Bon Appétit (April 2013)
Do you ever go to a restaurant intent on trying something new? But you end up ordering the same thing you always get, powerless to select any other item from the menu, even though you really want to branch out?
For us, the answer's yes. And Chicken Tikka Masala is Exhibit A.
Every time we go to an Indian restaurant, one of us ends up ordering the dish, with its sweet tomato sauce that's screaming for a garlic naan to be dunked into it.
But let's do the math for this Chicken Tikka Masala:
+ a four- to six-hour marinating time for the chicken
+ another hour plus or so to cook the chicken
Without a doubt: Takeout was going to smoke homemade in cost and speed.
How would this recipe stand up against delivery in terms of taste? We have a hunch.
We're actually a little surprised to read that Chicken Tikka Masala may actually be an authentic, though recent, Indian dish. Its origin is disputed, but like General Tso's chicken, we had assumed Chicken Tikka Masala was created in the West in order to cater to Western tastes. But that doesn't seem to be the case.
Making this dish starts with marinating the chicken in a spiced yogurt mixture for at least four hours. While the chicken's marinating, you build a spiced tomato gravy in a pan, broil the chicken to give it a nice outer sear, then add the chicken to the gravy in order to let it finish cooking.
Though the recipe has a lot of ingredients, the process is uncomplicated. Our only quibble with the recipe is the addition of two cups of heavy cream to the tomato gravy. Once we added the cream, we were disappointed to see our tikka masala turn pale pink, rather than the rich red that had been there beforehand. We had to cook our masala for quite a bit longer to concentrate the ingredients again, darkening the color of the dish. Two cups of heavy cream seemed slightly excessive to us -- next time, we'd start by adding the cream in 1/2 or 1/4-cup increments, tasting as we go.
But you can't argue with the results.
Is it the best Chicken Tikka Masala we've ever had? Well, we can't exactly say that. It is very good, and on par with any rendition of the dish we've had in the past few years. The herb mix here -- especially the cardamom that's in the tomato gravy -- is vividly fragrant and absolutely delicious. The finished dish is rich (it'd better be with two cups of cream) and delivers just the same familiar comfort that we look for when we order it in a restaurant.
Now we just need to learn to make naan.
Notes from Zach and Clay:
- If it's easier for you to grill the chicken rather than broiling it, we say by all means, grill.
- We did not have ghee, and substituted vegetable oil in its place, as recommended by the recipe.
- We suggest adding the heavy cream a half cup at a time, and tasting to get to an amount of cream that works for you.
6 servingsActive time: 1 hour
Total time: 5 1/2 hours
Ingredients6 garlic cloves, finely grated
4 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger
4 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 cups whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup tomato paste
6 cardamom pods, crushed
2 dried chiles de árbol or 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus sprigs for garnish
Steamed basmati rice (for serving)
Combine garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, and cumin in a small bowl. Whisk yogurt, salt, and half of spice mixture in a medium bowl; add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and chill 4-6 hours. Cover and chill remaining spice mixture.
Heat ghee in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and chiles and cook, stirring often, until tomato paste has darkened and onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add remaining half of spice mixture and cook, stirring often, until bottom of pot begins to brown, about 4 minutes.
Add tomatoes with juices, crushing them with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until sauce thickens, 8-10 minutes.
Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 30-40 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack inside sheet. Arrange chicken on rack in a single layer. Broil until chicken starts to blacken in spots (it will not be cooked through), about 10 minutes.
Cut chicken into bite-size pieces, add to sauce, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Serve with rice and cilantro sprigs.
DO AHEAD: Chicken can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; chill. Reheat before serving.