On nights when I'm not recipe-testing for the cookbook, I crave at least one of the following: a) sushi, b) pizza, or c) Indian food. Good versions of first two are easy to find in my Brooklyn neighborhood, but the third is, sadly, lacking. I don't live anywhere close to Jackson Heights, Murray Hill, or East 6th St., so cravings have to be satisfied by just rolling up my sleeve.
(When I was in Beijing, which was lacking in not only good Indian food but stores to find non-Chinese spices, I periodically whipped up Chinese-Indian food like Gobi Manchurian and chicken lollipops.)
Chicken tikka masala might be many people's introduction to Indian food, even though it's more or less an Indian-British fusion dish. Some claim that it was invented in 1960's Britain, when chefs began adding gravy to chicken dishes to satisfy the British palate, while others argue that it originated much earlier in India during British colonialism. It's such a part of British culture that 5 years ago British foreign secretary Robin Cook declared it "a true British national dish. The Scots claimed that it originated in Glasgow, much to the outrage of chefs in India. But whatever its original, there's little dispute that the yogurt-marinated chicken bathed in creamy tomato sauce is delicious and crave-worthy.
This is an easy chicken tikka masala recipe I make from time to time. And making it doesn't require much that you can't find in your average supermarket, or even your pantry. Rest assured that this sauce is ten times better than any "chicken tikka masala" sauce out of jar. Just be sure to plan ahead; the chicken needs as least 2 to 3 hours of marinating time to maintain its tenderness in the oven. The spicy and creamy tomato-based sauce can be made mild or spicy (see the recipe below), and you'll want to make plenty of basmati rice to soak it all up.
Chicken Tikka Masala
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, left whole
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (1/2 teaspoon if you like this dish spicy)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 8 ounces canned tomato puree or crush tomatoes
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Salt to taste
- Prepare the marinade: In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, ginger, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, and black pepper. Pour the marinade mixture over the chicken and rub it all over the meat. Cover with plastic and let sit in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours, or overnight.
- When you're ready to cook the chicken, position the top oven rack about 6 inches from the broiler (the second rung from the top in conventional ovens). Preheat the broiler.
- Cover the inside of a baking dish with tin foil or parchment paper, making sure the liner goes up along the sides. Transfer the chicken to the backing dish, wiping off as much marinade as possible (or else the chicken ends up steaming instead of broiling). Broil for 15 to 20 (depending on how big your chicken thighs are), flipping your chicken over halfway through the cooking time. The chicken should be cooked through and have some black/brown spots on the outside. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board to cool.
- While the chicken is cooling, heat a Dutch oven or large sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add the butter and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the onions and cook gently cook until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, ground cumin, and paprika and cook for another minute. Stir in the tomato puree, scraping the bottom of the pan or pot to release any brown bits. Allow the sauce to simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until it's thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
- While the sauce is simmering, and after the chicken has cooled enough to touch, cut each piece into large bite-sized pieces.
- After the sauce has thickened, stir in the heavy cream and bring the sauce back to a simmer. Adjust the seasoning with salt, if needed. Add the chicken and stir to coat with the sauce. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle chopped cilantro on top, and serve with basmati rice.