While today’s foodies can reach out to anything and everything from continental to Chinese, to Arabic, to “naadan” at the click of a mouse, there lie a few culinary secrets of the indigenous type - the whiff of which comes out only from the depths of dense forests. Kaani chicken is one such delicacy.
The Kaani grilled chicken has none of the sophistication of current hit Al Faham chicken, over which everyone drools alike. But not all the aroma of Arabia can match the taste, color and texture of the Kaani grilled chicken.
Now, what’s so special about Al Faham? Deboned, diced, marinated in Arabian spices and then grilled over fire, coal or cinders, its “raw-cooked” taste leaves folks asking for more.
The Kaani chicken with its out of the world taste is extra special for the way it’s cooked and where it’s cooked. Much before culinary skills like grilling, roasting and broasting landed on Kerala shores, our Adivasis had perfected the art of grilling chicken.
And herein comes a bit of history and geography. The Kaanis are a set of tribal folks who live along the Agasthyarkoodam, the stretch of high mountains, which forms part of the Western Ghats. These tribals used to live in the southern part of what was once South Travancore. This stretch of land now comes under the Kanyakumari Reserve Forest. The place is famous for its flora and fauna and reserve of medicinal herbs. The Forest Department allows trekkers and visitors seeking adventure into this ecologically-fragile area for just about a month every year.
It’s here inside the forests that our chef Krishnan demonstrates how to grill his Kaani special chicken. Against a brackdrop of tribal revelry, a huge fire is lit up, which makes for the griller. The fire is fed by pieces of dry wood. Krishnan is readying his traditional oven. It’s nothing else but stones – clean, round ones, like pebbles, which he throws into the fire. He waits till they turn red and start glowing. The oven is ready. Now, for the chicken.
A chicken weighing over a kilo and a half, is cut vertically. The central bone is ripped off. The chicken is then cut into two flat pieces, each piece weighing three fourths of a kilo. The big slices are again cut into smaller pieces. The chicken is now ready for the masala. The taste lies in this specially ground masala.
Krishnan’s masala comes from a mix of hot and spicy chilies, leaves and herbs, all from the forest and a bunch of fenugreek leaves (uluva cheera) ground to a fine paste. Add to these, familiar ingredients like cumin, lime, salt and garlic. The chicken is then thoroughly mixed in this masala.
By now, Krishnan’s oven is fully operational. With a long pole, he rolls out a few glowing stones and arranges them in a pattern. The chicken is then spread over the hot embers. You hear the sound of the raw flesh getting its first taste of the fire. The chef then rolls out more hot stones from his oven and places them over the chicken. The fat from the chicken melts and falls over the embers. Soon the aroma of chicken, forest spices, fire and fat fill the air. Succumb to the temptation!
When the color of the grilled chicken turns light brown, Krishnan knows his stuff is ready. It’s soft and crisp, not fried. Mmm…yummy! Truly finger-lickin’ special, as soft as butter.
Tapioca, grilled the same way, without the masala, is a hit of a match with Krishnan’s special chicken!
A trip to the Agasthyarkoodam should be worth your while just to tuck into Krishnan’s chicken.