Traveling the world through cuisine

India's gift to the United Kingdom

Shish Mahal Restaurant owners
Asif Ali and Andleeb Ahmed of the Shish Mahal Restaurant.
Many fans claim Ali's father invented Chicken Tikka Masala back in the 1970s.

When I first started dabbling with Indian cuisine years ago, my brother immediately spoke of how much he would love for me to make Chicken Tikka Masala. I honestly can’t blame him for asking. Both he and I would eat plenty of it on those occasions we were privileged to dine on Indian cuisine.

So I marked the request on my to-do list and eventually would get to it down the road. I took my time researching, went over many recipes, and managed to create out my own rendition of the classic dish. The amusing punch line of this story is that in researching Chicken Tikka Masala, I found it’s not really Indian...but more British.

Chicken Tikka Masala is really an offshoot of Chicken Tikka, a dish similar to Tandoori Chicken. There are loads of stories circulating on how the dish came to be, but it seems most fall in line with English diners ordering Chicken Tikka and then complaining how it had no sauce. Put in a bind, the Indian and Bangladeshi chefs living in the UK doctored up the dish to add in a thick tomato-based sauce.

The end result is a wonderfully spicy chicken stew that most actual Indians would not care to call “traditional cuisine”. Regardless, it is a dish many Indian and Bangladeshi cooks in the UK display with pride, as it was named one of the national dishes of the United Kingdom.

Since the origin of Chicken Tikka Masala is under dispute by many chefs (all claiming to have invented it), there isn’t really an “official” recipe. The beauty of that is you have the freedom to utilize ingredient lists and techniques that suit your needs.

For my recipe, I wanted to stick to seasonings and ingredients you could easily find in any store. Here’s what I came up with:

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

Ingredients

For the marinade:

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced thinner
  • 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
  • 3 tbsp of peanut oil
  • 3 tsp of lime or lemon juice
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tsp of coriander
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1/2 tsp of cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp of paprika
  • 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper

For the sauce:

  • 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup of tomato paste
  • 3 tsp of coriander
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1/2 tsp of cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp of paprika
  • 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp of ginger
  • 1 can (28 oz) of diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus additional sprigs for garnish
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a sealable container or bag, combine the ingredients needed for the marinade.
  2. Place the chicken into the marinade and coat thoroughly.
  3. Seal your contaner and marinate the chicken for at least 4 hours.  Overnight is better.
  4. When you're ready to cook the final dish, preheat your broiler or grill.
  5. Remove the chicken from the marinade (do not throw it out) and broil or grill your chicken roughly 10 minutes, or until it begins to blacken. Set aside.
  6. In a large heavy pot, melt the butter over medium heat.
  7. Add in the onion and tomato paste.  Cook both until the onion softens and the paste darkens.
  8. Stir in the coriander, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, cayenne pepper, ginger, and any remaining marinade you have.
  9. Continue stirring until the spices roast a little, about 4 minutes.
  10. Add in the diced tomatoes.
  11. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat.
  12. Continue cooking and stirring the mixture until it thickens (roughly 10 minutes). Use this moment to deglaze the pot, getting the roasted brown bits into your final sauce.
  13. When the sauce thickens, add in the heavy cream and chopped cilantro.
  14. Simmer the sauce for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  15. Cut the cooked chicken into smaller pieces and add them to the sauce.
  16. Stir and simmer the final product until the chicken is fully cooked.

Quick Notes

How you want to marinade the chicken is up to you. Some like to poke whole breasts with a fork and then marinade.  Others will cut them up into small pieces and then marinade.

A Dutch Oven is a good suggestion for that heavy pot.

Variations

Funny enough, Zuzana felt this dish was too spicy, while my brother felt it was too mild.  The cayenne pepper is the main source of the fire, so if you have diners who are sensitive to spicy foods, I'd suggest leaving it out.

Healthy It Up

The best ways to healthy up this dish would be to use canola or vegetable oil in place of the butter, and fat-free half & half in place of the heavy cream.  I'd also suggest nonfat yogurt.  Some will claim the removal of fat will ruin the flavor, but I've found the flavor lies in the spice mixture, so go ahead.

Serving Suggestions

Serve this dish with basmati rice or naan bread.  If neither is available to you, then go with normal rice.  You could even try Thai noodles for a different twist.

Be sure to garnish it with fresh cilantro for added color.

Tags: English, Indian, chicken, tikka, masala

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