Hungama Hens with a Side of Cultural Appropriation?

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Like the name of my recipe and the obvious nod to Bollywood?

Masala films are essentially Bollywood films that draw from numerous genres and follow a formula of songs, dancing, and storylines that appeal to a broader audience. 

This hen recipe was inspired by masala films.


I wanted to jump on the bandwagon and play off the kitschiness of India’s tinsel town. I mean, I can do that because I’m brown…right?

More on that later. 

Let’s get some food on the table to fuel our food for thought. *Shifting gears completely* and *tightening apron strings*

Recipe Directions

I recommend this dish for smaller dinner parties as popular wisdom typically allocates one hen per guest.

Reserving one hen per person is aggressive but hey, better safe than sorry!

How much you allocate will also depend on the appetite of your guests and what other food you are serving alongside your hen.

This recipe is for 2 hens, each weighing about 5 pounds. 

I also recommend marinating your birds overnight so the spices completely permeate the meat and the sour cream has ample time to tenderize it.

Can’t do that overnight? OK. At the very least, marinate it for 4 to 5 hours, cool?

If your hens are frozen solid, it’s best to let them thaw in the refrigerator 48 hours before you cook it. This gives it a chance to thaw and then another day for you to keep it marinated.

To create your marinade you’ll need:

1/4 cup sour cream
2-inch piece ginger, grated
½ bunch cilantro
½ red onion (reserve the other half for the next step)
4 garlic pods
2 black cardamom
1 small cinnamon stick
3 cloves
1 ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chili
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

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Puree the sour cream with spices until you get a smooth paste. Slather the marinade onto the Cornish hens and then transfer them to an extra-large plastic bag.  

Pour remaining marinade into the bag as well and shake vigorously until both hens are covered in the mixture. You can keep the marinated hens in the same bag in the refrigerator overnight.  

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Once you’re ready to cook your hens, you’ll want to remove it from the refrigerator and preheat your oven to 400 F degrees.

You should have half of a red onion reserved; slice this and put alongside Cornish hens in a roasting pan. 

Make sure to get all the marinade from the plastic bag and put it in the pan, too, as it’ll help keep the meat moist while cooking.

Add ¼ cup chicken broth to the pan as well.

Cook uncovered for 70 minutes

Baste the hens throughout roasting using the pan drippings and broth already in the pan.

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Once cooked, the skin should be a crisp golden-brown. Make sure to use a thermometer to check the temperature of the hens.

Insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh and make sure it registers 180 degrees.

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You’re not done yet. 

We’re gonna make some masala gravy out of ’em beautiful pan drippins.

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To make the gravy, cool the pan drippins completely and then puree it. 

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Next you’ll want to round up the following:

3 tablespoons white flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup chicken broth
pureed pan drippings

Heat a sauce pan over medium to high heat. Add butter; once melted, add the flour and stir until smooth.

Stir constantly to prevent scorching. 

Cook and stir for 1 minute. Add chicken broth and puree and whisk constantly so there are no lumps, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add more broth if you desire a wetter gravy.

Remove from heat and transfer to a gravy boat.

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There you have it. 

Now lemme share with you all my brain drippins and what’s marinating in my noggin. Let’s get to REAL meat of this post, shall we? 

My social media newsfeed and, in general, the Interwebs have Bollywood and cultural appropriation on its mind more so than usual thanks to Fuller House‘s Bollywood episode. 

I have yet to see it, though I have seen a few images from the episode in question. It looks like Party City spat up its Halloween Bollywood costume on set.

Check out Buzzfeed’s article to get up to speed to what I’m referencing.

I won’t comment on Fuller House episode simply because I haven’t watched it. 

What I will comment on is cultural appropriation at large with the question of gatekeeper.

By definition, cultural appropriation is:

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I’m fascinated by the Indian Diaspora’s place in the debate of appropriation and what constitutes it. 

You see, we “ABCDs” are of two cultures, are we not?  

I feel that way at least. I’ve always contended that I come from two cultures – that of Western and South Asian culture. But what part of each culture can I say I “own” and who determines ownership?

What parts of my Tennessee upbringing and Odia heritage can I lay claim to as my own to share without blurring the lines of sharing my hyphenated culture and exploiting/romanticising/othering it for my own profit and gain? 

Am I, too, guilty of appropriating Indian culture in that my artisitic muses are derived from a country and peoples that I do not live in and around?

Every single question I aired are things I ponder but, I’ll be honest, have yet to arrive at a hard conclusion. 

Here are a few striking articles that have been shared with me as I wrap my head around “cultural retention” versus “cultural reinvention” and “appropriation” (Janell Hobson).

Between Diasporic Consciousness and Cultural Appropriation by Janell Hobson

Beyond Bindis: Why Cultural Appropriation Matters by Jaya Bedi

The Fine Line Between Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Diffusion by Rachel Eckhardt

And finally, food and appropriation:

Stop Thinking and Just Eat: When Food Adventuring Trivializes Culture by Ashlie Stevens

I encourage you to share your own thoughts, blog posts, musings, and studies with me as well.

Time for me to go chew on some things.

Hit me up on Friday to read about a fellow New Yorker and talented restaurateur who admittingly uses snark and satire to sell the kitsch of Bollywood as the backdrop for delicious desi street foods.

Over and out for now, Folks!