It was the most awaited dish at the Le Meridien, Nagpur. After all, I was about to taste Kadaknath, India's only black chicken species and one of just three types across the world. Its cousins—China's Silkie and Indonesia's Ayam Cemani—command astronomical prices and are hailed as 'super-birds' in America.
Kadaknath Saoji chicken is one of the homiest, hearty dishes I have tasted. The bird's skin, meat and bones look like they've been injected with squid ink. While the meat is really flavourful, the surprise element is its toughness. That ruddy flavour of birds raised wild in the countryside. The fiery dish came sans any gimmick, twist or artifice—just exceptionally good meat in a rustic gravy.
Vinod Dhawle, executive chef, and the man behind the many restaurants at the hotel has employed the signature sharpness of the garam masalas to challenge the palate and generate new sensations. The fragrant and freshly made bhakris (hand bread) served alongside are perfect for scooping the plate clean. Back in Mumbai, the black chicken finds a spot on the menu of resto-bar Jlwa in Bandra, Mumbai and at The Oberoi Mumbai.
The feathered Black Beauty
Also known as Kalimasi, Kadaknath has a black beak, bones, feathers and hold your breath, black meat too—thanks to higher melanin content. Considered a premium breed, the meat is priced three times a poultry-bred broiler chicken. A single egg of the Kadaknath costs around Rs 40!
“The price is attributed to the purported health benefits. Once reared exclusively by the tribal communities in Madhya Pradesh, the Kadaknath's meat is highly prized as an aphrodisiacal delicacy. Our guests love the Saoji chicken as the Kadaknath has a peculiar delicious meaty flavour,” explains Dhawle.
The high cost (Rs 1500 per kg) is due to the longer time taken to raise the chicken. While a broiler grows to 2.5 kg in 45 days, the Kadaknath takes six months to attain 1.5 kg weight. Further, the egg’s fertility rate is very low. Its meat has shown to have more protein and less fat and cholesterol. No wonder it’s a hit among health-conscious, affluent and urban foodies.
Like the jungle fowl, Kadaknath takes a longer time to cook to get tender and is cooked with the skin on a slow fire for at least two hours. “You can also pressure cook it or use a slow dum technique,” says Dhawle. “Kadaknath is best cooked with very little masala, just salt, green chillies, onions and local herbs. It has a unique taste of its own,” says Delhi-based chef and author Ashish Chopra who showcased Kadaknath dishes as a surprise at a festival of lost recipes at the Radisson Blu in Paschim Vihar.
More on black birds
China’s Silkie chicken, another black variety, is sold across the US as a superfood. Then there’s the Indonesian Ayam Cemani, which has earned the moniker of being the 'Lamborghini of poultry'. Why? Because the whole bird sells for $2,500 (around Rs 1.63 lakh) in the US.