My good friend S is from Baroda, Gujarat, India. She and I were hired at the ad agency I used to work for within days of each other. We are both passionate about food, so obviously we hit it off pretty quickly. Because of S, I’ve eaten goat (It’s good! No, really!). And I always got excited when her mother came for a visit because I knew it was just a matter of time before homemade samosas made an appearance in the office break room.
A couple years ago, S introduced me to her favorite Indian grocery store. Before she came along I wasn’t even aware Jackson HAD an Indian grocery store. I was a little intimidated to go by myself the first. I know very little about Indian cooking and I feared I would stick out and feel overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar products. I made her promise to let me tag along the next time she needed to pick up a few items.
I had this recipe for chicken tikka masala in hand and I deliberately saved it for our trip. Inside, S and I walked up and down the aisles. She helped me find the ingredients I needed for my recipe in and suggested a few items I should try to get a flavor for Indian cuisine. It was a really fun experience.
Fun little bit of trivia I learned while preparing this post. Chicken tikka is the traditional dish found in India. Chicken tikka masala is the Europeanized version and oddly enough considered to be the national dish of Britain. What’s the difference? The addition of the sauce.
Like I said, I don’t cook a lot of Indian cuisine. In fact, this may have been my first Indian dish ever. Understandably, there was some concerned protest from Big Brother when I set a plate of chicken covered in tangerine-orange sauce down in front of him.
If memory serves me correctly, his exact reaction was, “This looks like stinky poo poo . . .”
Kids say the darndest things, don’t they?
But, as is usually the case, once I convinced him to try chicken tikka masala, he decided “stinky poo poo” wasn’t so bad after all.
I did make a few changes from the original recipe to make it more pantry friendly. For instance, S said you could use ground cardamom rather than buying whole cardamom pods and substitute butter for ghee.
If you are looking to venture into ethnic cuisine, this is a pretty safe recipe to start with.
- 6 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
- 1½ cups whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 2 cups heavy cream
- ¾ 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. In a larger separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, salt, and half of spice mixture. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover bowl, place it in the refrigerator, and allow chicken to marinate for 4-6 hours.
- Heat butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and red pepper flakes 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. 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, but is not 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 over basmati with rice and garnish with cilantro, if desired.