A Taste of South Asia or … U.K.?
In my quest to prepare cuisines from all over the world, I bring you a dish that’s origins are disputed. Today’s dish will be Chicken tikka masala. This dish is said to hail from India or, surprisingly, the U.K. When I ask culinary friends they are divided on its origin, so I’ll do some research myself. Chicken tikka masala is a meal made up of chunks of chicken marinated in spices and yogurt that is then baked in a tandoor oven, served in a masala (“mixture of spices”) sauce. The word “Tikka” in Hindi means pieces or small bits. A tomato and coriander sauce is common, but according to the BBC E-Cyclopedia there is no standard recipe for chicken tikka masala; a survey found that of 48 different recipes, the only common ingredient was chicken. The sauce usually includes tomatoes (frequently as puree), cream and/or coconut cream, and various spices.
One explanation of the roots of the dish is that it was conceived in an Indian restaurant in Punjab some time in the last 50 years. There are also claims that an Indian chef in Glasgow invented it by improvising a sauce made from yogurt, cream and spices. One Indian chef tells me that the chicken tikka masala known and loved in the U.K. is completely different from the actual chicken tikka masala of India. The masala sauce was originally added to the dish to satisfy the desire of the British to have their meat served in gravy. Another tells me that it originated in British India where the local cooks tried to adapt local dishes to the British palate. An adaptation of Butter Chicken or Murgh Makhni, a dish from the Punjab region of India, could have been the first prototype of chicken tikka masala. I then find out that the British have made chicken tikka masala the national dish, relegating fish and chips to 2nd place. Chicken tikka masala is now served in restaurants around the globe and, according to statistics, is the most popular dish in the United Kingdom where one in seven curries ordered is tikka masala.
It seems that I cannot get to the bottom of this controversy, so I spent a couple of hours viewing numerous ways to prepare the dish. I was told that the British version of the dish is less spicy and sweeter than its Indian counterpart, and I love my curries with a spicy “kick” so I guess my version will be closer to Indian style! Traditionally the chicken is grilled over hot coals or in a tandoor oven (which I don’t have) to give it that smoky flavor. But I live in NYC and it’s November so I will do my version stove top with an indoor grill. Where this dish first appeared does not really matter because it just tastes so darn good! So I hope you enjoy my version of this “disputed” dish 🙂 Bon Appetit!
For the chicken
1 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
4-6 skewers (soaked in water to prevent burning)
For the sauce
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or Ghee
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons tumeric
1 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
In a large bowl combine yogurt, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper, ginger, and 1 teaspoons salt. Stir in chicken, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
Preheat a grill for high heat. Lightly oil the grill grate. Thread chicken onto skewers, and discard marinade. Grill until juices run clear, about 5 minutes on each side. After cooking you may wish to remove the chicken from the skewers to serve.
Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic and jalapeno for 1 minute. Season with 2 teaspoons cumin, tumeric, and 3 teaspoons salt. Stir in tomato sauce and cream. Simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Add grilled chicken, and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, and garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve with grain of your choice I used Basmati rice.