When I graduated from law school, my future sister-in-law bought me an autographed copy of Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran. When I opened it, something in my gut told me that she got the book at the urging of my now husband. A cookbook focused on making dal, naan, and lassi, isn’t exactly what comes to mind as the gift for a recent law grad. But, my sister-in-law is an unconventional woman. Frankly, I’ve tried my hand at more recipes in the book than words I’ve looked up in Black’s Law Dictionary. One word of advice however, if you are going to buy a cookbook for someone who really cooks, don’t spend extra money for an autographed copy. The true sign of a cookbook are those drops of water, oil, and spices that grace the pages of a well-worn cookbook. In the beginning, I felt bad about this because the book was autographed and the pages were glossy and beautiful, but now I see it as my way paying tribute.
So, back to the Chicken Tikka. First, I should disclose that my Indian food just isn’t that good. I mean it’s fine and edible, but I lack the time and gusto for Good Indian Food. Good Indian Food takes some skill, time, and gusto. The truth of the matter is, I am a little short on all three when it comes to Indian food. It would be fantastic if I always planned ahead enough to marinate overnight, clarify butter, and let things simmer on end. I don’t. I also lack the gusto to use all the butter and oil it really requires to make this stuff good. For example, the recipe below uses non-fat greek yogurt instead of heavy cream. Would it be better with heavy cream? You bet. Nonetheless, I keep giving these recipes a try because it’s the only way I’ll get better at them. Plus, this one is another check off of the Food List Challenge.
CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA (BUTTER CHICKEN) – Food List Challenge No. 19
For the marinade:
4 garlic cloves
fresh ginger, about 2 inch piece, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon garam masala (I used store bought)
¼ cup plain yogurt (I used non-fat)
For the sauce:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (Saran instructs us to cut these crosswise into thirds, but I didn’t read closely and I cut my chicken into 1 inch pieces, which still worked)
1 red onion, cut into large chunks
4 garlic cloves
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/3 cup oil (I used olive oil, Saran recommends canola oil)
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ½ pounds tomatoes, pureed in a food process (I used 3 medium-large size tomatoes)
½ cup plain yogurt (Saran calls for heavy cream, but we already went over my reservations on that)
For the Marinade:
Combine the ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Then toss in the chicken and marinate for at least an hour, but ideally overnight.
For the Sauce:
Puree the onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor, then set aside. Heat oil and cinnamon stick in a large saucepan (I used my trusty Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Heat the cinnamon, stirring occasionally until it unfurls, about 1-2 minutes.
Add the pureed onion, garlic and ginger and the salt, stirring until the mixture is a light golden brown. This step can take about 20 minutes and you can add 1 teaspoon of water at a time to scrape up the brown bits if the onion starts to stick.
Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne and stir for 1 minute.
Add the pureed tomatoes.
Stir and simmer until the oil separates, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. In a steady stream, add the yogurt or cream and stir. Turn the heat back on, bring to a simmer and turn the heat off.
Set the chicken in a single layer on a drip tray, or if you have to, on a foil lined baking sheet. Discard the remaining marinade. Cover with foil and bake until tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Place the chicken into the sauce, stir gently and warm over medium heat for 5 minutes. Serve hot.
I served this with couscous and peas and the Cauliflower in a Piquant Tomato Sauce also in Suvir’s book. The next time I make this, I’m going skip making the chicken in the oven. Instead, I’ll try browning the chicken in the Dutch Oven first, then setting aside the chicken. Then I’m going to make the sauce as directed and placing the browned chicken back into the sauce at the end. Modifications aside, this turned out decently for an amateur, but it doesn’t quite compare to our favorite Indian restaurant.