Chicken Tikka Masala

My distaste for Indian food started when I was but a young, impressionable middle schooler. Now, I never actually tried Indian food. But I smelled it. You know how people say that smell is one of the strongest memories people can have? I would concur. My early prejudice against Indian food was really born out of my hatred for running. I was never really exposed to Indian food (well the smell, actually) until middle school gym class. There was this Indian restaurant right behind the grassy field at my school. Every fall and spring we would have that one national running test thing where the teacher would make you run for pretty much forever, and then,  he would cruelly tell you where you ranked in your running time compared to other kids. That’s just mean. I’m really not much of a runner. I don’t get people who get excited to run. Why would you do such a thing to yourself? People say that they get in a zone and it’s so relaxing. I can’t say I’ve experienced such bliss. My only goal, in general, is to be done. Anyway, when we took this pointless test in that field, it always seemed to be during the lunch hour when I was already hungry and the corner Indian restaurant was cooking up every funky smell you could imagine. It would just make me sick. From that point on, I decided that Indian food was the most disgusting human-made thing and I’d have no part in it.

Ironically, I married someone who loves Indian food. I’ve had my (very limited) times of attempting to eat this cuisine with him, but I could just never get past the appearance of it. It always looked to me like chewed up food spit out on a plate…or worse. Ew. Walking into these restaurants, the smell was just too overpowering… and it would just bring me right back to gym class and every awful thing that came with it. No thank you.

However… I’ve been workin on it. I’ve realized that my very western view of food is quite narrow. Maybe some food could appear to be weird, smelly mush but actually be packed with well-balanced flavor. I finally decided to take a crack at it. A couple summers ago, I watched Aarti Sequeira win Food Network Star and just had a special place for her in my heart. How could food from such a sweet, warm person be bad?! She cooks Indian food…it must be good! So, I very logically went with one of her recipes.  The experimental dish would be Chicken Tikka Masala. It looked safe and there was nothing scary in it at all. In fact, I really love all of the ingredients! Perfect!

Dear friend, if you have not ventured into the world of Indian food, please make this. It’s safe. It’s packed with flavor. And it will actually make your house smell incredible! WHAT?! I know! I have now realized that I was nuts. I wish I could blog the smell of my kitchen when I made this. Ginger, garlic, garam masala and tomatoes stewing down. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm… all things lovely.

Now, I tweaked a few things in the recipe to fit my personal preferences because I’m allowed to do that. That’s the beauty of trying new cuisine in the comfort and safety of your own kitchen. You have control. That way, it’s not so scary!

Here’s how it goes: Whip together a blend of Greek yogurt, ginger, garlic and S & P. Fold your chicken chunks into it and marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Mince more ginger and garlic along with the pepper of your choice. I went more mild to be on the safe side.

Saute these aromatics in butter and oil until they are beginning to brown on the edges.

Then add some tomato paste and saute until everything begins turning a deep shade of red. Throw in your paprika and garam masala to bring everything to life.

Add the tomatoes, salt and water. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. You want those tomatoes to really break down and stew in all the flavors.

When the chicken is done marinating, throw the pieces in the broiler for about 7 minutes on each side. The insides may not cook through all the way, but they will finish cooking when added to the curry. When the tomatoes are done with their stewing business, pour the curry into your blender and blend them until the are smooth.

Pour it all back into the pot and add your chicken. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add some cream and cilantro. Serve over brown rice or with naan.

Not the prettiest meal, but it’s a keeper.

Chicken Tikka Masala (adapted from Aarti Sequeira)

Marinade

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless Free-Range chicken thighs, cut into large bite-size chunk

Sauce

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-inch thumb ginger, peeled & minced
  • 2 jalapenos, minced (use a Serrano if you like it a little more spicy)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 8 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream or ½ and ½
  • Fresh cilantro leaves, minced
  • Brown rice or whole wheat naan

Marinade:

In large bowl, mix the yogurt, ginger, garlic, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp black pepper. Poke the chunks of chicken with a fork and add them to marinade. Fold to cover and marinate at least 30 minutes.

Sauce:

1. When you’re ready to make the curry, place a large pot over medium heat and add the butter and olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the garlic, ginger, and peppers. Saute until lightly browned around the edges.

2. Add the tomato paste and cook until the tomato has darkened in color, about 3 minutes. Add the paprika and garam masala. Saute for about 1 minute to bring out their flavors.

3. Add the tomatoes, salt, and water. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Take the pan off the fire, and allow the sauce to cool for 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, pull the chicken thigh chunks out of the marinade and place on a baking sheet lined with foil. Place under the broiler, and cook about 7 minutes on each side, until charred and cooked through. Don’t worry if the chicken is still a little uncooked, but very charred on the outside; you can finish cooking the chicken in the sauce.

5. Pour sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour back into the pan, and bring back up to a boil. Add the chicken and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook covered for about 10 minutes.

6. Add cream and stir through. Garnish with minced fresh cilantro if you like, and serve over rice, with naan or a crusty piece of bread!

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