Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chicken Tikka Masala

A few years ago if anyone said the words "Chicken Tikka Masala" to me, I'd have been clueless. But now I know it all too well. My husband somehow formed a slight obsession with this dish. He worked with a few guys who introduced him to Indian food by taking him to an authentic Indian restaurant frequently for lunch. To say he liked it is an understatement. We eventually moved away from that town, and my husband really misses that restaurant. I never did make it there to try it for myself, having assumed that I wouldn't like it.

Shortly after we moved to North Carolina, I got coerced into joining some friends out to dinner for my very first taste of Indian. They assured me that Chicken Tikka Masala was the tamest dish, and the perfect thing for a newbie to try. So try it, I did! And I can't deny, it was quite good.

My husband has been begging me to make this dish for him since that day. I've always just kind of looked at him like he was crazy. Me? Make Indian food? I wouldn't even know where to start. Luckily, I came across an International recipe book at our local library and figured I'd give it a try. It didn't sound too hard. And it really wasn't.

The cookbook gave an entire background on all of the testing they'd done on this recipe to get it just right. It won me over. It surely had to be good. And I can do it! I can do it. I can do it. I think I said it enough that I convinced myself. And I'll be darned, I actually did it, and it was surprisingly good!

The masala sauce is a rich, creamy tomato sauce. Garlic, onion, and chiles are sauteed and combined with crushed tomatoes. The mixture is simmered for 15 minutes before adding heavy cream and a bit of sugar. But often what is thought to "make" the sauce are the spices - particularly Garam Masala, a blend of pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and coriander, found in a lot of Indian recipes. The spice can be found in most major grocery stores and is essential to the sauce, so don't skip it.

The chicken is so incredibly tender and moist. In an effort to keep this an all-season dish, it's broiled to perfection in a wonderful yogurt marinade. To say this chicken is flavorful wouldn't do it justice. It's out of this world.

The end result is a perfect Chicken Tikka Masala. I'm not sure I'm quite confident enough to serve this to my friends who are Indian and are total experts at cooking everything Indian, but I think that's just because I'm too hard on myself. If I did have the guts to cook it for them, I have a hunch they'd like it. I think it closely rivals what I had at the restaurant where I first tried it. Needless to say, now my hubby wants me to cook this again and again and again. Thankfully it's good!

Chicken Tikka Masala
(from Cook's Illustrated's Best International Recipe)

1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (5 to 6 ozs. each)
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. minced or grated fresh ginger
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tsp.)

Masala Sauce
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tsp.)
2 tsp. minced or grated fresh ginger
1 serrano chile, ribs and seeds removed, chile minced
1 Tbsp. garam masala
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 tsp. sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. For the chicken: Combine the salt, cumin, coriander, and cayenne in a small bowl. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and sprinkle with the spice mixture, pressing gently so the mixture adheres. Place the chicken on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, oil, ginger, and garlic; set aside.

2. For the sauce: Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and 1/4 tsp. salt and cook until softened and light golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, chile, garam masala, and tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the crushed tomatoes and sugar and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cream and return to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and cover to keep warm. (The sauce can be made ahead, refrigerated for up to 4 days in an airtight container, and gently reheated before adding the hot chicken.)

3. While the sauce simmers, adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position (about 6 inches from the heating element) and heat the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan with aluminum foil and place a wire rack over the sheet. Using tongs, dip the chicken into the yogurt mixture (the chicken should be coated with a thick layer of yogurt) and arrange on the wire rack. Discard the excess yogurt mixture. Broil the chicken until the thickest parts register 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and the exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through cooking.

4. Let the chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into the warm sauce (do not simmer the chicken in the sauce). Stir in the cilantro, season with salt to taste, and serve with rice.

Serves 4 to 6.

Some of you observant folks may have spotted the Naan in the photos with the chicken tikka masala. The recipe for that will be posted next. Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

The tikka looks very, very delicious. I am off to the store to try and find the garam masala. Looking forward to seeing your naan recipe. Always wanted to try and make them.

Elyse said...

I am so excited that you posted this recipe! Chicken Tikka is one of my favorites to order when I get to eat Indian; I can't wait to try the recipe myself. Your dish turned out had me drooling with your pictures!

Cathy said...

This looks amazing -- I've never had it before! I will have to give myself a pep talk first like you did - I am a total Indian food newbie. This one definitely sounds worth leaving my comfort zone, though! It looks great!

Maria said...

My best friend LOVES this stuff! I can't wait to make it for her. Thanks for the recipe!

Kristin said...

Looks fantastic. I've never been a huge fan of Indian food, but I may have to try this one.

Anonymous said...

Wow, looks exactly like the restaurant kind! Mmmmm...

Jaime said...

this is by far my favorite indian dish!! your naan looks great too!

Anonymous said...

I love to cook Indian food. Your Chicken Tikka and Naan looks so good. Thanks for sharing.