A few years ago, I had morog pulao for the first time in my life. It was a complete revelation. I thought to myself, “How am I x years old, and a Bengali, and I’ve never eaten this before?” I immediately called up my mother (somewhat furious), and I asked if she was familiar with morog pulao. To my disappointment, she said yes, and that she adores it. She’s just never cooked it.
Time to rewind. My mother does not cook. She doesn't really know how to cook. Unlike most Bengalis, I didn’t learn to cook from my mother, father, grandfather, or grandmother. My family left Bangladesh before anyone had a chance to acquire a substantial encyclopedia of its cuisine. This comes as both a hefty setback and (as I like to look at it) an advantage to my culinary pursuits as a chef and avid eater. Since I don’t have easy answers from family members, I have to spend countless hours researching books, recipes, videos, and testing recipes (with great trial and error) to recreate the flavors and memories of dishes.
The first time I felt comfortable with this recipe, I daringly invited a couple of very Bengali friends over for dinner. Unlike me, they had grown up in Bangladesh, came from families with strong Bengali ties, and had eaten a heck of a lot more morog pulao in their lifetime than me.
My friend took one bite, and said, “Wow. This tastes just like it’s from back home.”
A note on morog pulao:
If you’re expecting this dish to be like a chicken biryani, it isn’t. It’s more gently spiced than most biryani, and it’s not meant to be spicy at all. The green chilies lend a mild acidic heat to cut through the sweetness of the onions, but not to overpower the palate with a fiery spice. This dish is aromatic, rich in flavor, and very succulent from the onions and chicken. Morog pulao is served as a one-dish meal, often during special occasions, and is usually accompanied by a fresh Bengali garden salad (for which you can find the recipe at the bottom). This recipe scales up well for larger gatherings.
Morog Pulao: Bengali Chicken & Basmati Rice with Ghee, Caramelized Onions, Whole Garam Masala, and Green Chilies
2 hour cook time
For the chicken marinade
1 pound mix of chicken legs and thighs, scored with a knife (either skinless or skinned is fine; bone-in preferred)
2 tablespoons whole-milk plain yogurt (Greek or Icelandic preferred)
1 tablespoon ginger paste (or finely grated ginger on a micro-plane zester)
1 teaspoon garlic paste (or finely minced or pressed through a garlic press)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1/8 teaspoon mace, ground (optional)
For cooking the chicken (morog)
2 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 cinnamon sticks, 3-4 inches long
2 cardamom pods, whole
2 cloves, whole
1 cup room temperature water
2 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 teaspoon granulated white sugar
2-4 green chilies, slit in half with seeds intact (Thai bird or serrano)
For the rice (pulao)
2 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 cup long thin grained basmati rice*
2 cups hot water
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 ½ teaspoon kewra water (screw-pine or pandanus essence), optional
1 ½ teaspoon pistachio powder (freshly ground), optional
crispy fried onions
*Basmati rice is a long, slender-grained aromatic variety of rice originally cultivated and grown in the Indian sub-continent. Basmati rice is extremely fragrant, and non-sticky, meaning that each grain remains individual after cooking. This characteristic is especially important when cooking Bengali rice dishes such as pulao, biryani, and even khichuri. It allows the rice to hold more sauce and absorb better flavor.
*It’s important to use basmati rice for this dish because substitutions such as jasmine rice, brown rice, brown basmati rice, etc won’t yield the same aromatic, textural, or flavorful results. You can find basmati rice at most Asian supermarkets.
Dutch oven or a heavy bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid
Marinate the chicken
Using a sharp knife, score the chicken thighs and drumsticks with 1-inch slits.
In a bowl, combine the yogurt, ginger paste, garlic paste, kosher salt, nutmeg powder, and mace powder. Add the chicken pieces, and mix well to combine. Marinate for 15-20 minutes.
Cook the chicken (morog)
While the chicken is marinating, finely dice a medium yellow onion.
Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee or unsalted butter over medium heat in a dutch oven.
Once the ghee is hot, add the diced yellow onion, and sauté until translucent and starting to brown on the edges (about 10 minutes).
Add the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and whole cloves to the onions, and sauté on medium heat for 2-3 minutes until the onions and whole spices are fragrant.
Add the marinated chicken and all of the marinade mixture to the pot.
Increase the heat to medium high. Arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer, if possible, and cook for about 3-5 minutes on each side until the chicken pieces are starting to caramelize and turn golden brown.
Add 1 cup of room temperature water to the chicken, and reduce the heat to medium. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring once in the middle to release any chicken pieces stuck to the pot.
After 15 minutes, check the chicken for doneness. At this point, the chicken should be fully cooked and there should be about 1 cup of gravy in the pot. If the chicken is not yet done, cover the pot and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Transfer the cooked chicken and all of the gravy (every drop!) to a bowl. Keep the dutch oven aside – don’t clean it as we will use the same pot to cook the rice later.
To the bowl of cooked chicken and gravy, add the lime juice, sugar, and slit green chilies. Mix well into the gravy. Set aside.
Cook the rice (pulao)
Rinse 1 cup of basmati rice. Set aside. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a kettle. Set hot water side.
In the same dutch oven that we cooked the chicken in, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee or unsalted butter over medium-high heat.
Once the ghee is hot, add the thinly sliced onions and fry until they are translucent and starting to become crispy and golden on the edges.
Add 1 cup of rinsed basmati rice to the onions, and fry until the rice starts to become crispy – about 2 minutes.
Pour 2 cups of hot water to the rice. Add the kosher salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once at a roaring bowl, cover the pot with a lid, and immediately reduce the heat to medium. Set a timer for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, turn off the heat completely. This is called parboiling the rice.
Layer the morog pulao
Uncover the pot, and gently remove half of the par-boiled (partially cooked) rice from the pot to a second bowl, being careful not to over-handle the rice in the pot. Set this bowl of rice aside.
To the pot (that is missing half of the rice), add all of the cooked chicken and all of the gravy (every drop!).
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of milk over the chicken and rice. Drizzle the kewra essence and crushed pistachios, as well, if using.
Cover up the chicken by layering the rice that we set aside a few steps ago. Once all of the rice is added back in, cover the pot with a lid, and set the heat to the lowest possible setting. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, turn off the heat, uncover the lid, and give the whole mixture a gentle stir to fully combine all of the rice and chicken.
Put the lid back on. Let rest for 10 minutes (with the heat turned off) before garnishing and serving.
Garnish with crispy fried onions, extra green chilies, and lime wedges if desired.
Serve warm with a traditional Bengali garden tomato and cucumber salad (see recipe below).
Bengali Garden Tomato & Cucumber Salad
1 ripe plum tomato, medium-sized, diced
2 Persian cucumbers, diced
1 tablespoon red onion, diced
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon lime juice, freshly squeezed
kosher salt, to taste
Mix the salad ingredients together in a small bowl. Let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.
If you try any of my recipes, share on Instagram by using the hashtag #afsanaliza & tagging me at @afsana so I can see your creations!