Today I’m road testing Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe for a Chicken Tikka Masala, taken from the book “Curry Nation” and available at TheHappyFoodie.co.uk!
When people talk about British food, they tend to talk in terms of Fish and Chips, Shepherd’s Pie or Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding. For me though, one of my favourite British dishes is the Chicken Tikka Masala.
British? Well… probably. The definite origins of this curry can’t be pinned down exactly, though all versions of the origin story point to an Asian recipe being adapted to British preferences. It turns out we like meat to be served with a sauce!
Whether it’s Punjabi or Bangladeshi, by way of Glasgow or Birmingham… the dish as we understand it is a relatively modern invention.
Since the 1970’s, it’s become the perennial favourite of a British Indian restaurant or takeaway, acting as a stepping stone to introduce non-spice lovers to the deliciousness that is Indian food. It’s a gateway curry, if you like. With a rich, flavoursome tomato sauce and delicately flavoured chunks of chicken, what’s not to love? Given that the heat of the dish is easily adjustable too, it’s no wonder the Tikka Masala became so popular.
Like all Tikka Masalas, there’s two parts to this dish by Madhur Jaffrey. First, the ‘tikka’. Chunks of meat, marinated for several hours in a mixture of spices and dairy (yoghurt or cream). In a restaurant you’ll likely find them cooked in a tandoor, though at home you’ll probably use a grill. Second, the ‘masala’ sauce. A masala is a mixture of ground spices, though there’s a myriad of ways of putting a masala blend together.
So what do I think of the recipe? Well, I’ve made it twice and loved it on both occasions. I have made some minor alterations to the recipe though, which I’ll discuss below.
Things to Be Aware Of
First though, I have to say the recipe would be a little awkward for an absolute beginner in the kitchen. Whilst it’s pretty straight forward and simple to follow, there are two things that stand out to me.
One: It’s not specified that the yoghurt needs to be at room temperature. And it does, or you’ll end up with a curdled mess. Moving it from a fridge-cold state to a hot pan is a surefire way to end up with curdled dairy. Similarly, when simmering the sauce on a low heat – do just that. Don’t boil it on high, as again you’d be encouraging the proteins in the yoghurt to clump together.
Finally, don’t be tempted to go for a low-fat yogurt. Fat helps protect those proteins, stopping them from sticking to each other. If you’re wanting to go low-fat, you’d need to add an extra stabiliser – like flour. I‘ve ruined a Butter Chicken before by tipping in fridge-cold milk and forgetting to turn the heat down. A double whammy of stupid. Don’t be like me! Respect the dairy needs!
Two: The recipe requires 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and very finely chopped. The first time I made this recipe, I halved everything to serve it for two people. I found there wasn’t quite enough sauce for me – and I wondered whether this was partly due to my idea of a medium tomato being different to Madhur’s. I would have liked to see a weight indication of some sort here. Secondly, how do you peel a tomato?
The easiest way is to score a large X across the bottom of your tomato and put it in boiling water for about a minute, then move it over to an ice bath to cool it down. The skin should peel up easily from the cut you made. You could always cut the tomato in half, place it flat side down on a tray and stick it under the grill on its highest heat – the skin will go black and come away easily. But this is a bit more time consuming and messy…
Thoughts and Alterations
I set the chicken breast pieces up the night before, so they ended up marinating for around 24 hours in total. The result was beautifully soft, deliciously tender meat. It’s a simple, lovely marinade that uses cream – whereas I’m used to seeing yoghurt as the dairy component here. I like this version, though it leaves me with most of a tub of cream left over… From a wastefulness point of view, I’m not thrilled and as I don’t generally use cream I’m at a little bit of a loss for what to do with it. All suggestions welcome!
The masala sauce is super simple to make and really very tasty, but I do make one key alteration here. I don’t want a ‘lumpy’ sauce – one with pieces of onion in the mix. So I use my stick blender to whizz it down into a relatively smooth sauce before adding the coriander leaves.
Blending is entirely optional, but by doing so you’ll end up with a slightly thicker sauce – which can be extended with a bit more stock. I prefer to have a bit more sauce to play with in this dish, so it works really well for me. The version pictured below has an extra tomato and additional stock.
Lastly, the grilling of the chicken. I don’t tend to like to add additional oil where I don’t believe it’s needed – which is somewhat the case here. Instead of threading my chicken onto skewers, brushing with oil and rotating mid-cook, I cut the chicken slightly thinner than specified and place on the bars of my grill tray. Then I leave them to cook through.
You’ll end up with one side that’s aenemic looking and the other with toasty, charring bits. I’m entirely happy with this outcome. If that extra charred flavour is important to your dish, don’t let me stop you following the instructions. I just felt you should know that I didn’t.
Chicken Tikka Masala Summary
- Get the Recipe: Madhur’s Chicken Tikka Masala from TheHappyFoodie.co.uk
- My amendments:
- Cut the chicken into pieces approximately 1.5 cm thick.
- Marinate the chicken breast pieces for 24 hours.
- Ensure the yoghurt is at room temperature before using!
- Use an extra tomato for a more tomatoey sauce.
- Don’t skin the tomatoes, but:
- DO blend the sauce until it’s smooth.
- DO add a little more stock after pureeing to adjust consistency.
- Grill the chicken pieces on a wire rack.
- Don’t add additional oil.
- Leave them to cook through from one side.
The first time I served this curry with homemade naan bread (you can find my discussion of it here) and the second time with plain basmati rice. Whatever you choose to serve it with, this is an utterly comforting and delicious plate of chicken curry!
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