Monday, 14 November 2011

Chicken Tikka Masala

A few years back, there was a tiny piece in The Telegraph about some Scottish chap attempting to trademark chicken tikka masala. It provoked some amused outrage hereabouts, but nobody particularly cared about the crazy caprices of strange foreigners, and the news sank without further trace. We had, of course, no idea how big chicken tikka masala was in the ethnic eating scene of the former Raj. This was probably helped by the fact that 'chicken tikka masala' is a postcolonial, Anglo collage of mangled culinary memories, and not a weal dish from ye olde Nawabi kitchens. People tend not to care about the ownership of things they don't know exists. As long as we had the succulent tandoori kababd and creamy butter-chicken, 'tikka masala' could hunt seals in a tutu in Iceland.

So when I first had tikka masala, it was at a Punjabi 'Indian' takeaway in Somerville, almost midway through my twenties. It was the perfect example of a disappointment. (Just chicken curry with extra tomatoes, in this instance). So, in the interest of humanity that is not native to these tropical parts, this is how one makes the traceable ancestor of 'tikka masala' -- chicken tikias or tikka-kababs in a thick gravy (I've kept the tomatoes because they're in season, but one can make a perfectly serviceable gravy without them):

Marinate the cleaned and washed pieces of de-boned chicken in salt and lemon juice.

Peel and slice ginger and a few cloves of garlic.

Put the garlic and ginger with half a small, peeled onion, cinnamon sticks, two large shelled cardamom, and a couple of cloves, in a mixie/grinder/mortar-and-pestle.

Scoop the mix onto the lemon-marinated chicken. Top with half a level teaspoon of cumin and coriander, ground red chilies, and just a pinch of sugar.

Then add a dollop of yogurt, and just for kicks, minced green chilies. Mix it all up. Let it stand for at least, at least, three hours.

In the absence of skewers (I couldn't find ours), grease a baking dish well with mustard oil. Put the chicken and the marinade in a tight cluster on the dish. Pour some more oil over it all. Be generous, you don't want dried little pieces of charred meat. Now, let them bake in a pre-heated oven for about twenty minutes at 230-240C (450F). Cooking time differs for different ovens, but at such high heat, anything beyond thirty minutes would end in dry, hard meat, esp. since the chicken we're using has no fat to buffer it.

For the gravy, chop a medium red onion, mince a quarter inch of ginger and about five cloves of garlic, grind a few red chilies, and purée two tomatoes.

Heat two teaspoons of mustard oil in a wok. Simmer when hot (but not smoking), and sauté the garlic, followed immediately by the red chilli paste (healthy-minded people can substitute chopped green chilies: Different flavour, but just as delicious). After half a minute of frying this mix, add the ginger, then the onions, and raise the flame to medium. Stir like mad (or the red chilli paste will char).

Then add the puréed tomatoes. Add a pinch of salt, half a teaspoon each of cumin and coriander, and keep stirring gently.

Till it looks lovely and cooked, like this. You should be able to make out the oil separating from the tomato. Taste for salt and spiciness. Add a tiny amount of sugar if the tomatoes taste too tangy.

Now add a cup of water to the gravy. Some prefer adding cream, or whole milk. My doctor tells me I should prefer water. Bring the gravy to a slight boil before simmering again and adding the kababs. Cover and let the flavours blend for a few minutes. Take off the flame, sprinkle a quarter teaspoon of garam masala powder on top, and mix well. Serve with rotis, naans, or parathas.

And there you go! A delicious dish, decoded. Despite the spices, it's healthy, hearty, and perfect for cold winter evenings. Make it! :-)


HijiBijBij said...

ufff!! keno je eta dekhlam shokal shokal,.,...i am definitely trying this!!

Somdatta Bhattacharya said...

Thank you. I know what to do with my winter evenings now.

sudipta mandal said...

On an empty stomach, your article made me hungrier..CTM rocks