Sunday, September 26, 2010

Indian Reservations: PFB #2

Thanks to all who voted for my first entry to Project Food Blog!! This post is my submission for Challenge 2: The Classics. We were tasked with selecting an ethnic classic that is outside our comfort zone, research, and make the recipe as authentically as possible. Voting for this challenge takes place from 9AM Eastern September 27th through 9PM Eastern September 30th. I hope you enjoy it and vote for me by clicking here to vote (click on the heart at the top of the page!).

Chicken tikka masala is by far my favorite Indian dish , and I always make it a point to get a big helping whenever I go out for Indian food buffet. Although I know the dish is not traditionally “Indian” and actually has origins in England, I crave the spice and rich garam masala flavors. Translating these flavors to my home kitchen has been difficult because I’m not familiar with the style cooking and flavoring. Indian food is way outside my comfort zone but I wanted more than anything to finally perfect this dish So that I can enjoy chicken tikka masala whenever I want to. This is a journal of my adventures dating back to my first attempts in 2008.

Attempt #1, September 2008: Saw a jar of tikka masala sauce at Trader Joe’s. Thought about the way chicken tikka masala warms me from the inside out. Bought the jar, brought it home, heated it up, simmered chicken breasts, served over rice. It was extremely bland and watered down. Texture was unappealing Attempt #1 failed.

Attempt #2, March 2009: Used a recipe printed from a website claiming authentic Indian food. Sauteed onions in oil, added spices, including curry powder, and garlic to cook. Added spice mixture, mostly curry powder again, to cook in oil. Added tomatoes and plain yogurt, sauce tasted bland. Simmered chicken, tasted, sauce had not developed additional flavor. Wife would not eat so we had peanut butter and jelly. Attempt #2 failed.
Attempt #3, July 2010: Went to Indian market, bought garam masala spice blend. Told to cook onions in oil until brown followed by addition of spice mixture. Added tomatoes, and yogurt. Tasted, sauce tasted like chalk. Added more cumin, yogurt, and salt. Sauce still tasted like the backside of a station wagon. Chicken remained in refrigerator, pizza ordered. Attempt #3 failed.

Attempt #4, September 2010: Fed up with failed attempts and inspired by Food Buzz Challenge, started completely from scratch. Sat with wife and three cookbooks, pulling best ingredients and techniques from each. Oil vs. butter, amount of masala spice, and yogurt amount all debated. Wrote original recipe from this research. Made Alton Brown’s masala mixture, toasting whole spices and adding to a grinder. Slightly adjusted for more cumin (which we like) and less cardamom (which we are still in the “getting to know you” stage). Spice mixture smelled distinctly nice and warm.

Added combination of oil and butter to Dutch oven, cooked onions until well browned. Added two teaspoons of masala mixture along with garlic. Had plethora of fresh tomatoes from garden, so roasted, then pressed through food mill instead of using canned tomatoes. Wife pointed out to season with salt as sauce cooks, adjusted seasonings. Pot smelled like Indian food. Could this work? Added chicken breasts, poached until just cooked (160oF). Removed chicken and shredded. Added yogurt, coconut milk and cilantro to sauce, thickened with cornstarch. Served over rice and tasted. Spicy, warm flavors combined with tender chicken. Attempt #4 SUCCESS!
Chicken Tikka Masala

1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 Serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons AB's garam masala (or you can use a blend such as McCormick)
28 ounces crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 cup low fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 cup frozen peas

In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, combine oil and butter until hot.  Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt, sauté for 10 minutes or until browned.  Add chile, ginger, and garlic and cook for 1-2 more minutes until garlic is extremely fragrant.  Add sugar, garam masala, a bit of salt and pepper, and cook for another 2 minutes or until spices are extremely fragrant.  Stir often to prevent burning.  Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, bring mixture to a simmer.  Add chicken breasts to poach, flipping halfway through, cooking until 160°F on meat thermometer, about 20 minutes.  Remove chicken and let rest briefly, then shred.

Meanwhile, add yogurt and coconut milk to sauce along with cilantro and peas.  Combine corn starch with 2 tablespoons water, add to sauce to thicken.  Season with cayenne, salt, and pepper.  Add chicken back to sauce, heat through, and serve over rice.