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Chicken Tikka Masala

November 23, 2009

Can you name the national dish of Britain?

Fish and chips? Hmm, no.

Shepherd’s pie, or some other sort of meat pie? No. (And can I just say, Ew. Sorry, meat pie lovers, it’s just not SoupAddict’s thang.)

Plum pudding? No (and turn off Christmas Carol already and join SoupAddict in the 21st Century).

No, no, my pretties, the national dish of Britain is Chicken Tikka Masala. Delicious, beautiful and fragrant, this curry is loaded with Indian spices and cooked to perfection. While SoupAddict’s national dish is, of course, Soup, this curry comes in a close second.

SoupAddict does not exaggerate when she says she prepares this dish about once a month. It’s just that addictive. SoupAddict makes extra to take to work, so that those interminable “working lunches” are at least tolerable for a few minutes while she hovers over a steaming bowl of spicy goodness.

I adapted this recipe from (subscription required to view their recipe online). The folks at Cook’s Illustrated can do no wrong, in my eyes, but I have an instinctive need to stick my thumb in other people’s pies. I gotta be me: it’s a tough job, being me, but somebody has to do it. The changes mostly involve the order of preparation, and an escalation of spices (I love me some curry).

Aren’t they pretty? These are the recipe spices for seasoning the chicken. I usually also add some kind of curry powder – hot, mild, yellow, red. Whatever I have on hand. And maybe a few sprinkles of garam masala. Oh, and there’s also white pepper in this photo (white, because I was too lazy to grind black, and white was all I had in jar-form)
SoupAddict’s left hand is extremely uncoordinated, as you can see from the two big piles of missprinkled spices on the chicken, taken while snapping spice-sprinkling action photos with her right hand.
Mmmmm, the aromatics. Excuse me for a second while I dreamily sniff the aroma of onions, garlic and ginger.
Despite the fact that I’m a bonafide gadget freak, I still stubbornly insist on doing prep by hand. I don’t even own a regular-sized food processor. I can peel and dice an onion in under a minute, so it hardly seems worth the effort of dragging out even my mini food processor. I finally caved on a garlic press, though. I don’t mind mincing with my trusty Shun knife, but, sometimes you want the garlic to be, you know, juicy, and nothing does that as well as a press. This is the press I own: Prepara Garlic Press. It vexed me for a while, as it seemed to jam every. single. time. But, once I found the secret (pull out on the handle while pushing down on the grate to release all of the cogs and wheels and click-thingy mechanisms. That’s a technical term, “thingy”), garlic press life has been ever so much better. I still peel the cloves first, though. Those suckers are so thick and stiff, I don’t trust mere thingies to do the job.
Fresh cilantro and garlic, pulled right of out my garden. I [heart] my garden.
Indian cuisine often calls for yogurt. Once I discovered Greek yogurt, I use it in place of regular yogurt for most everything. It’s thick and delicious with none of that runny ickiness present when you first take the lid off of regular yogurt. You see, SoupAddict’s stomach does a little flippity-flop when she sees that runny ickiness separated from the creamy goodness. It’s just one of those things. Like the texture of flaked coconut, which makes SoupAddict’s stomach go beyond flippity-flops. Don’t serve SoupAddict flaked coconut. Not pretty.
Mmmm. Ginger-scented yogurt, with a little garlic and oil. It’s hard not to eat this stuff out of the bowl, although I have a sinking feeling it looks and smells better than it actually tastes. Someday I’ll try it and let you know.
SoupAddict loves getting her hands messy, so this is always a favorite part. Drrrreeeedge the spicy chicken pieces through the creamy goodness. Then flip it over and do it again. Nice.
Yogurt-coated chicken, ready for the broiler.
Meanwhile, grab your favorite dutch oven or stock pot. This is my brand new Le Creuset Stock Pot. Ain’t she adorable? The high walls are particularly suited for this dish, as the bubbling sauce tends to bubble, bubble, toil and trouble all over my stove in maddening little red spatters.
Oh, garam masala, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. (I’ll count to myself. That way I won’t feel self-conscious about using my fingers.)
When the chicken starts to get black spots (like the piece in the foreground), flip all the pieces over and shove the pan back in. SoupAddict was messing with her camera and let the chicken go a little long, so many of the pieces look like the craggly surface of volcanos. Never you mind, though. The chicken was still moist and delicious, thanks to the protective yogurt coating. Really, it’s hard to screw up this dish.
While the chicken finishes up under the broiler, start the sauce by sauteeing the aromatics. See those burned bits on the left? No, SoupAddict didn’t screw up again. That’s fond – the brown, caramelized bits formed from the sugars naturally present in the onions. (Enameled pans, like my sassy, Dijon Le Creuset, are particularly adept at creating fond.) The crushed tomatoes will deglaze the pan with those lovely brown bits, adding a little sumthin’-sumthin’ to the flavor of the sauce. Trust SoupAddict on this one. This is a Martha-Stewart-worthy Good Thing.
A little cream rounds out the sauce. Once the chicken has cooled, slice into 1″ cubes. Or get your hands messy again and pull apart with your fingers. Stir chicken into the sauce and top it all off with chopped cilantro.
Serve over rice. Here, I used healthy brown rice, but Jasmine is my favorite.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted from In addition to tweaking a few ingredients here and there, the biggest change I made was switching up the order of the chicken and the sauce: Get the chicken coated and under the broiler before starting the sauce. In the Cook’s recipe, you start the sauce first, which then requires all manner of interruptions and general upheaval when dealing with the chicken. In the end, my method saves about 15 minutes. Which conveniently is also the amount of time it takes to prepare instant rice, because I forgot to start the jasmine rice earlier, lost as I was in the dreamy aroma of the garam masala.
Chicken Tikka
  1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1/2 teaspoon curry powder (use hot or mild, according to your preference)
  1 teaspoon table salt
  2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat (Note: SoupAddict usually uses a mix of breasts and thighs. Thighs are more flavorful and, in these times, economical. Which is a nice way of saying that SoupAddict is a cheapskate.)
  1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (Note: SoupAddict uses Greek yogurt)
  2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Masala Sauce
  3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  1 medium onion, diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
  2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  1 fresh serrano chile, ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced (Note: if you like things ¡HOT!, as opposed to [hot], incorporate the ribs and seeds. That’s where most of the heat of hot peppers resides.)
  1 tablespoon tomato paste
  1 tablespoon garam masala
  1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  2 teaspoons sugar
  1/2 teaspoon table salt
  2/3 cup heavy cream
  1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. Use that time to prep the other ingredients. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.

2. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler. Using tongs, dip chicken into yogurt mixture (chicken should be coated with thick layer of yogurt) and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Discard excess yogurt mixture. Broil chicken until thickest parts register 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer and exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through cooking. While the chicken cooks, make the sauce

2. FOR THE SAUCE: Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

3. While sauce simmers, cut the chicken into 1-inch chunks. After you remove the sauce pan from the heat, stir the chicken into warm sauce (you don’t want the chicken to simmer in the sauce). Stir in cilantro, adjust seasoning with salt, and serve.

  1. November 23, 2009 11:57 pm

    Wow, this looks fantastic! Chicken Tikka Masala is my favorite Indian dish (and there’s not a one I don’t like—except for that nasty bitter melon), but it always sounded so complicated to make. You really did your homework in laying it all out. Your writing is a real crack-up, too. : )

  2. Tom M. permalink
    April 22, 2011 3:54 pm

    I’m totally making this next week.

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