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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chicken Tikka Masala

I am fairly new to the art of cooking chicken, though I have been eating it all my life. I finally decided to take the plunge and start cooking it at home. The main  motivation was to be able to control the quality of the meat that was being used. Another was being able to control the spice and taste levels of the chicken being served. I have tried Indian style chicken dishes in many restaurants but find most of them lacking in spice and flavor. There are just a couple of places that cook chicken curries well, but they don't come close to the taste of the food that I ate when growing up. The results have been great so far and my family has been very happy being taste testers, as I cook up new dishes.

When I decided to take the plunge and start cooking chicken, I had no clue about how to buy the chicken, whether it needed to be cleaned and how I could check if the chicken had been cooked completely. So, I looked to family, friends, and the internet for help. After reading up on it for a while, and taking advice from several people who cooked chicken very frequently, I finally was able to cook my first piece of baked chicken breast. Once, I had the basics down, I was able to move onto experimenting with marinating and making tandoori chicken and finally start cooking chicken gravies.

I have always loved eating chicken tikka masala and butter chicken in restaurants and decided to make chicken tikka masala as my first curried chicken recipe. It turned out great. In fact, we finished the entire dish in one meal, with no leftovers.

Note: For my tips on how to buy chicken, see the Tips section below.

1 skinless, boneless chicken breast (the one I used was about 10 oz/ half pound)
1 onion, cut into thick slices (to be used to bake the chicken)

marinade for the chicken
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin/jeera powder
1/2 tsp corriander/dhania powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper/red chilli powder
1 cup yogurt
1/2 inch ginger, grated
3 cloves of garlic, miced/grated
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp lemon juice

for the gravy/curry
2 tbsp oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 tsp ginger paste or 1/2 inch ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, minced/grated
2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp tomato paste
1, 14 oz can of tomatoes, approximately 4-5 tomatoes, diced
1 tsp butter
1/4 cup yogurt, whisked well till smooth
salt to taste
1 tsp sugar
1/2 - 1 cup water

Mix the salt, corriander powder, cumin powder and cayenne pepper together and make a spice rub.
Cut the chicken into strips of similar size, so they cook evenly and take around the same time to cook. Pat each chicken piece dry and sprinkle some of the rub on both sides of the chicken piece and place in a glass container. Keep this in the fridge and marinade the chicken pieces in the spice rub for about 1-2 hours.
Next, whisk together the yogurt, ginger, garlic, oil and garam masala. Pour this mix over the chicken pieces and coat the chicken pieces in this yogurt mixture. Keep the container back in the fridge and let it marinade for an additional 3-4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Take a baking tray with sides and line it with foil. Slice the onion into thick slices and layer them at the base of the foil covered tray, creating a bed of onions. Layer the yogurt coated chicken pieces in a single layer on top of this onion bed.  Discard the excess yogurt. Bake the chicken in the oven for about an hour or till the temperature registers 165 F.  When you bake the chicken, the moisture from the yogurt keeps it moist and succulent. Alternately, you can also skewer the chicken pieces and broil the chicken for about 20-30 minutes. Check the chicken temperature which should be 165F. This will give it the authentic chicken tikka texture, however the meat does get a little dry.

Start cooking the gravy when you start cooking the chicken. Heat the oil and add the diced onion to it. Cook this till it is golden brown in color. Next, add the tomato paste, garam masala, ginger and garlic paste. Cook for a couple of minutes till the ginger and garlic are well cooked. Then, add the tomatoes and cook them for a few minutes till the tomatoes are cooked down. Add a little water to the gravy and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the yogurt mixture to the gravy and cook it for a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat and once the gravy cools down a bit, puree it. Pour it back into the pan and then let it boil. If the gravy is too thick, add a little water to thin it down. Add salt, sugar and butter and let it simmer.

Once the chicken is cooked, let it rest for a few minutes. Then, cut the chicken strip into bite sized pieces (about 1/2- 1 inch) and then add it to the hot gravy. Do not simmer the chicken in the gravy.

Serve hot with warm rotis or white rice, along with a side of sliced onions, and lemon slices.

Tips: If you do not have tomato paste at home, you can use tomato ketchup. If you are using fresh tomatoes, blanch them and peel the skins. To blanch them, boil some water. Add the tomatoes one at a time to the boiling water and let it remain in there, till the skin of the tomato starts to break up. At this point, remove the tomato and put it into cold, ice water. Once the tomato is cool to touch, you can easily peel the skin out and then use the tomato.
Lining the pan with foil, makes it easy to clean up after the chicken is cooked. To measure the temperature of the chicken, insert a meat thermometer, into the thickest part of the chicken.

Chicken buying tips: If you are beginner like me, and not comfortable with cutting up the chicken, then the easiest method is to go to the meat department of the grocery store and speak to the butcher. Generally, someone there will help you select the meat, even cut it for you and give you advice on how to store the chicken. I was told that if you do not intend to use the chicken in the next 2-3 days, then to freeze it for up to 5 days. After 5 days the chicken can get freezer burns and is no longer good to use.

Make sure to clean your hands, the cutting board and the countertop well after handling the chicken to avoid cross contamination with other food. A plastic cutting board is easier to clean. Use a separate cutting board to cut the vegetables. Do not reuse the cutting board or knife used to cut the chicken without cleaning it thoroughly with soap and hot water.


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