Tracing the journey of 'Kadaknath Chicken' and its comeback in city kitchens

By Karishma Kuenzang | Mumbai

Updated: Feb 16, 2019, 08:21 IST

Chefs and food historians trace the journey of kadaknath chicken from central India as it makes a strong case for a comeback across city restaurants

When a black chicken popped up on our Instagram feed a few weeks ago, it seemed more like a part of Halloween decor. Health enthusiasts and foodies were discussing the delicacy that's made the long trek to Mumbai all the way from Madhya Pradesh. A bit of scouring around the city revealed how and why it's making its way into the menus of restaurants due to its low fat and high protein content.

Kurush Dalaln and Chef Ranveer Brar

Mutation from MP
Five years ago, it was only found in the fringes of Maharashtra, which is where food historian Kurush Dalal tasted it for the first time. "The chicken is an endemic breed in the Dhar and Jhabua regions of MP. It's the only animal that has a GI (Geographical Indicator) tag - a name or sign used on products which corresponds to a specific geographical location," he informs. It came into Maharashtra through tribal interaction with the Warlis of Khandesh. "It then gained popularity in Nashik and Pune, which is when we in Mumbai heard about it," adds city-based celebrity chef Ranveer Brar, who has co­oked this protein into a stew with heirloom tomatoes and onions.

Chef Amninder Sandhu's bird in a nest at Arth

The black colour is a result of a permanent mutation, in which the me­l­­anin overdo­s­es in the body. "Kadaknath ch­i­ckens show si­gns of this mut­a­tion - they are not good breeders, and have very low fat content," explains Dalal. Its nutrient content is why this novelty item of the rural areas has trickled into urban restaurants.

For chefs in the city, it's an exciting meat to work with as it offers them an option in poultry, says chef Amninder Sandhu, from Arth. "In France, you ha­ve different types of chicken. Kadak­n­ath is the option chefs here have to ex­periment with," shares Sandhu, who had included it in the restaurant's me­nu in 2017 as a black sesame seed paste preparation served over purple yam idiyappam. The chef heard about the kadaknath when her vendor brought it for her. "As we source un­ique regional ingredients which de­serve celebration, the kadaknath fit right in. The dish was based on the sesame seed preparation in Meghalaya," Sandhu explains, adding that she plans to reintroduce the meat on the menu soon.

Chef Kedar Bobde's black fowl and root vegetable stew

Health-conscious magnet
The kadaknath is a lean chicken, with a fat percentage of one to two per cent, unlike 10 and 12 per cent in a regular chicken, reveals Brar. Chef Swasti Aggarwal, food strategist at Foodhall, which stocks it on its shelves, says, "It's known to be disease-resistant and can survive in extreme temperatures and, when cooked right, delicious."

So, given its health benefits, it is becoming the go-to meat for the health conscious. Salman Faizan Khan, owner of a meat and poultry centre in Chembur East that began to stock the kadaknath chicken late last year, says sale has risen from two to three a week to nine per day. "Customers would ask for it, so we began to source it from Khopoli. Today, people from Vashi, Wadala and Ghatkopar who are into body building and fitness, or plain curious, constitute the primary market for it," he says. One kg of kadaknath chicken at Khan's store costs Rs 1,000, normal broiler costs Rs 130, while the mutton is priced at Rs 500.

Chef Swasti Aggarwal's kadaknath and guchhi pulao

Kadak fare
The meat has a metallic taste to it, like organ meat, is game-y in a pleasant way, which is why some chefs prefer to increase the ginger, and also add a pinch of asafoetida to it. It's possible to also braise and then roast the protein, though it is usually prepared in a curry version, with onions, green chilli and local herbs thrown in. All in all, an acquired taste, the chefs echo. It's trickier to prep and is a challenge to grill as it becomes too dry due to lack of fat.

But chef Amitesh Singh Virdi, executive chef at Punjab Grill, BKC, has managed to do a tandoori version, after much experimentation. "We were trying to work with sustainable ingredients that help the environment, local farmers, fishermen, while rediscovering lost recipes. Kadaknath had the best qualities," he says. For chef Yusuf Sayed of Poetry by Love & Cheesecake, it's more of a walk down memory lane as he grew up eating it at home in the outskirts of Mumbai. "My father brought two such chickens from MP and my grandmother bred them. They multiplied to seven in a year. The meat is very dry and so, it's best had in curry," he suggests.

Salman F Khan

In a departure from going desi, Indigo Delicatessen has been serving a South American version on weekends. Kedar Bobde, corporate executive chef at the restaurant, says, "I tasted a variant of it in Indonesia called the ayam cemani.

Chef Amitesh Singh Virdi's tandoori kadaknath

I then stumbled across it in Madhya Pradesh - at a dhaba. We make a stew after slow-braising the meat, and serve it with sourdough bread. It takes longer to cook, at least, 20 minutes more than regular chicken."

Why it's healthier
The kadaknath chicken is a more nutritious form of the chicken due to its higher protein content and lower fat and cholesterol content. But its USP, according to nutritionist Kavita Devgan, is that it has more of carnosine, an antioxidant that helps prevent diabetes, brain-related ailments, cataract and has anti-ageing properties.

"For a person who doesn't work out regularly, 0.85 to 1 gm of protein per kg of their body weight per day is enough. If you work out, 1.5 gm should suffice," she says. The body can't metabolise more than 20 gms of protein. "Anything more than that gets converted into fat or is flushed out of the body. A high protein intake will stress your kidney and liver by making them work excessively to get byproducts out," she adds. But there are people who consume protein shakes that give them 90 gms of protein! "Which is where kadakanth should replace these shakes because you can only eat a limited amount," concludes Devgan.

Try it at
* AT: Hotel Gavkari, Suryoday Housing Society, Prabhadevi.
CALL: 7507770888
COST: Rs 280 (thali)
* AT: Kath N Ghat, Service Road, Panch Pakhadi, Thane West.
CALL: 9892988744
COST: Rs 1,000 (kadaknath chicken)
* AT: Punjab Grill, G5, The Capital Building, BKC.
CALL: 2086070
COST: Rs 775 (tandoori kadaknath)
* AT: Indigo Delicatessen, 8, Fat­i­ma Villa, 29th Road, Pali Naka, Bandra West.
CALL: 26438100
COST: Rs 950 (black fowl and root vegetable stew)
* AT: Poetry by Love and Cheesecake, 33rd Road, Bandra West.
CALL: 8291295412
COST: Rs 870 (kadaknath chicken)

Stock up at
* AT: Foodhall, plot 106, Linking Road, Santacruz West.
CALL: 26065360
COST: Rs 900 (900 gms)
* AT: FF Enterprises, shop 14 and 15, Dr CG Road, RCF Colony, Chembur East.
CALL: 9773632364
COST: Rs 1,000 (one kg)

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