The good news is that, despite having a name I can't pronounce, Chicken Tikka Masala is made up of completely normal ingredients that I found at my regular grocery. No need to take a trip to your local Indian market. Good thing, because I have no idea if I have a local Indian market. As I prepared the dish, it dawned on me that this is just a basic tomato cream sauce flavored with Indian spices rather than the typical Italian spices. This revelation made it feel more approachable, since who doesn't love a good tomato cream sauce?
Any dish finished with heavy cream and chopped cilantro automatically becomes a staple at our house.
This dish has three basic components: chicken, sauce, and rice.
We eat a lot of chicken and rice in this house. And cilantro, apparently. I'm three for four of recipes containing cilantro this week. I didn't intend for this to turn out to be Cilantro Week on Pithy's Kitchen, but so it has. I'll try to offer more variety next week.
As usual, we'll start the rice first because it takes the longest. Remember, minute rice is not allowed because it is not actually rice.
This is rice:
The ratio for real rice is always 2:1. That's two parts water to one part rice. Here, we'll want to make about 4 servings of rice to match our 4 servings of Chicken Tikka Masala. So put 1 1/2 cups of water and 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock in a sauce pan and bring it to a boil. When it boils, add some salt, turmeric (this gives it a great color and subtle flavor) and 1 1/2 cups of rice. Stir it, cover it, reduce it to a simmer and let it go for about 20-25 minutes. Stir it occasionally so it doesn't stick.
Next we want to start on the chicken so it will cook while we're making the sauce. Slather the chicken with the yogurt, coriander and cumin, about two teaspoons of each spice. Did you know that coriander is the seeds of cilantro? Isn't that neato.
Place the chicken in a baking dish and put into a 425 degree oven. Bake it for about 10-15 minutes (depending on how thick your chicken breasts are) and cook until just done. Turn it over about halfway through. Pull it out of the oven and cut it into cubes.
Since I'm a sauce person, it is my sincere belief that the sauce is the entire reason for making this dish to begin with. It is spicy yet cool; tomatoey yet creamy.
Chop an onion and add it, along with some butter, to a large skillet. Saute it for about 10 minutes, until it starts to soften. Now we'll add the garlic and ginger. A whole pile of each. Flavor. Yum.
Peel some ginger and grate it up - you want a couple tablespoons grated. Mince up some garlic and toss the garlic and ginger into the onions.
Saute the onions, garlic and ginger until they are really soft, about another 5-10 minutes:
Now it's time to season the sauce. Add a tablespoon of salt (sounds like a lot but it's not too much; the tomatoes are bland without it), some sugar to round out the acidity of the tomatoes, and a generous three tablespoons of garam masala. Now add the crushed tomatoes and let it simmer on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.
A word about garam masala: I've tried this recipe with both a store-bought spice mix and the garam masala recipe on PW's website (the link on the first sentence of this post will take you to her recipe). PW's homemade mix is delicious but very spicy; too spicy for my family's taste (I loved it but it is not very toddler-friendly). The store-bought mix is flavorful as well but not nearly as spicy.
After about 10 minutes, the flavors in the tomato sauce have blended together and we're ready to add the heavy cream. A whole cup. Stir it in and simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Toss in the chicken and chopped cilantro and stir it in. Ready!
The rice should be cooked perfectly now. Stir in the peas - petite, please - that are still frozen. The heat from the rice will do the trick with the peas.
Flavor abounds in this dish. I've been waiting to say that.
You, too, can make Indian food! Or at least "a somewhat-authentic Indian dish!" See you next time!
Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted from Pioneer Woman
For the chicken:
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup plain yogurt (nonfat is fine)
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
For the sauce:
2 T butter
1 onion, diced
1 piece of ginger, grated into about 2 T
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T brown sugar
1 T salt
3 T garam masala
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1 bunch cilantro leaves, minced
For the rice:
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
1 tsp turmeric
1 cup frozen petite green peas
Coat the chicken breasts with the yogurt and spices. Bake at 425 until chicken is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes (depends on the thickness of your chicken). Turn it once while cooking. Remove from oven and chop into cubes.
For the rice, bring water and stock to a boil. Add the salt and turmeric and rice. Stir, reduce to simmer and cover. Cook for about 20-25 minutes until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in the frozen peas and cover until sauce is ready.
For the sauce, saute the onion in the butter in a large skillet until the onion starts to soften. Add the garlic and ginger and saute on medium heat until the onion is tender and translucent, about 15 minutes total. Stir in the salt, sugar and garam masala. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and chicken and turn off the heat.
Spoon the chicken and sauce over the rice.