Though somewhat clouded in history, chicken tikka masala is clearly based on chicken tikka, a popular dish from South Asia. Chicken tikka is made by baking chicken pieces that have been marinaded in yogurt and spices, and often the pieces are skewered and baked in a tandoor, an Indian clay oven, though in some areas the meat is cooked over hot coals. The masala is actually a curry sauce or gravy, and the cooked chicken is added to the sauce, then the chicken and sauce is served with rice or warm naan.
If you’ve never made a curry, this is a very easy recipe to start with. You might have to visit an Asian grocery store to find pure Indian chile powder, cardamom, and garam masala, though I have seen them all at Wegman’s in the Indian foods aisle, or you can make garam masala yourself. The ingredients vary depending on which recipe you follow, and believe me when I say I found a lot of different recipes on the Net. I’ve been cooking with garam masala for a few years, and I can’t live without it now. We love the spicy, roasted flavors in all kinds of dishes.
I use cardamom pods and grind the seeds fresh because I love the flavor and aroma. The pods are either green or black, though green is the most common, and you have to break open the dried pod to find the tiny black seeds inside. The aromatic and flavorful seeds are used in tea, coffee, curries, and sweets. This recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom, and I used the seeds from four pods and ground them with a mortar and pestle.
The recipe calls for a 35-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, but since I only had 28-ounce cans on hand I used one of those and added a 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes and increased the spices accordingly. This comfort food is easy to make, it just requires some planning. The chicken marinades overnight in the yogurt and spice mixture, then bakes for about 12 minutes. The curry sauce takes about 50 to 60 minutes to prepare and cook, so if you cook the chicken and rice while the sauce is going you can have dinner ready in about an hour.
[Updated October 31, 2012.]
CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA
Adapted from Food & Wine, September 2003.
large glass bowl
baking sheet, lined with aluminum foil
food processor or mini chopper
4 to 6-quart dutch oven
1 cup (240 ml) plain low-fat yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom or seeds from 4 pods, crushed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2-1/2 pounds (1.133 k) skinless, boneless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1-1/2 tablespoons garam masala
1-1/2 teaspoons pure chile powder (For the best flavor, choose one that just has chiles, no other spices.)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (35-ounce/992 g) can peeled tomatoes, finely chopped, juices reserved
Pinch of sugar
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
1. MAKE THE MASALA MARINADE: In the large glass bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cayenne and turmeric. Season with salt and pepper.
2. MARINADE THE CHICKEN: Using a sharp knife, make two or three shallow slashes in each piece of chicken. Add the chicken to the marinade, turn to coat, then cover and refrigerate overnight.
3. ROAST THE ALMONDS: In the small skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil. Add the almonds and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate and let cool completely while you make the sauce. In the food processor, pulse the almonds until finely ground and set aside.
4. Preheat the broiler and position the oven rack about 8 inches from the heat.
5. START THE SAUCE: In the dutch oven, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garam masala, chile powder, and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with all the juices and the sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cover partially and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
6. BAKE THE CHICKEN: While preparing the sauce, remove the chicken from the marinade, scraping off as much of the marinade as possible. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and spread the pieces on the foil-lined baking sheet. Broil the chicken, turning once, until just cooked through and browned in spots, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and after cooling a few minutes, cut it into 2-inch pieces.
7. FINISH THE SAUCE: After the sauce has simmered, add the cream and ground almonds and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes longer. Stir in the chicken pieces. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.