I always try to eat delicious food. Unfortunately I don't have that much money, so I have to cook a lot of it at home. But thats OK because I love cooking and I love eating at home with my wife. This is a website with my favorite recipes and a little bit of commentary.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Chicken Tikka Masala

My favorite Indian Dish goes by a couple names. At the Indian restaurants in Chicago it is called murgh mahkni or butter chicken. Everywhere else it is called chicken tikka masala. It took me forever to find out a few secrets of the recipe. I have been working on little refinements for years.

The basic idea is that you start with tandoori chicken and add it to a tomato cream sauce. Essentially for this recipe you have to make 2 dishes and make both of them turn out right.

Tandoori chicken is chicken which is marinated in a blend of yogurt and spices and then cooked in a tandoor oven. A tandoor is a clay oven shaped like one of those old clay jars. Traditionally they were fired with charcoal or wood. Most Indian restaurants use gas fired commercial tandoors now. The tandoori chicken I have been served usually comes bright red with some onions, lemon slices and cilantro.

Tandoors are used to cook meat and vegetables on skewers. In the photo below you can see pieces of dough stuck to the sides of the tandoor. Naan, or Indian flatbread is also baked in a tandoor.
Here is a piece of naan which is now cooked and ready to butter.

Most of the recipes for tandoori chicken on the internet are pretty similar. The thing most of them are missing is the red food coloring. Unless you add red food coloring to your marinade it will never look like the chicken in the photo above.
The other thing that most recipes leave out is the tandoor. Most people would never make enough Indian food at home to buy or build a tandoor. What I have always done is substitute a charcoal grill. You can make tandoori chicken and naan right on a charcoal grill with rather impressive results.
Readers will no doubt remember that my apartment complex recently banned the use of charcoal grills and smokers. There is another way to mimic the tandoor - a hot oven and a baking stone!

Chicken Tikka Masala

Preparing the Chicken

2 lbs. boneless chicken breast
1/4 cup yogurt

3 t. minced ginger

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 t. pepper

1 t. cumin

1/2 t. mace

1/4 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. cardamom powder
1/2 t. chili powder
1/4 t. turmeric

Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 T. oil
1 t red food coloring
Combine all of the ingredients in a ziplock bag. Marinate the chicken breasts overnight in the fridge. The next day preheat the oven as hot as it will go with the oven rack on the next to the top rung. On the rack have a baking stone. Arrange the chicken pieces on a broiling pan or a cookie sheet. It is better to use the broiling pan because the chicken juices will fall away from the chicken. Bake for about 5 minutes on one side and flip over. Bake on the other side for another 5 minutes or so until done. Allow to cool and cut into pieces.

The Sauce

6 oz. can tomato paste

2 1/2 cups tomato sauce

2 lbs. tomatoes, chopped

1 inch piece of ginger, very finely chopped up

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 chili pepper of some sort, like a serrano, chopped up finely

1 T. chili powder

8 whole cloves

1/2 t ground cardamom

2 t ground cumin

1 t cumin seed, roasted in a cast iron skillet over medium heat until they start to turn brown

1 t ground mace

salt to taste

3 T. butter

2/3 cup cream
about 1 T honey

4 1/2 cups water

a small amount of cilantro, chopped

To make the sauce, melt the butter in the bottom of a pot. Add the chili pepper, garlic and ginger and saute until starting to soften. Add all of the rest of the ingredients except for the cream and honey. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for an hour. After the hour is up strain the sauce to remove the chunks of tomato and other debris. Return the strained sauce to the pot. Simmer, uncovered until sauce reduces quite a bit. You want the sauce to thicken up a bit. When sauce is reduced add in the cream. Taste the sauce. Add salt if it needs it. Taste it again. If the sauce seems sour, add a little honey. After you are satisfied with the flavor of the sauce add the chicken pieces and heat for a couple minutes until the chicken is nice and heated up. As you serve the dish, sprinkle the top with a little cilantro.