Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chicken Tikka Masala

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I'm really enjoying being back in the kitchen and cooking dishes that take our tastebuds around the world this week. For tonight's dinner, we headed to... Britain! What? Did you read the title of the dish and think India? Technically, the dish is Indian inspired, but believe it or not, Chicken Tikka Masala is considered the national dish of Britain. It's also one of my favorite dishes to order when dining out at Indian restaurants!

If there's an ethnic cuisine that intimidates me, it would easily be Indian. The comprehensive list of various spices in many Indian recipes I've seen prevents me from even attempting to tackle it in the kitchen. But then I came across the following recipe in a Cook's Illustrated magazine I had stashed away. Looking at the recipe, I was surprised to see how approachable it is... even moreso when I had all the ingredients on hand.

I made a few minor substitutions and adjustments and the final dish rivaled the versions I've tried at local restaurants. Even my husband agreed and I have no excuse to make more Indian inspired dishes at home. The chicken is extremely flavorful and so moist/juicy, thanks to the yogurt it marinates in. The masala sauce is a beautifully rich sauce that is spiced perfectly without being too spicy but with a hint of sweetness. I served this dish over garlic fried rice which complimented the chicken tikka masala perfectly.

Note: I prepped this recipe in advance so it would be easy to complete and serve on a weeknight after a long day at work. The directions below reflect that and I believe the end result is much better preparing it as written below so the flavors to really shine.

Chicken Tikka Masala
recipe adapted from Entertaining: Cook's Illustrated Spring 2009

Chicken Tikka:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons table salt
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat (about 3-4 lbs)
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 medium garlic cloves , minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Masala Sauce:
2 - 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion , diced fine
2 medium garlic cloves , minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (optional)


For the chicken, combine cumin, garlic powder, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken in a baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.

In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger. After the seasoned chicken has 'marinated' for 30-60 minutes in the fridge, pour the yogurt mixture over the chicken and toss to fully coat both sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6-8 hours or overnight.

For the sauce, heat oil in medium sized saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, 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. At this point, allow the sauce to cool. Transfer the sauce into a storage container, cover and then refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the chilled sauce from the fridge and heat up in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler. Remove the chicken from the fridge and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place the yogurt coated chicken on the parchment lined baking sheet. 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.

Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce (do not simmer chicken in sauce). Adjust seasoning with salt if needed. Before serving, stir in cilantro into the sauce or garnish with cilantro if using.

TO PREPARE AS A FREEZER MEAL: 
To prepare this as a freezer meal, make the sauce, cool and freeze. Prepare the chicken, cool and freeze. When you're ready to serve it, defrost both sauce and chicken; heat sauce and warm chicken in oven, then combine... or if you want, add the chicken to the sauce and warm up together (although I think it tastes better when warmed separately then served together.)

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