Do you know the favourite food of Emperor Akbar? It may be same as yours! Yes he used to love chicken. Domestic chicken was the year-round flavoured fowl in Moghul dishes, while peacock, goose, quail, parrot and partridge were all considered only a part of the seasonal hunt. So, love towards chicken in India or elsewhere is not new, it dates back to the Moghul time.
Those times kitchens were responsible for rearing the breeds of chicken especially for the banquets and for making any special dish for the Emperor Akbar. Palace chickens were hand fed with the pellets that were fragrant with rose essence and saffron. They were massaged daily with oils of musk and sandalwood. Only when they were considered plump and exuding fragrant they were deemed to be ready for the table of Emperors.
A very high standard was maintained in the court and the Emperor was very particular about how the food was prepared and presented. So, he used to direct the cooks to prepare the chicken dish 200 times before it was finally satisfied with what was dished out for him.
A very careful attention was paid to the skinning of chicken prior to the preparation and its presentation. Either whole or cut into pieces, it was often combined with other ingredients such as minced or ground lamb, apricots, sultans and nuts, particularly almonds, to appear as exotic dishes of whole chicken stuffed with minced lamb, chicken pieces in an apricot puree or in an almond sauce. The wonderful fragrance of saffron, rose, musk and sandalwood rising from the steam of the chicken pilaus or biryanis that were presented for the emperor’s approval. The skin of chicken is always removed to allow the spices and marinades to penetrate the flesh.
There has been a phenomenal rise in the popularity of tandoori-style dishes since 1960s. The name comes from an earthenware oven called tandoor, which is heated red hot with coals. Marinated chicken, meat or fish is fed onto long skewers and grilled by heat both from the hot ash of the coals and the reflected heat of the oven walls. The meat is cooked quickly and emerges dry on the outside but succulent and moist on the inside, with a particular flavour from having being cooked in the clay oven. Tandoor ovens are also commonly used for baking flat breads.