Monday, March 6, 2017

Chicken Tikka on my Menu

I have made all kinds of Indian dishes over the last many years, but had yet to get around to Chicken Tikka Masala. I made it once quite a lot of years back with my daughter. I had gotten her a huge cookbook, and the Chicken Tikka recipe looked interesting. At the time, all I could think is how very many steps it took to make, though I recalled liking the dish when it was served. 

My Chicken Tikka Masala
My Chicken Tikka Masala

I think one reason I never hunted down another recipe, or tried to create one is that it seemed more a British thing than strictly Indian. A TV show recently made the statement that Chicken Tikka is just about Britain's signature dish. I like to create Indian foods that appear to be more mainstream Indian than Americanized. Granted, making a food in a different country will require some changes. Our yogurt may not be of the same consistency. Some (or many) of the spices called for may not be easily available. When I tried making a Thai Green Curry Paste some time back, there were a lot of changes, substitutions or things left out, simply because of unavailability (read about that adventure here). I am familiar with that particular kind of problem. Still, I want to taste an Indian dish close to the "real thing". Having never had the pleasure of visiting India and trying the foods first-hand, I endeavor to create them here in my home, as closely as possible to that "real thing."
Recently, some friends gave me an Indian cookbook called "My Indian Cookbook," by Amandip Uppal. It is slightly simplified, in most of the recipes, rarely calling for anything too terribly out of the ordinary. If it does, it will say "optional." In a first glance through, I felt it might not be my favorite of Indian cookbooks. I have at least 8 or more Indian cookbooks, with about three used on a regular basis. Still, since it was a gift, I went back and actually read through many of the recipes, and certainly perused every page. If it was something I would likely never make (like shellfish, since I have an allergy), I only glossed over it quickly. On this second perusal, I found a lot of interest.

The first thing I tried was a recipe for Naan. I used one recipe that called for making a filling for the Naan, thinking this would make a great thing better. On the plus side, the Naan itself has to be the very best I've ever made. They were soft, soft, and just so lovely. On the negative side, the fillings were really not at all noticeable. I made them a second time yesterday, using twice the filling, and still there seems to be no apparent flavor from the fillings, though the bread is so easy to make and so soft and good. The simple Naan recipe is a real keeper. 

Meanwhile, I tried two other recipes, both quite delicious. And then I finally thought I would make the Chicken Tikka. Her recipe for this chicken is in the appetizer type foods, where the skewered meat is set onto a Naan bread and some onion and tomato are added in to eat as a hand food, or street food. There was no sauce made for the dish as a meal. So I set about, as I usually do, searching my other cookbooks, and online recipes to see what others do. 

The marinade for the chicken pieces is a separate recipe in the book, and as I read that one, the amount of chicken I was using was more than she used, so I started tinkering with the amounts after reading other recipes. As it turned out, though many of the ingredients are the same no matter where one reads the recipe, there were some variables. The variations in amounts for a given ingredient were all over the board. Ultimately, after tasting the chicken once it was grilled, I absolutely loved that marinade and would do that again in a heartbeat. While the final sauce was good (my husband raved), for me it detracted from the great flavor of the chicken on its own! I did not hate it, or even dislike it. I just felt that as it stood, my sauce recipe needs a little more work. I will set it out here, because my husband really loved it, so obviously there is nothing innately amiss with it.

Chicken Tikka Marinade
Chicken Tikka Marinade

My Chicken Tikka Masala

Serves 6

1 cup plain, Greek yogurt
2-inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 green chili, minced, optional
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon Garam Masala
2 teaspoons Tandoori Spice
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground dried chile powder (not for Chili con Carne!)
¼ teaspoon ajwain seeds (optional)
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
2 tablespoons vinegar

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, cut in 1-inch cubes

Combine all the marinade ingredients, stirring to distribute all the spices evenly. Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat well on all sides. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours or up to a day in advance.have wooden skewers soaking for an hour in water before proceeding with the next step. Or, use metal skewers.

When ready to grill, either heat the grill very hot, or preheat the broiler. Grill the chicken until done on all sides, turning as necessary. If broiling, set the rack at the second level down and broil until nicely browned and cooked through, turning as needed to cook evenly. 

2 - 4 tablespoons ghee or oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
1 - 3 Serrano chilies (depending on taste), minced
add spices to fried onion, mix, add tomatoes, cook
add spices to fried onion, mix, add tomatoes, cook

1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric
black & green cardamom, kasoori methi, combining the spices
black & green cardamom, kasoori methi, combining the spices

2 whole cloves
Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken Tikka Masala

1-inch true cinnamon
3 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod
1 tej patta, or Indian bay leaf, optional

1 (14.5-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup raw cashews, ground to powder
½ cup heavy cream
cilantro, for garnish

In a large skillet heat the ghee or oil and add in the onion. Cook over medium low heat until the onion is turning golden brown. Add in the ginger, garlic and chilies, if using and continue to saute for about 5 minutes more. 

A Note on the Whole Spices: The whole spices can be distracting while eating. Often I will grind those spices also and add them in. One black cardamom pod yielded about 1/8 teaspoon of seeds, and three green cardamom pods yielded just about the same amount. If grinding these spices, leave the tej patta leaf out of the grinding. As with our bay laurel leaves, it is best to leave whole and remove before serving.

Stir the ground spices and whole Masala spices into the mixture in the skillet and mix well. Add the tej patta leaf, if using. Add in the can of petite diced tomatoes and stir well. Allow the mixture to cook for about 10 minutes, simmering, until the oils begin to separate out. Add the ground cashews, and then add in the heavy cream, a little at a time. The sauce should be similar to spaghetti sauce consistency. Water may be needed to thin it from time to time in the cooking.

Serve the chicken tikka by removing the grilled chicken from the skewers and adding to the sauce.

As a side, I cut up one green bell pepper and grilled it alongside the chicken skewers, and it was a wonderful accompaniment.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.