Fresh: Chicken Tikka Masala

Why haven’t any of those other Tikka Masala recipes been quite right? The key ingredient: FRESH tomatoes.

Indian flag India

THE RAMBLE: WINNER FOR TEAM KOREA!

LET’S TALK ABOUT “outposts”.  According to the amazing recipe book Curry Cuisine, most Indian dishes we love are not really traditional dishes found in India, but are dishes made by Indian people living in other parts of the world, -Indian outposts-, i.e. the UK. Butter Chicken, Chicken Korma, Rogan Josh, etc. all are traced back to these outposts. In my go-to Indian recipe book and provider of this recipe, Indian for Everyone by Anupy Singla, the rumor is that this dish was created by the combining grilled chicken, tomatoes, cream, and spices, and that everyone basically claims it started it their towns from Glasgow to Birmingham to London. Whatever is the real story, or how it came about, “we’re so glad it did,” as Singla says.

LET’S TALK ABOUT the other half-dozen recipes I tried before I found this one. Every other recipe I tried would be from horrible to close, but not any other one had the freshness I was looking for that restaurant quality Tikka Masala had. I wondered if it was lemons, or more coriander, I tried so many spice combinations but still, something was missing. I got this recipe book for my husband for Christmas last year and finally, this had what I was looking for. Duh. Of course. Of course FRESH tomatoes was the answer! All other recipes used canned tomatoes. After trying this and feeling like I had solved the biggest mystery in the world, I saw the Mind of a Chef Curry episode with April Bloomfield and she cooks Tikka Masala with renowned Indian actress and cook Madhur Jaffrey and they also grate fresh tomatoes for their version, which I have in my list of recipes to try. I also realized from that episode that Tikka means grilled meat on a stick, so you can change the meat to lamb. I do, however, use America’s Test Kitchen’s Chicken Tikka recipe because it’s just a little less hands on and just easier. Singla adds soaked toasted almonds to her sauce, but I usually omit that, since I don’t really notice a huge different in taste or texture and I’m just really cheap. So, sauce from one recipe, the Tikka from another, and this is my perfect recipe. So why do we love this dish? It is a fresh, spicy, rich, smooth, and perfectly balanced sauce with tender bits of meat. Enough said.

THE REVIEW:

Need a unique dessert with Indian flavors? Try my And Now For Something Completely Different: Fusion | Garam Masala Cinnamon Rolls with Rosewater Icing (1.5 hrs!) or just make this along with Treat Yo’ Self! Aziz and Fatima Ansari’s Chicken Korma.

WHO YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT making great Indian food: fellow WordPress blogger Rani and his blog India’s Unsurpassed Cuisine who also shares the research done on health benefits of Indian food, Anupy Singla , author of Indian for Everyone, my go-to Indian cookbook with all the classics, British food columnist Mallika Basu @MallikaBasu_ of Quick Indian Cooking , Madhur Jaffrey @madhursworld of England’s program Curry Nation, Farrukh Aziz and her blog Cubes N Juliennes, and for someone to blow your mind and everything you thought about Indian food, Chef Gaggan Anan @GAGGANBANGKOK of Gaggan.

THE RECIPE:

Fresh: Chicken Tikka Masala

Fresh: Chicken Tikka Masala. Winner for Team Korea!

Chicken Tikka Masala

about 1 hour total.

Chicken Tikka

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, easy fuss, for 2 chicken breasts, 5 minutes hands on, about 45 min-1 hr total.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp cayenne

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 TBS neutral oil, such as sunflower

1 TBS pressed/grated/minced ginger

2 medium garlic cloves, pressed/grated/minced

  1. In a pie tin or other wide dish, whisk together yogurt, oil, ginger and garlic. Set aside.
  2. Combine salt, cumin, coriander, and cayenne in a small bowl. With paper towels, pat the chicken dry then sprinkle each side evenly with spice mixture. Gently press the spices into the meat, so it adheres well to the chicken. Add chicken to the yogurt mixture, cover meat evenly with yogurt, then cover with plastic and place in the fridge at least 30 minutes prior to cooking.

Masala

Adapted from Indian for Everyone, serves 3-4, medium-a lot of great fuss, about 45 mins to make.

1 TBS ghee (or 1/2 TBS oil 1/2 TBS butter)

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 large white or yellow onion, diced medium

1 TBS + 1 pinch salt, divided

one 2″ piece of ginger, peeled then grated/pressed/minced

10 cloves garlic, grated/pressed/minced

4 large tomatoes, cut in half then grated, or peeled with serrated peeler

1 heaping TBS tomato paste

1+ serrano or jalapeño chile, minced (as many to your taste)

6 green cardamom pods, crushed *(about 1 tsp ‘seeds’ or 1/4 tsp ground cardamom)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp Indian Kashmir chile powder or cayenne pepper

1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds soaked in 1 cup boiling water (optional)

about 1/4 cup heavy cream (or to taste)

2 tsp paprika

pinch of brown sugar, if needed

cilantro/coriander leaves, steamed basmati rice and naan bread, to serve

  1. Start the Chicken Tikka (2 options): (a) adjust the oven rack 6″ from your broiler, turn broiler onto high. Line a baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack on top. Place coated chicken onto the wire rack, discard remaining yogurt. Place everything under the broiler until the chicken reaches 160 degrees F, 10-18 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through. The chicken should be charred. (b) Cook chicken in a dry grill pan over medium-high heat, 10-18 minutes, flipping halfway through, till the chicken reaches 160 degrees F. Discard remaining yogurt. The chicken should be caramelized/charred.
  2. While the chicken is cooking, start the Masala sauce. In a large pot, warm the ghee over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and turmeric and stir and cook until the seeds sizzle, about 45 seconds. Add the onion and pinch of salt and cook about 4 minutes, until they start to get a little color, stirring occasionally. Then add ginger and garlic and cook about 1 minute.
  3. Add the minced chile, cardamom, cinnamon, salt, black pepper, and Kashmir chile powder. Stir about 30 seconds, until everything is fragrant. Then add tomatoes and tomato paste, stir together and bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients become homogenous and the oil separates.
  4. Meanwhile, check on your chicken tikka. If cooked through in the thickest part of the breast, remove from oven/grill pan and let cool at lest 5 minutes.
  5. Once the oil starts to separate, add your soaked almonds and the soaking water, if using. Cook 5 more minutes.
  6. Remove the Masala sauce from heat and blend everything with an immersion blender or transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Cut up the chicken tikka into medium-small cubes. Return mixture to large pot and mix in heavy cream, then add chicken and paprika. Fold in, then warm everything through over medium heat, about 3 minutes. Taste to see if it needs any brown sugar to balance anything metallic tasting or anything too tart (I never need to). Serve with rice, naan, and coriander leaves.
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