still to be found, but in those years, restaurants like Rahmania and Aminia had not stretched their franchise hand to the Northern paras with rezalas and nawabi biriyanis.

The Mughlai restaurants like Nizam, Shiraz, Sabir, Aminia and others were all concentrated around Park Circus and Park Street areas where clientele were much more varied and there was a larger Muslim and anglo-Indian population. You must remember I am talking about the fag end of 70s and early 80s here. So we rarely tasted  a"Chicken chaaNp" or a "rezala", those being earmarked for the one day we would traipse down New Market. On all other days of the vacation I was happy to eat Dida's koraishutir kochuri, puffed and filled with sweet paste of sweet green winter peas and a soupy magur maacher jhol and rice.

So you see my childhood memories were not inundated by the rich and exquisite Mughlai cuisine that has seeped into Kolkata's restaurant culture

"The influence was reinforced in the Raj era, when Kolkata became the place of refuge for many prominent exiled Nawabs, especially the family of Tipu Sultan from Mysore and Wajid Ali Shah, the ousted Nawab of Awadh. The exiles brought with them hundreds of cooks and masalchis (spice mixers), and as their royal patronage and wealth diminished, they interspersed into the local population. These highly accomplished cooks came with the knowledge of a very wide range of spices (most notably jafran saffron and mace), the extensive use of ghee as a method of cooking, and special ways of marinating meats. In Bangladesh, this food has over time become the staple food of the populace.
In West Bengal, however, this has remained more than the other categories, the food of professional chefs; the best examples are still available at restaurants. " - Source Wiki

It was only in the early 90's when being in college and traveling more on my own and with friends in Calcutta, that I became familiar with the "chaaNp" or "chaap". This was also the time,  rezala from Sabir's and Biriyani from Shiraz became food that I came to adore. I was smitten by the Mughlai cuisine that Bengal had adapted.

However I did not try to learn to cook it. It was always available and in the 90's pretty easily. Also I rarely cooked then.

The Chicken ChaaNp that I am going to write about today is a recipe that has built itself over days. The base came from a friend, on that I added bits of experience and flavors of my own Garam masala, the idea of charmagaz(melon seeds) and rose water came from Sayantani's post which I adapted and replaced with poppy seed-cashew paste, the lust for it came from Indrani's chicken chaap and Preeoccupied's Kosha Mutton ChaaNp.

Though Mutton Chaap is made with usually ribs, the chicken chaaNp I have had were always made with leg quarters in a thick but not clingy gravy with a fine layer of oil floating on top. The key to the recipe is marinating the meat in a onion-ginger-garlic-garam masala-kewra water paste and then cooking in ghee over slow heat on a pan with a flatter surface. I however have used only very little ghee. The slow cooking anyway releases a lot of oil at the end so I feel the amount I use is fine. You are welcome to use more ghee for a richer version.
The poppy seed-cashew paste gives a thicker texture to the gravy, the kind I remember and the kewra water gives it the Mughlai scent.

The dish actually is pretty easy to make. Do not get intimidated by the Steps under Prep. They are all very simple. So if you are all set for a Nawabi evening go ahead and indulge yourself. Serve this dish with some biriyani but I would say store-bought Naan does most justice to the dish and also cuts your effort in half.


Make Garam Masala powder according to my recipe. My Garam masala has cardamom, clove, cinnamon, little javetri(mace) and dry red chillies. It is really aromatic and will add more flavor to the dish. We will use about 1 tbsp of this Garam Masala

This is my favorite step.
Instead of chopping onions in fine thin slices ,I will just chop
2 medium sized onion in large chunks. 
Chop, chop done
Now boil the onions till just soft but not mushy

Note: I use boiled onion for two reasons. Raw onion paste tends to get bitter at times. It also takes longer to cook raw onion paste. If you want, go ahead and use raw onion paste but remember to cook it for a longer time.

Make ginger-garlic paste with
8 fat clove of garlic
1 heaped tbsp of chopped ginger
splash of water
Almost 2-3 tbsp of ginger-garlic paste in all

In a blender jar add
the boiled onion
1/2 cup of thick hung yogurt/greek yogurt
and make a paste

In a bowl add
the onion + yogurt paste you just made
the ginger-garlic paste 
1/2 tbsp Garam Masala
1 tsp Red Chilli Powder
2 tsp Turmeric powder
few drops of Kewra water

few drops of Rose water
and mix
We will use half of this as marinade and rest half in gravy. So store half of this paste in a separate container to be used later.

In a large-is tray put the washed pieces of chicken.
I had 4 leg pieces. Total weight 2.5lb(~1kg)

Make slit in the chicken pieces and rub with salt and about 1/2 tbsp of Garam Masala powder.

Next add half of the marinade to the chicken pieces and mix well. Leave it overnight for the flavor to seep into the chicken. If not overnight at least 3-4 hours is recommended,

Start Cooking

In a pan with a flat bottom heat
2 tbsp oil
+ 1 tsp ghee
Note: I try to cook most of my food low in oil and ghee and so my oil and ghee proportions are much less than what you might see in other recipes. I am perfectly ok with this as we are not too much into oily food. But if you want to make the dish richer do increase the ghee a little

Temper the oil with a 2" stick of cinnamon and a Tejpata

Now add a tsp of sugar to the oil and brown the oil by swirling the pan.

Next lower the heat and add in the onion-yogurt-ginger-garlic-spices paste you had prepared and stored. Fry this paste for about 5-6 minutes at low medium heat.

Shake off excess marinade from the chicken pieces and add them to the pan. Do not overcrowd them and the pieces should lie side by side. Cook/Fry the chicken pieces till their raw coloring is gone and they have taken on a light yellow coloring. Do not deep fry the chicken and they should not turn brown.

Now add a wet paste of
1 tbsp poppy seeds
+ 1 tbsp cashew

Note: Soak poppy seeds and cashew for 10 mins and then make the paste

Also add the remaining chicken marinade and some salt to taste. Gently mix and cook for 6-8 minutes.

Cover the pan now and at low-medium heat let the chicken cook. Usually the chicken will release water and will get cooked in its own juice. No need to add any extra water. However if it is getting too dry, add little water judiciously. It will take around 30-40 minutes for the chicken to get fully cooked.

Once the chicken is done and a thin layer of oil has surfaced, taste the gravy and adjust for seasonings. At this point if you wish, you can also dry off the gravy a little. Add few more drops of kewra water at this point if you wish.

Serve with Biriyani or Naan. I have seen the gravy and chicken tastes much better when had the next day. So give some time for the flavors to mingle before you serve.

More such recipes around blogs:
Sukanya's Mutton Chaap


  1. Aminia was my father's favorite at one time. We used to sit in the "family cabins" that they had. Dad and I loved the chaaps while my Ma loved their Aminia special. Thanks for bringing back those memories :)

  2. Ami akhon Chaap recipe try korini...eta book mark kore rakhlam...banate hobe...

  3. Darun! It looks exactly like the ones that we buy from one of the Park Circus restaurants. I could even get the aroma (swear!) Bookmarking this for sure:)

  4. Ah, that reminds me, I still have to write about my great-grandfather and my inner Bengali!

  5. Hi Sandeepa, what if the marinate is made with raw onion paste instead of boiled one?... 'm not familiar with the usage of boiled onions.


    1. Yes, you can use raw onion paste. I use boiled because my raw onion paste tends to get bitter at times. It also takes longer to cook a raw onion paste.

    2. thanks, that was enlightening :)

  6. Hi would you mind stating which blog platform you're using? I'm planning to start my own blog in the
    near future but I'm having a difficult time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I'm looking for something
    completely unique. P.S Apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

    Look at my blog post - kanapy z funkcja spania

  7. Omg, wat a droolworthy chicken chaap, love the colour of the dish,highly inviting.

  8. I am so making this chicken . More than the chicken itself i am drooling for that gavy.

  9. Interesting, never having lived in WB, I had no idea what chicken chaanp was. It seems very very close to a butter chicken (murgh makhani) minus the tomato in the sauce. this is the one kind of indian food ALL my non-Indian friends love. This is a dinner party staple for us.

    1. Ummm...they are different.
      1.Butter Chicken is a North Indian dish while the Chaanp is Mughlai.
      2. The meat cuts used is also different. Though of course you could make a chaanp kind of dish with other kind of meat cuts but it might not be called chaaNp then.
      3. Butter Chicken has Butter and Cream. The chaaNp being a traditional Mughlai has ghee and NO cream BUT has the fragrance of kewra water.
      4. The cooking process is also different. This being a slow cooking process

      Most non-Indian love Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala because unfortunately that is how Indian cuisine is presented globally via restaurants :)

    2. Also as you said Butter Chicken is more of a tomatoey gravy. Many of these recipes are influenced and adapted from some same source. North Indian cuisine too has a Mughal influence, a more heavy one.
      But it is the little nuances that make them different

  10. I can sooo relate to the word - annual pilgrimage to kolkata. More than chaap or biryani I waited the whole year for phuchka, kwality ice cream sticks, fish fries etc. When I finally moved to Cal, I started seeing the food from a Bong's point of view.
    Food evokes so many memories and yours chicken chaap is absolutely fantastic.


  11. do you fry the chicken?

    1. No. as I said in the recipe, cook the chicken till raw coloring is gone. Not really fry.Please read the steps. I might have missed something

  12. I was not a big Mughlai cuisine fan except Biriyani. I found it very rich for Calcutta weather. I was kind of a 'pet roga Bangali' :( As I lived in the mufassal, mughlai khana was part of my college days as well. Cannot say that I have a memory of going to Shiraz with baba..sigh! (I still haven't been to Shiraz...bigger sigh!)

  13. First time I see chicken chaap recipe, my mom does the mutton chaap. The gravy is very creamy & love the leg floating in sauce!

  14. I looove chicken chaanp and biryani! We were regulars at Shiraz, Aminia etc growing up as my parents and brother too share my love. not my sister, sadly. On my last trip to India a few months back they took me to a place called Aaliya, near Paradise cinema (little further north of new market) and it had excellent biryani and chap. I stuck to chicken but my husband and family had mutton. Really good! The ones at the restaurants are floating, literally floating in dalda though (I am sure they do not use ghee) so this recipe should be so much better. i will probably try it this weekend! :)

    1. I did make it that very same weekend and it was delicious. I had no kewra water so I omitted that and it turned out just fine.

  15. Wow loved this recipe..just the kind off Mughlai food my family loves. This recipe is already in my fav list. Thanks for sharing.

  16. If you happen to visit Kolkata again, do try Chicken Chaanp and Rezala from this shop called Saima's near Exide. May be you can then post a recipe to make the same :). I yearn for the taste but sadly do not possess the skills to identify the recipe from the taste.


  17. hi,
    I do really appreciate your blog. I made this recipe and it turned out awesome just as anticipated. Surely, not going to much wait again to try this dish once more. Sincerely telling you that your blog has added on more taste and sophistication in my cooking.

  18. Chap ta niyei fellam weekend ey. Sunday night baniyechhilam, khub bhalo hoyechhe. :-)


  19. This one looks perfect for weekend meal,..:) umm. Delicious,..

  20. Thanks for the cool recipe. It was executed last night with fair result. Atleast everyone in the family enjoyed it and now are up and about without any significant impact on their stomach. All are alive! :)

  21. Thanks for the recipe. Yesterday tried your chicken chaap recipe. It was very nice. But years ago, I heard from my father (he is a foodie and a great cook) that the spice mix of chaap contains mustard. Yesterday I added 2 tbl spoon of mustard paste (sorshe bata) with the marinade and used rose water only instead of kewra and rose water. The other things remained the same. It was fabulous in taste. Request you to try the alteration once and reply.

    Wish you a healthy meal.

  22. It is really an outstanding recipe. I am living in Delhi for last eight years, the hub of erstwhile Mughal sultanate, and never missed a changes to visit the mughlai restaurant of this city,be it in Jama masjid area, Nizamuddin or Mehrauli. But hardly find anything chicken chaanp.
    I prepared your recipe at least ten times (mostly on my wife’s request) and every time the experience is really wonderful.

    Thank you.

  23. You just have to try the chaaNp from a restaurant called Arsalan the next time you are in Kolkata. I grew up with Shiraz (and new Shiraz), Aminia and the rest of the Central Cal/Park Circus/Chitpur eateries, but Arsalan chaaNp is a different league altogether. Planning on giving your version a spin this weekend.

  24. Turned out great! Have tried many of your recipes...all delicious!

  25. Passed your mutton rezala recipe to Ma for Baba's 60th birthday celebrations...turned out really well! Thanks a lot!

  26. This is really an awesome recipe.. Infact every recipe in your blog is awesome.. I have tried several of those.I Last month I ordered your book from flipkart.I live in USA, so shipped it to my parents home. Going to Kolkata this Durga Puja. I will read your book then. :)

    Thank you..

  27. Thanks. This is an awesome recipie.

  28. Dear Sandeepa,
    I have learnt cooking from your blog. Usually most recipes from Internet that I try either becomes too technical in their measures or use processes that kill the enthusiasm. Your blog on the other hand feels like a story and uses what we usually call the Bangala bhasay!!!
    This recipe in particular has become my signature dish now!! Everyone feels its just the right chaap without the overt richness and oilyness of the usual shops!!
    Thanks and keep writing.

    PS: I make it spicier and increase the portions. Also use raw onions, since i believe it give us the right flavours. Also, higher garlic portion and lower ginger

    1. Thanks much for your comments. I will keep in mind your tips when I amke it next.

  29. Didi..Aapni amar jonne inspiration.. aapnar boi aar blog pore aami aanek kichu shiklam...

  30. Thank you very much for sharing this, I have also tried chicken at my home but in a different way, I have used dahi and sattu instead cashew and poppy seeds, the marination was more of less same I have added some kesar mixed in water and Shalimar Chef Garam Masala for that exquisite mughal aroma. I will definitely try out your way of chicken chaap and other recipes and let you know.

  31. Ok - very basic question. Is the chicken skinless or with skin on?


Thanks for your Comments. I hope you will be nice and not Spam.