Tuesday, May 01, 2012


I have no idea what possessed me. My usual cooking policy is to avoid making anything at home that a nearby restaurant can make better—better, that is, according to my own idiosyncratic tastes rather than any objective standard of quality, so even though I acknowledge that the fancy artisan pizza place in my neighborhood can do magical things with its wood-fired oven that my putzy little home appliance could never achieve, I’m not that picky about pizza crust, and prefer convenience and the ability to customize over the hassle and expense of going out, except on special occasions. (Plus. I require pizza on a weekly basis, which would bankrupt me at the fancy place.) Mainly this means that I don’t bother trying to cook a lot of complicated (or rather, seemingly complicated, to my Western self) global cuisines, at least not in any remotely authentic way. If I suddenly moved to the backwoods, hundreds of miles from the nearest Indian buffet, you can bet that I’d be training myself to make curries with a quickness, but because I have a favorite Indian restaurant within walking distance of my apartment (along with tasty Thai, Japanese, Afghani, Himalayan, and Ukrainian eateries, plus a great taco truck), I just don’t feel inclined to bother when I can have the pros do it for me. We rarely eat out, but when we do, it’s nearly always either international food or pub fare like burgers and fries. (My rule also applies to good old American burger making, a skill I just don’t feel any urgency to master, and as I’ve mentioned before, deep-frying terrifies me.)

Yet there I was, reading Posie Gets Cozy, when I stumbled across a reference to making chicken tikka masala. I clicked the links that led to further descriptions, until I found myself staring at the actual recipe on Allrecipes. The ingredient list was relatively simple, the method straightforward, the reviews mostly glowing (the main complaints centered around the bizarre fact that the recipe called for a whopping 7 [!!] teaspoons of salt, but that’s easy enough to correct). I could do this…so I did. It was fun, and it was delicious.

As usual, I marinated the chicken for 24 hours instead of 1 hour, and I used the George Foreman (sue me; it’s easy) instead of the grill. All fine, but then I nearly failed RTFR 101 (that’s Read the Freaking Recipe) by using a 15-ounce can of tomato sauce, the standard size at Trader Joe’s, instead of the 8-ounce can called for. I didn’t realize this until after the 20 minutes of simmering, when I sampled a spoonful and thought it pretty much tasted like a spicier tomato-cream sauce. Duh! In a panic, I hastily threw in random amounts of more spices, plus some 1% milk to thin it, and whatever I did must have worked, because the end result was quite tasty and really did seem comparable to the restaurant versions I’ve had. My one complaint was that the servings seemed a bit paltry, although admittedly my mind is probably contrasting them to the enormous standard restaurant portions; in reality this dish is pretty rich and we didn’t feel deprived. Still, there certainly wouldn’t have been much spare sauce if I hadn’t accidentally doubled part of it. Dude, the sauce is the best part! Even though I wasn’t serving it over rice (I don’t really like rice that much), I had made homemade naan (recipe to follow) and wanted plenty of leftover sauce for dipping. So, long story short, I’m going to straight-up double the sauce portions next time, although I’ll be using half-and-half instead of the original heavy cream, because 2 cups of cream is just too much for a weeknight dinner. I’ll also be increasing the chicken quantity slightly; the original recipe called for three breasts, no weights given, so I just picked up a package from the store at random—two breasts, large ones, but probably only about a pound. Next time I’ll make sure I’m reaching for one of the larger packages, aiming for 1½ pounds. I’d also like to try thighs instead, since I generally prefer dark meat.

With 2 whole teaspoons of cayenne plus a jalapeno, I was worried this would be way too spicy for me, but in fact it was just perfect. That cayenne is in the marinade, so most of it doesn’t actually get eaten, plus it gets mellowed by the yogurt and the cream. If you want more spice, you can leave the seeds in your jalapeno.

Even though this wasn’t rocket science, we thoroughly enjoyed it and I was really proud of myself for trying it, which just goes to show that it pays to break the rules (or at least your own arbitrarily self-imposed ones) every now and then.

P.S. Looking for a vegetable side dish to add some more color to this meal? I made green beans with ginger butter and it was the perfect accompaniment.

1 cup nonfat plain yogurt (I think thinner is better for marinades, so I used European-style instead of Greek)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 to 1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken pieces (breasts, thighs, or a combination), cut into bite-sized chunks
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
4 teaspoons paprika
1 15- or 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1½ to 2 cups half-and-half
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a large bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir in chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 24 hours.

2. Preheat a grill or broiler. Thread chicken onto four skewers and discard marinade. Cook until juices run clear, about 5 minutes on each side. Set aside.

3. Melt butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic and jalapeno for 1 minute. Season with 4 teaspoons cumin, paprika, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir in tomato sauce and half-and-half. Simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Remove grilled chicken from skewers, add to the skillet with the sauce, and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve garnished with fresh cilantro.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes, plus 1–24 hours marinating time
Leftover potential: Good.

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