Chicken maivahlans fits into that category of baked dishes that are offered at nearly every stylish Bombay dinner party: all extravagant things in a cheesy, creamy sauce. (Maivahlans means “mother’s favorite.”) I didn’t understand why chicken maivahlans was treated with such reverence until I made it myself and realized what an extravagance it must have been in an India where raisins and nuts had become expensive imported luxuries following import restrictions.
This recipe is a distillation of several versions, with our own household’s additions and subtractions. The conventional Parsi way of serving chicken maivahlans is to break a whole egg for each eater on top of the creamy chicken and then bake it. I don’t like this approach for two reasons: You don’t really need that extra egg per person, and furthermore, by the time the cream and chicken are baked, rather than simply warmed up in the oven, the eggs are several stages beyond overcooked. A simple egg-and-cream custard topped with sliced almonds is very good, but this version, my favorite, captures the sweet and savory flavors of the chicken cooking liquid in the cream sauce.
The quantities here are for a baking dish large enough to serve eight to ten people, about the size of something you’d make lasagna in. You can assemble the elements ahead of time, leaving the beating of the egg whites and the final baking to the last hour or so before serving dinner. Let the dish stand for ten to fifteen minutes before eating it. As a great lover of room-temperature food, I don’t mind letting it stand for an hour.
Chicken maivahlans is very, very rich, so my favorite accompaniment is bitter greens cooked with ginger. Something like lacinato kale (an Italian heirloom kale) gives you the drama of a starkly contrasting color. Lightly dressed watercress or garden cress is a good option. You don’t need a starch because of the potatoes in the dish, but offer a crusty baguette for those who like to nibble on something alongside.
Dessert should be something sharp and tart—either a fruit ice such as pomegranate, which would be very much in the Persian mood, or oranges glacées, or just cold mandarins.
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