The Bar is Open, and so is the kitchen. Can I get you anything?
Today we are having चिकन टिक्का मसाला; Chicken Tikka Masala. Tikka means ‘chunks’, Masala means ‘mixture of spices’. According to some Foodies, this dish was created by accident in the Punjab less than 50 years ago. It has evolved and now there are as many ways to make it as there are dialects in India. There is no right or wrong way, experiment and prepare it as you like. It has evolved into Britain’s most popular ‘Pub Food’. The first time i had it was at my favorite Indian restaurant in Berlin. I lived on Tikka and on Tandoori Chicken from my favorite (from the linked post + new material):
The first introduction to Indian food I had was in Berlin. There was a small hole in the wall Indian place a couple of blocks away from the BASC near the center of the city. I was out for a walk one afternoon and caught the aroma…the love of Indian food began at that moment! Fortunately, the ‘old man’ spoke English, because at that time my German was very weak. He eventually showed me how to make the recipes that they served. I would moonlight in their kitchen once in a while in exchange for the lessons. Between the full blown kitchen at the BASC, the Indians, the Spanish/Portuguese place at the end of the block, the Turkish Donner Kebab joint around the corner, and the most excellent Szechuan Restaurant at the next U-Bahn stop, I was set for 3 years of good Foodie Stuff!
My version (which changes every time I cook it) is based on the ‘Chicken Tikka’ that comes from Namsai Express. Namsai Express isn’t a ‘proper’ restaurant, it is a mobile kitchen, a food truck that still operates at the University of Pittsburgh. Every day when I had class from my Sophomore year as an undergraduate through Graduate School they were first choice for lunch. I still have them on speed dial because once in a while the Puti and I will do the two hour round trip to get a big mess of chicken tikka or tandoori chicken, basmati rice, and some naan. The immigrant husband and wife team from the extreme Eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh put in 16 hour days 6 days a week to run that business and all of their food is fantastic.
Lets Get Started:
This dish can be a healthy as you like depending how you prepare it and what ingredients you use. Today I am using 3 pounds of de-boned, skinless, chicken breast. One could also use lamb, fish, or even paneer. Chicken breast works best here fro me. Also, there is heavy cream in the sauce, that can be omitted or replaced with low fat milk. Granted, it wont be as rich and yummy, but it will still be good. So today I will use some light cream sparingly. I like to add some chick peas to the mix both to extend the dish and add a nice texture. This dish can be as spicy as you like. The heat is controlled by using a good hot Sauce like Dave’s Insanity, or Blair’s Death Sauce. I use either with my own which is made form Habaneros that we grow. You can omit the hot sauces and if you like. However, this dish should have at least a little heat.
There will be Garam Masala, so Here is the review: Indian food is defined by the use of many, many spices. the dishes can range from hot to mild but they are always the most flavorful of all cuisines. The base spices for Indian Cuisine are referred to as Garam Massala; Hetal and Anuja explain the basics of Garam Masala, feel free to deviate and experiment:
Garam Masala may also be purchased at your Indian Grocer or on line.
The marinade: Into a bowl: Cube the chicken into bite sized pieces. Add enough yogurt to cover the chicken, juice of a lemon. Add all to taste: Garam Masala, cumin, cardamon, cloves, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne . I use my Habanero sauce here and use a vacuum marinade container that cuts marinate time dramatically. Refrigerate for at least an hour, the longer the better up to 12 hours. You can also skip this part and cook the chicken pieces with the onion at the beginning of cooking and build the sauce in the same pan if you are in a hurry.
Remember, the point of this dish is to simply add chicken pieces to a spiced sauce. Keep it simple or get complicated. It’s up to you.
At The Stove
Slice up and onion into small pieces. Start some peanut oil or ghee in medium heat in a heavy bottom 8 or so quart pot and sweat the onion. Once it becomes somewhat see through increase the heat and add the chicken from the marinade leaving the extra marinade behind. Get that cooking and add a cup or two of water and 6 oz tomato paste (I like this touch, it can be left out) Then start adding the spices to taste: Garam Masala, garlic, cumin, paprika, cilantro, just a pinch of kosher salt, cayenne, some curry powder and turmeric if you like. the HOT stuff we talked about earlier, and some cream or yogurt for sauce texture. Add the chick peas last if you like. The sauce should start out watery and cook down as the chicken cooks and extra water evaporates, Simmer for 30 minutes or so stirring often until the chicken is done and the sauce is at a nice thick consistency.
Granted, this is not the easiest recipe to make, it requires a lot of work and access to many spices. Experiment! All you have to do is marry some chicken pieces with a sauce and serve over rice, No Problem! So, go get an Indian Cookbook (or go here) take the recipes to your local Indian Grocer and get busy exploring this most wonderful of the World’s Cuisines.