If you’ve yet to foray into the world of Indian cuisine, chicken tikka masala is a good guide for first-timers. There are many aspects of it that are familiar and comfortable to a Western palate (like chicken and rice) but with a decidedly Eastern bent. And by Eastern bent, I mean wonderfully aromatic and fragrant rice, and a richly spiced, yet not spicy, warm sauce for the chicken. It’s a small wonder that this is the most popular Indian dish in the world, even if it’s not, well, strictly authentic Indian.
Another fantastic thing about chicken tikka masala is that it requires no special equipment. It would be nice to have a tandoor, but a broiler make an acceptable stand-in. Now if only I could find a good tandoor substitute when making naan… But that’s another story of a less successful foray. For now, stick with the chicken tikka masala and really start using some spices in your cooking!
Chicken tikka masala with basmati rice pilaf
From the September 2007 issue of Cook’s Illustrated
For the pilaf:
2 tablespoons canola oil, vegetable oil, or corn oil
2 three-inch cinnamon sticks, halved
4 green cardamom pods
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
4 whole cloves
2 cups basmati rice
2 teaspoons table salt
3 cups water
For chicken tikka:
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon table salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts , trimmed of fat
1 cup plain low-fat or whole-milk yogurt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
For masala sauce:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh serrano chile, ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced (for less heat, omit this. For more heat, keep ribs and seeds)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon garam masala (or 2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup heavy cream (or half and half or whole milk for a lighter version)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
For the rice:
Heat oil in medium saucepan over high heat until almost smoking. Add whole spices and cook, stirring until they pop. Add onions and cook, stirring until translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in rice and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add 1 1/2 cups water and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover tightly, and simmer until all water has been absorbed, about 17 minutes. Let stand, covered, at least 10 minutes, fluff with fork, and serve.
For the chicken:
Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with another inverted plate, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.
For the sauce:
While the chicken is refrigerating, heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, 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. 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. Using tongs, dip chicken into yogurt mixture (chicken should be coated with thick layer of yogurt) and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Discard excess yogurt mixture. 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). Stir in cilantro, adjust seasonings, and serve over rice.