Meaning "whole chicken," Murgh Musallam is a rich dish in which a whole chicken is marinated, stuffed with eggs, prepared with spices like saffron, cinnamon, cloves, poppy seeds, cardamom and chilli, and decorated with almonds and silver leaf.
In recent times, Murgh Musallam has become a delicacy about which a lot is spoken but rarely does anybody know how to cook it. Since it has become a heritage dish in danger of being lost forever, it is necessary to shed light on this dish, which was once a part of the royal palate.
So, what exactly is Murgh Musallam, and what are its origins? We contacted food historian and author Salma Yusuf Husain for the answer. "It is a Middle-Eastern delicacy that was served on the royal table of the sultans of Delhi, especially Muhammad Bin Tughlaq. The Mughals refined the dish and made it sophisticated by adding dry fruits, eggs and rice as fillings. After the Mughals, the dish travelled to Awadh, where it became a famous dish," she said.
Meanwhile, chef and author Sadaf Hussain added that Murgh Musallam's unique technique and unparalleled texture make the dish the centrepiece of an exotic Awadhi dastarkhan (tablecloth upon which the dishes of a meal are placed). "References to a similar kind of roasted chicken can be found in Tamil literature from the 3rd century BCE also," he explained.
Moroccan scholar and explorer Ibn Battuta describes Murgh Musallam as one of the liked dishes at the court of Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (1290-1351). Meanwhile, the dish is referred to as "Musamman" in 'Ain-i-Akbari,' which probably later evolved into Murgh Musallam. It is also one of the thirty dishes mentioned in the 'Akbarnama' by Mughal courtier Abul Fazl.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the ingredients used in Murgh Musallam and its preparation mentioned in 'Ain-i-Akbari' is quite similar to a roast fowl recipe used in Europe in the middle ages as mentioned in the 14th-century book 'Tractatus' or 'Tracta.'
Advent To India
Author and historian Lizzie Collingham, in her book 'Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerers,' proposes that several regional cuisines in the Indian subcontinent result from the many invasions. With the arrival of the Portuguese explorers and Babur, the cooking methods and ingredients of central Asia, Persia, and Europe came to India. Thus, it won't be wrong to say that the British's passion for roast chicken and the subcontinent's obsession with spices like cardamom and black pepper gave us the Murgh Musallam.
Classic Recipes In Books
A book on Avadhi cooking by Jiggs Kalra and Pushpesh Pant has a recipe for Bater Musallam, which uses a quail instead of chicken. The bird is cleaned, marinated in yoghurt, and stuffed with chicken mince, almonds, pistachios and spices. The gravy is prepared with fried onions, almonds, char magaz, yoghurt and spices. The bird is first braised in stock and then roasted in an oven with the jus. And finally, the gravy is poured on the bird and basted with butter. These are roasted till the sauce is brown and the bird is well cooked.
Maharaja of Sailana Digvijay Singh's book 'Cooking Delights Of The Maharajas' also mentions a recipe for Sailana Murgh Musallam. The bird is stuffed with a mixture of cashews, poppy seeds, dry coconut, chopped almonds, raisins, ginger, spices and ghee. Then it is fried till golden brown, following which milk and water are added, and the chicken is cooked till tender. Curd is added, along with extra filling that gives a thick gravy.