Anaarkali Butter Chicken

[Rating:2/5]

When I recently came across a Facebook ad for Anaarkali Butter Chicken, describing it as “the classiest butter chicken on earth”, I couldn’t resist finding out more. A couple of clicks later, I discovered that the product, Anaarkali Butter Chicken, also appeared to be the most expensive butter chicken on earth, at a whopping Rs. 6000 per 650gm dual serving.

Several phone calls and email exchanges later, fellow food blogger Suman Bolar of The FTB Blog and I decided to take an innovative, synergized approach to leveraging the blogging platform with a view to analyzing Anaarkali Butter Chicken as a food product. In non-corporate-speak, people, we’re doing a double-blog feature, a first for both of us.

[singlepic id=659 w=320 h=240 float=left]Assuming you’ve read Part I – Suman’s take on the subject over at The FTB Blog, you now know all about the origin of Butter Chicken and what goes into it. Seeing as we have the original butter chicken on the dais, we’re wondering why Anaarkali Butter Chicken claims to be the ‘Classiest Butter Chicken on Earth’. Considering the general trend in India, that if it’s expensive it must be good, is the price is a factor in making Anaarkali Butter Chicken classy? It must be. Take a look at the ingredients they claim to use in Anaarkali Butter Chicken. To me, it sounded like a culinary version of ‘mine is bigger than yours’.

In case you haven’t read the ingredients list, here it is again, as quoted on the Anaarkali Butter Chicken website:

# Lurpak Unsalted Butter
# Dabur Real Honey
# Hunt’s Tomato Paste
# Taj Mahal Saffron
# Filippo Berio Olive Oil
# President Whipping Cream
# Kraft Parmesan
# Cheese Powder
# Nestle Natural Dahi

[singlepic id=656 w=320 h=240 float=right]I’m not a purist. Many of my dishes can claim to be illegitimate heirs of a classic dish. Even so, I cannot see Anaarkali Butter Chicken as a butter chicken. Then again, going by the Bard’s wisdom, what’s in a name? The taste is what matters, right? As we weren’t about spend 12 big ones on buying two portions of Anaarkali Butter Chicken, we had resigned ourselves to writing about all aspects of Anaarkali Butter Chicken except the taste. In fact, Anaarkali Butter Chicken was to be the October cover story for this blog.

Fate had other things in mind, as usual. Suman and I couldn’t have been more surprised when we were offered an opportunity to taste the ‘classiest butter chicken on earth’  by the promoters of Anaarkali Butter Chicken. Neat.

The 11th of October saw the sun shine on a new day, a Sunday, and all of us were quite enthusiastic about what the ‘classiest butter chicken on earth’ would taste like. The meeting was to be at fellow foodie Ashish Chopra’s house, where he would cook up one of his signature meals – smoked pork curry, salad, and rice. Founders IB Saxena and Padma Prasad dropped in a little after 2pm and we proceeded to talk up a storm on their current obsession – Anaarkali Butter Chicken. The name, BTW, reflects IB’s extreme love for the movie ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, just in case you’re wondering. Let’s get to the meat of the matter now, shall we?

[singlepic id=657 w=320 h=240 float=right]Anaarkali Butter Chicken comes wrapped in a nice paper carton. Nestled within the folds of the wrapping paper is an airtight Borosil container dish that contains the chicken. Believe it or not, it comes with a little quick-start manual, a bigger manual, and a little box with olives, coriander, silver and gold garnish. The Borosil container is yours to keep. The packaging does live up to the ‘classy’ adjective in their tag-line.

Padma insisted on heating and serving the chicken herself. Anaarkali Butter Chicken requires heating in a microwave due to the even distribution of heat. A few minutes later, we stared at the delicious sight of a table laden with a vat of pork curry, crunchy salad, white rice and two bowls of Anaarkali Butter Chicken. “Where’s the naan”, you ask? “Butter chicken can’t be eaten without naan”, you insist. I agree. The location of our house, however, is not conducive to the delivery of breads, especially those that can turn into leather. We settled for white rice to go with our first taste of Anaarkali Butter Chicken.

First off, that pork curry was divine. Ashish has this little bit of magic that he surreptitiously drops into his food when he thinks no one’s looking. Swirling it around a pitted metal cooking utensil, he transforms a simple bit of smoked pork, spinach, onions and spices into a dish fit for the gods. I swear you can see a little bit of magical residue twinkling under the last piece of pork in the bowl, shimmering in between the little layer of oil that floats above the gravy, in the delicate texture of the smoked pork fat and coating your fingers just before you lick them clean – pure magic! If you’re ever lucky enough to be invited to Ashish’s house for this meal, please do not use a fork or spoon. Use your fingers. Mix the curry with the rice. Savor the way the pork comes apart easily and still retains its bite. Using your fingers also brings with it the added advantage of your being able to lick them later. Watch out for pieces of Raja Mircha or Bhoot Jholokia. Avoid. It’s the hottest chili in the world and you would do well to keep it out of your mouth.

I loaded my plate with rice and a ladle full of Anaarkali Butter Chicken and walked over to the corner where Ashish was seated. As you must know by now, Suman loved the stuff and had adequately conveyed her opinion on the matter. Despite my cynism on the larger subject of Butter Chicken as a concept, I did expect a great taste and was all prepared for an explosion of flavors, succulent chicken and creamy textures on my palate.

[singlepic id=654 w=320 h=240 float=left]As I consumed the first mouthful, I waited for a burst of ecstasy and the inevitable moan a moment later. Nothing. Except for a faint buttery after-taste, there wasn’t anything I could remotely describe as classy, creamy, or didlyumptious. Thinking I must have been mistaken, I took a bite of the chicken this time. Plain vanilla, well cooked, boneless chicken without much flavor was all I could taste. There wasn’t a hint of Suman’s ecstatic merely enthusiastic description of ‘succulent, delicious chicken’, though she had mentioned her husband thought it was average for Delhi. The feeling wasn’t unlike that felt by a little boy who’s been gifted a School Textbook instead of the remote controlled plane he was expecting. I recall sitting there, taking little bites and wondering where was the ambrosial taste as described by the Anaarkali Butter Chicken website, by testimonials on the site and most importantly, by Suman herself.

“I must have been mistaken”, I thought. “Better try it again”, I decided and proceeded to drink a glass a water before helping myself to another small serving of rice and Anaarkali Butter Chicken. Unfortunately, it was the same – unremarkable chicken in an unremarkable gravy with a faint buttery after-taste.

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While I do appreciate the effort put in by the creators of Anaarkali Butter Chicken, and their passion for creating the ‘classiest butter chicken in the world’, IMO Anaarkali Butter Chicken doesn’t measure up and at best would be par for the course… a very expensive course.

– Sid

Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at sid.khullar@chefatlarge.in.