Friday, May 14, 2010

Spiced Up Chicken Tikka Masala

It's probably pretty hypocritical of me to follow up my Kung Pao chicken post with possibly the most famous faux ethnic dish in existence, chicken tikka masala. But I can't help myself. Chicken tikka masala is what first turned me onto Indian food. It's a creamy, savory, and spicy concoction that, properly prepared, can taste just as complex and layered as an authentic Indian curry.

Traditionally this dish does not have the fiery heat of a vindaloo or that other Anglicized Indian dish, phal, but you know I had to fix that. I used a mixture of fresh chilies and my magic ingredient: Indian red chili powder. I use this spice so much when I cook, that my husband actually joked: We'd better hope there's nothing unhealthy in it. Uh, whoops. I guess I should switch over to domestically-grown chili powder at some point.

I've made this recipe with both cream and whole milk. The cream is more traditional, but I hardly ever have any in the house and it makes the whole dish milder anyway, which means adding even more lead-laced chili powder to balance things out. I also changed the recipe a bit to make this a one-pot dish, but you can certainly grill the chicken separately and add it to the warmed sauce as Jamie Oliver suggests in the original recipe. You will also need a small pan to heat the mustard seeds. Whenever I cook Indian food, I find it useful to dedicate one small pan to toasting spices and making tarkas anyway. Just give it a quick wipe with a damp cloth or paper towel between uses.

Spiced Up Chicken Tikka Masala (adapted from Jamie's Dinners, by Jamie Oliver)
Please note, as with most of the recipes on this site, the amount of chili indicated is way above average. Unless you are the kind of person who has developed multiple strategies for ordering spicy food in Mexican, Thai, and Indian restaurants, start with half of the amount suggested and work up from there. 

6 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 inches of fresh ginger, peeled
4-5 fresh chilies (I used serranos that had turned red from sitting around for a week)
Olive oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon hot paprika
1 tablespooon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons garam masala
1½ tablespoons of Indian red chili powder (or cayenne)
¾ cup plain yogurt
1 whole chicken, skinless, deboned, and cut into bite-sized chunks (freeze the wings and carcass for chicken broth)
1 tablespoon ghee or butter
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced finely
2 tablespoons of tomato paste (you can freeze the rest)
Salt to taste
½ cup of whole milk or heavy cream
Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1-2 limes

1. Toss the garlic, ginger (cut it into a few pieces first) and chilies into a food processor and blitz until it's a coarse paste. You could also mince them all with a knife, if you're not lazy like I am.

2. Heat a splash of oil in a small frying pan and add the mustard seeds. Once they begin to pop (after about 30 seconds), add them to your ginger/garlic/chili paste. Then add all your spices (paprika, cumin, coriander, garam masala, and chili powder). Now. Pay attention. If I told you that I messed this part up not once, but twice, would that make you respect me less? Take half of the spice mixture, I repeat, HALF, and add it to a bowl or ziplock bag large enough to hold your chicken pieces. Add the yogurt, mix everything together, and marinate the chicken in this for half an hour or so. This would be a good time to get another dish started, like dal or raita.

3. After the chicken has been marinated for a bit, take a large pot or dutch oven, melt the ghee or butter in it, and add the sliced onions. Now, picture my expression when I got to the next step and saw that I was supposed to add the other half of the spice mix—you know, the half I remembered to save—to the onions. Cut to me frantically preparing a new batch of spice mix and making a very unhappy face. Add the half of the spice mix that you, genius that you are, were smart enough to set aside.

4. Cook the onions and spices for 8 minutes or so over medium heat. Then add the chicken pieces and brown them on all sides for another 8 minutes. 

5. Now add the tomato paste, 2½ cups of water, and salt to taste. Place a lid on the pot, turn the heat down to medium low, and let the whole thing simmer for 30-45 minutes.

6. Just before serving, stir in the milk (or cream), chopped cilantro, and lime juice.

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