A word of warning before I begin: PICTURES DO NOT DO THIS DISH ANY JUSTICE!!!
Just.think of this dish as a 25 minute wonder that comes out of your kitchen shining and glistening in its own glory, and you know you have actually spent less than 10 minutes preparing it (if you have a blender in hand, or have access to ready made pastes) and well, a measly 5 minutes using your trusty mortar and pestle or “shil” is required to properly grind the poppy seeds and the cashew. However, we seem to have made a breakthrough here, where I REALIZED quite suddenly that to make a good paste what you really need is YOUR PERSONAL SHIL NORA to do this job. If not, the mortar and pestle and about 5-6 minutes of grinding. Otherwise, this dish is a breeze. And if you live in one of those countries where you get poppy seed paste ready made, HAPPY DAYS!
The Rezala is one of those dishes I grew up on. When I was a child, my father would sometimes visit Chandni Chowk, and he would, on very rare occasions, take me to Sabir and get me a plate of mutton/chicken rezala, with a single naan roti. I would soak up the naan roti in the beautiful rich white gravy, and chew slowly, sometimes taking a bite off the single red chilli that came with the comforting broth, swirling milkily in the broth that was a fantasy of rich creamy goodness and hints of heat. The chilli would soak up all the juices, and as I sucked it, the heat would burst into my mouth, a clear taste of tangy yogurt gravy would be immediately chased by the raw flavor of the chilli and the heat… it was a symphony I dreamt of for days afterwards.
So, This is what you do.
STEP ONE: Marinade 1 kilo of chicken pieces, preferably with bones, and cut in large chunks (ideally you should have about 12-15 pieces) in 150 gms of plain yogurt (preferably the one with some fat remaining), 100 gms of onion paste, 1 tsp ginger paste, 2 tsp poppy seed paste, 2 tsp cashew paste (in my kitchen, the onion, ginger and cashew go together with the yogurt in the blender for a 2 minute spin), a big pinch of nutmeg powder, grated freshly, a big pinch of salt and a big pinch of sugar.
STEP TWO: Inside a pressure cooker, heat a bit of refined odorless oil (something like plain sunflower/canola/peanut/safflower/soybean/rice bran oil works), about 2 tbsp worth over medium heat. Roll it around the pan till it coats the sides. The goal is to not make your meat stick. Now, to it add 2 big black cardamoms (boro elach), 2 sticks of cinnamon, 5 cloves, and 6-7 whole dried red chillies. Let the heat seep into the spices till they release their beautiful aroma and make your kitchen smell heavenly.
STEP THREE: Reduce the temperature of the pressure cooker to a simmer and add your chicken, making sure the chicken gets to be spread evenly around and sits on a layer rather than getting lumped up. Pour in whatever marinade left over, and cover the pressure cooker lid, sealing it off. Raise temperature to high and let the pressure come to full force. Reduce heat, and let pressure cook for 15 minutes, or 3 whistles, whichever comes first. Immediately turn off heat and let the pressure cool down. It would take 15-20 minutes for the pressure to cool. RELAX.
STEP FOUR: Combine 4 tbsp milk with a large pinch of saffron and/or a tbsp of kewra water (I omit either one of them because I find that each one has its own brand of smell and taste and mostly overbalances the other) and pour it in. DO NOT HEAT AGAIN at this point. Check for salt, and adjust seasonings accordingly. Now, this dish is not great when the milk curdles, so you can always cook till Step 3 and before eating add Step Four to stop the milk from curdling. Serve with rice, rotis, naan, pita, you name it! Its absolutely beautiful.