Friday, May 13, 2016

Spicy Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken tikka, according to my Indian friends, is not really Indian food. It's a dish that was created in the UK, probably by non-Indians who maybe enjoyed the flavors of Indian food but wanted to tone it down a bit and make it more universally palatable. I mean, that's basically what happens to every type of cuisine when it's introduced in a new place. Chefs will adapt recipes and only adopt certain flavors and target the masses with a less "frightening" version of a dish. That being said, chicken tikka is really delicious and definitely one of my favorites. My only wish - which is a wish I have quite often, if I'm honest - is that I want it to be spicier.

So, when I whipped this up at home, I decided to throw in some hot peppers and extra cayenne pepper so that we'd all be breathing fire after the meal. I made this recipe using my favorite Indian spices and aimed for flavors similar to the way my favorite Indian place makes their chicken tikka. Basically, that's how I develop any of my recipes (besides the ones that were passed to me by my family or ones that I grew up with). I just play a detective cook and throw in a little of this and a little of that until I end up with something I like.
Ingredients [serves 4]:
2 lbs. chicken thighs
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon grated ginger
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon garam masala
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 jalapeno, sliced
15 oz. can whole tomatoes
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chopped cilantro

*If you're not into spice as much a I am, leave out the extra cayenne pepper and jalapeno for a mild version.

I made a fresh batch of garam masala for this meal. And this time, I toasted some whole cumin and coriander and I threw in some fennel because why not? And, I went old school and used a mortar and pestle.
To make the chicken tikka, start by making the marinade. In a large dish, combine 1 tablespoon ginger, half of the garlic, yogurt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 3 tablespoons garam masala, and salt and stir. Chop up the chicken into small chunks and stir into the marinade. Chill for 6 hours.
To make the sauce, grab a pan and melt the butter over a low heat. Add in the remaining garlic and ginger, the cumin seeds, jalapenos, and garam masala. Stir to combine and cook just until the spices are fragrant. Add in the tinned tomatoes and squeeze in another 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes and simmer the sauce for a good 15 to 20 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.
When the sauce is almost done, grab the marinated chicken and lay the pieces out on a sheet pan. Pop into a high broiler for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and lightly charred. The chicken can also be cooked on a grill, if you have the patience to clean up drippy yogurt marinade afterwards. It's up to you.
Finish off the sauce with a little cream and then nestle the chicken into the pan and sprinkle in the cilantro. Cook for another 10 minutes so the chicken can soak up the flavors of the sauce.
Serve hot with cashew & golden raisin basmati rice and onion chutney and some chana masala and cucumber raita. The chicken tikka is so deliciously spicy, but it's the kind of heat that sizzles on your tongue for a few seconds and then mellows out pretty quickly, which I attribute to the heavy cream. The chicken is incredibly tender, which is probably a combination of the fact that it's thigh meat and that it was marinated in acidic yogurt and lemon. The sauce is creamy without being heavy and it's perfect for stirring into rice. In fact. I think I could probably just eat the sauce on its own; at which point, it would be a vegetarian dish.
Here's the recipe page:

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