Monday, March 7, 2011

Time to spice things up....Indian style!

I love Indian food, but it’s always been sort of an intimidating cuisine for me in the kitchen.  There are so many flavors going on, and generally so many steps in the preparation of a meal that it’s certainly not something you can easily whip up during the work week unless you plan to eat at 9pm.  Well, yesterday was the perfect day for it – a lazy Sunday with rain beating down all day.  What better to do than invite over a cooking buddy and go to town….

My friend and I are both super anal in the kitchen – we like things sliced, chopped, stirred, poured, etc. all in a certain way (and not necessarily the same way!).  You’d think this would make it difficult to cook together, but for some reason it always works out well.  Especially in the case of yesterday where we each had our own dish to prepare.  She made a vegetable curry with chickpeas and potatoes while I focused on Chicken Tikka Masala, something I have been talking about making for at least a year now.

Was it as good as I had hoped?  Hell yes, it was delicious!!  America’s Test Kitchen does it again, with my little tweaks of course since I can’t seem to ever follow a recipe exactly….

Here are the basics-

Toss the pieces of chicken in the spice rub and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  In the meantime mix up the yogurt mixture.  After the chicken has marinated, dip each piece in the yogurt mixture (make sure it has a good amount coating it) and place on a foil-covered broiler pan.  ATK says to broil the chicken about 6 inches from the heat for 10-18 minutes (internal temp should be 160-165º).  My old-school oven does not let me regulate distance to the heat source so I thought it would be safer to bake the chicken, then just finish it off in the broiler.  I baked it at about 425º for 20-25 minutes then broiled it for about 3 minutes, just enough time for the yogurt coating to form a crust.  Remove from oven and set aside until the sauce is ready.    

While the chicken is baking, heat oil in a large dutch oven and sauté onions for the sauce (I used about an extra ½ cup of chopped onion).  After about 8 minutes or so when they have become translucent, add in the garam masala and other flavorings (garlic, ginger, serrano pepper, tomato paste).  Cook everything for a few minutes, then pour in the can of chopped tomatoes, sugar and salt.  Let this come to a boil then reduce to simmer for about 15 minutes.  At this point I did a taste test to see if the serranos made it spicy enough – of course they didn’t so I added a dash of cayenne, a dash of salt as well as about a ½ tsp of cumin.  The extra seasonings may depend on the garam masala used.  This version seemed a bit cinnamon-heavy so the extra cumin was needed to add more of that warm earthy/smoky flavor.  When the flavor is to your liking, add the cream and stir to combine.  Since dutch ovens stay hot for quite some time, I recommend turning off the heat and just letting the sauce sit for about 15 minutes or so to allow the flavors to meld.

**SIDENOTE – even though your friends may laugh at you, as mine did, I recommend wearing latex gloves to chop up the serrano chili – the last thing you want is to accidentally rub your eyes before washing your hands.  Also a great trick for avoiding 3 days of garlicky smelling fingers!**

While waiting on the sauce, cut the chicken into chunks about ½” – 1” in size, making sure to sneak a few bites as that yogurty crust is awesome!  After letting the sauce sit, turn the heat back on low and stir in the cilantro and chunks of chicken just until everything is hot.  Serve over steamed basmati rice and try your best not to eat the entire pot yourself.

If you still have some energy left, mango lassis are a great accompaniment to this meal and they’re super simple to make.  Just puree fresh mango, plain yogurt, mango nectar, some agave syrup or honey (if necessary for sweetness) and a bit of ice until smooth.  Yum!  This is what I call a great Sunday dinner.

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen

1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut in half)
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp minced or grated fresh ginger (I used ginger powder)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or through a press

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or through a press
2 tsp minced or grated fresh ginger (again, used powder)
1 serrano chile, minced
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (I used 1/2 tsp dried)