If you are a desi or… love the spicy Pakistani/Indian food, I assure you, this Lahori Chargha recipe is made for you.
Chargha means Chicken in Pushto and Lahori chargha originates from the city of Lahore in Pakistan. Its made with whole chicken with skin removed and deep cuts added, marinated in some very aromatic spices. And then steamed plus fried to cook. You sprinkle lots of chat masala and lemon on top of it, dip it in some mint chutney and smack your lips with every bite.
This has been one my faaaaaavourite chicken recipes to make for dawats (get togethers) and seeing that we live here in Jeddah, I haven’t even found a place which serves authentic Lahori Chargha so I end up always making it at home. But honestly, its so basic, I don’t mind really mind either.
You can of course change the method of final cooking to your liking (baking or airfrying) But the traditional way is to steam and fry. Also F.Y.I a good chargha is soooo hard to photograph, I can’t even begin to tell you. So please bare with the pictures that I could come up with.
How to make Pakistani Lahori Chargha step by step
Preparing the chicken
First things first. You gotta remove the skin of the chicken if it hasn’t been removed already. Second, wash it thoroughly and add deep horizontal cuts along its length and legs. To get rid of any chicken smell and blood, I like to treat my chicken with vinegar for 15 mins. And then I pat my chicken dry with a paper towel and get it ready to be marinated.
Marinating the Chargha
The quantities for the spice mix in this recipe are ideal for a chicken that weighs about 1 to 2 kg ( 3 to 4 lbs). If you are using a bigger bird, increase all the spices and salt by 2 pinches.
The marinade for this Lahori chargha is very basic, although you might need to ground some of your spices to create this marinade. It has salt, an egg, some lemon juice, yogurt, a little bit of food color, and a few ground Pakistani spices. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl to form a smooth paste.
TIP: Wear gloves to rub the marinade on the chicken to avoid your fingers from staining with the red color.
Rub the Chargha spice mix thoroughly all over the chicken. Make sure you get all the deep cuts and edges etc. Be gentle and give your chicken the spa massage of its life! Also make sure to get the cavity as well.
Cover the chicken and leave it in the fridge to marinate.
Chicken, unlike beef or mutton is inherently tasteless. So in order for the marinade to work well, the longer you leave it, the better. I leave the chicken in the fridge to marinate overnight, but you can get away with 8 hours too.
Cooking the Pakistani Lahori Chargha
When you are ready to cook the chicken, remove it from the fridge at least 30 mins before and bring it down to room temperature. Tie the legs of the chicken together with a string and use a toothpick or a BBQ stick to attach the wings of the chicken to its body.
Attaching the wings to the body of the chicken prevents the wings from overcooking and turning black while frying. The browning of the wings remains even and it doesn’t dry out either.
Lahori chargha is steamed first and then deep fried to finish cooking. But you can chose alternate methods to finish cooking. If you have an instant pot or a food ninja, you can easily steam your chicken on the rack on it. The method I’ve chose here is super basic so you can make this happen without any fancy appliances too!
Use a pot big enough to cover the chicken. Preferably, a thick bottomed pot, or if you only have regular pots, use a griddle or a tava below the pot to prevent direct heating from the stove. Cut 3 to 4 onions in halves or quarters and place them on the bottom of the pot with about 1/4 cup of oil.
Place the chargha on top of the onions and cover with a lid. Turn on the heat at full flame for about 5 mins and then reduce to medium low flame. Let the chicken cook for about 25 to 30 mins.
Important: If your chicken weighs more than 2 kg, increase your time for steaming by 10 mins for every additional kg (e.g. 40 mins of steaming for a 3 kg chicken)
Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Your steamed Lahori Chargha would look something like this.
Bonus: The onions at the bottom of the pan would have released considerable amounts of water and has also cooked in the awesome spices. I’ve only added onions, but you can also add other ingredients at the bottom that you enjoy with your chicken (like some garlic for flavor, potatoes or green chilies etc)
Handle the chicken very carefully now as it is going to be tender. Add oil to a pot with enough depth to cover half of the chicken. Use a strong grip tong to place your chicken in hot oil and fry on both sides for 6 mins each.
Dish the chicken out on a platter or on a bed of rice, and sprinkle some chat masala generously along with some lemon juice. Digggg in my friends!!
Alternates, Fixes and Remixes.
The steaming step remains constant in all cooking methods, but you can finish cooking by either baking or using an air fryer.
For baking – Coat the steamed chicken generously with a layer of ghee. Bake at 200 C for 20 mins max. in middle rack of the oven. Open the grill on top as well. 10 mins on one side and then switch.
- If you’ve fried your chicken and it still turns out undercooked (although unlikely) Just steam it for another 15 mins at medium high heat.
- If your chicken feels underseasoned or the salt level seems low, pair with yogurt dip or rice and prepare them with a slightly high level of salt. Or you can also sprinkle some extra chat masala and salt on your chicken to compensate.
You can use the same method to cook smaller pieces of chicken. If you are using smaller chicken pieces or tikka cuts, you will only need to steam them for 15 mins max.
Smoke the chicken – If you like the flavor of smoked chicken, you can add a piece of coal to give it a nice charred flavor while steaming.
What to do with left overs?
- Use for pizza toppings
- Make pasta
- Use the chicken to make open sandwiches
- Use this chicken to create Chicken Fajita wraps
- Use as a topping for desi chicken Nachos