roast chicken

This whole roast chicken, murgh musallam, is immensely popular in the north and north-eastern parts of India. Another example of Mughlai cuisine, it is also one of those dishes that has travelled the world but would rarely be seen in this home-cooked style.

It is mildly spiced, with a thick, rich yoghurt and tomato sauce. As described here it is a showpiece dish served on a bed of special rice.

There are many variations possible with this dish. The stuffing described in the recipe is simple, but you can get creative here. One of the stuffing variations is to use a very soft-boiled egg. Reduce the amount of rice and place the egg into the cavity.

You could also get more complex with the rice. It is common to use saffron. Steep some saffron in 50ml of warm milk and when you turn the rice into the oven dish, pour this infused milk over the rice.

roast chicken on a bed of rice.
murgh musallam on rice

You must wrap the chicken properly in the foil. Join two sheets by folding them together with a seam. That seam goes to the bottom and allows you to bring the sides up over the chicken to seal it. Then it is easier to open this sealed pouch for the final browning stage. When you open the foil pouch, fold the edges back over the baking dish ensuring no juices can escape.

You could simplify this recipe and leave out the rice. This will still give a wonderful roast chicken, but without some of the wow factor.

the recipe

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  • 1.5 kg chicken - free range

for the marinade

for the rice and stuffing

  • 400 g basmati rice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup almonds
  • ½ cup dried fruit - finely diced (see notes)
  • ½ lemon

for the masala

to serve


  • Dry the chicken, then lightly score the skin to allow marinade to soak in. Set aside whilst preparing the marinade.

for the marinade

  • Put the yoghurt, ginger, garlic, turmeric, chilli powder, garam masala, black pepper, salt and lemon juice into a large bowl and mix well.
  • Place the chicken into the bowl and work the marinade into the surface and cavity. Cover, and set aside in a refrigerator for at least two hours, but overnight is better.

for the rice and stuffing

  • Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add rice and salt and stir. Cook until rice is about half cooked – you should just be able to break a grain with your fingernails. Using a slotted spoon, take ½ cup of the rice from the pot, drain using a sieve, then set aside in a bowl for the stuffing.
  • Add half the almonds and dried fruit to the remaining rice in the pot and cook for a further minute or so. The rice should still be a little undercooked.
  • Remove from heat, drain using a sieve, and when moist, but not wet, turn into an oven-proof dish, cover tightly and set aside.
  • For the stuffing, add the remaining almonds and fruit to the reserved rice and mix well. Set aside.

for the masala

  • Place the ginger and garlic into a food processor, and using as little water as possible, blend to a thick paste.
  • Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add the oil. When hot add the onions, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring often until onions become golden brown – around ten minutes.
  • Carefully add the ginger and garlic paste and cook until raw garlic smell has gone, or around five minutes.
  • Add the pureed tomatoes, turmeric, Kashmiri chilli powder, and black pepper. Mix well and cook for five minutes or until tomatoes soften.
  • Reduce the heat to low and carefully add the yoghurt one tablespoon at a time, mixing well before adding the next spoonful. Cook, stirring frequently, for around five minutes or until the sauce is smooth and starting to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside until cool enough to handle.

to cook

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  • Stuff the chicken with the rice, nut and fruit mixture, pressing firmly. Place the lemon half, cut side inwards to seal the cavity and use skewers or toothpicks to close it. Use kitchen twine to tie the legs together.
  • Place the chicken on aluminium foil and cover with the sauce. Fold the foil up over the chicken and place into a baking dish just large enough to hold the chicken. Refer to the notes below.
  • Place into the oven and cook for one hour.
  • Remove the chicken from the oven and carefully open then fold back the foil. Spoon the accumulated liquid over the chicken and return to oven. Place the covered oven dish with rice in the oven at the same time. Increase oven to 200C.
  • Cook the chicken and rice for a further 30 minutes, basting the chicken in the juices every 10 minutes or so. By this time the juices should have thickened considerably, and the chicken should be a golden brown.
  • Remove rice and chicken from oven.

to serve

  • Turn the rice onto a platter in a ring, leaving some space in the middle for the chicken.
  • Carefully remove the chicken from the foil, place into the middle of the platter and remove skewers and twine. Remove the lemon half from the chicken cavity, set to one side of the platter, and gently ease some of the stuffing out of the chicken.
  • Pour any remaining sauce from the foil pouch over the chicken, then garnish with the sliced green chilli, almonds and coriander. Serve.


  • 400g of uncooked rice is approximately two metric cups.
  • We use dried tropical fruit for the rice and stuffing. Dried mango and papaya work well.
  • It is important to wrap the chicken properly in the foil. Join two sheets by folding them together with a seam. That seam goes to the bottom and allows you to bring the sides up over the chicken to seal it. Then it is easier to open this sealed pouch for the final browning stage.

private notes

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Serving: 275 g | Calories: 718 kcal | Carbohydrates: 107 g | Protein: 17 g | Fat: 26 g | Saturated Fat: 11 g | Cholesterol: 9 mg | Sodium: 1272 mg | Potassium: 806 mg | Fiber: 8 g | Sugar: 11 g | Vitamin A: 1120 IU | Vitamin C: 30.4 mg | Calcium: 229 mg | Iron: 3.1 mg

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