Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Chicken Tikka Masala Fills Your Senses

If I knew a good love song about dairy products, I'd be putting a link to it here. If you read my last post about our discovery of a line of organic, lactose-free dairy products, you'll know what I'm talking about.

It's been years since I've been able to contemplate making recipes that contain any fresh dairy products like butter, yogurt, sour cream, cream or any cheese younger than about six months. Looking through cookbooks or recipe sites, I automatically screened out anything that had any significant amount of those ingredients. Sure, I'd been able to substitute margarine for butter in a few, and tried tofu sour cream and cream cheese on occasion, but…sorry to say this…they were pale imitations when the real deal was called for.

Roasting spices for garam masala.

The cuisine of India is generally fine for the lactose intolerant, since vegetable oil is often called for (or can be substituted for ghee) in many instances. But the creamy, lovely curried yogurt sauces have been off limits. Until now.

As mentioned previously, Green Valley Organics makes lactose-free sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese and butter, and they're widely available here in Portland. So to celebrate this life-changing—or at least dinner-changing—occurrence, I decided to do a trial run of a tikka masala, which uses copious amounts of ghee and yogurt as the body of a curry sauce that blankets the chicken, lamb or whatever meat you choose in a lusciously rich coating.

Lovely aroma, fabulous flavor.

I was intrigued by the description I ran across in a recipe for a Punjabi-style tikka masala by Samin Nosrat on the New York Times cooking site, but decided to substitute fresh chicken thighs for the cooked turkey called for. (I also made homemade garam masala—easy and so much more flavorful than store-bought—using a recipe by Craig Claiborne.)

Long story short, with a few tweaks and adjustments to the recipe, sighs and moans were heard emanating from the diners gathered around the table, for the return of these much-missed gifts from our bovine friends as much as the incredible aroma and flavor of the dish itself.

Chicken Tikka Masala

For the garam masala:
9 green cardamom pods

1" length of stick cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. whole cloves

1⁄2 tsp. black peppercorns

1 Tbsp. cumin seeds

1 Tbsp. coriander seeds

For the marinade:
2 tsp. garam masala
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. paprika
4 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. kosher salt
6 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press or pounded in a mortar and pestle
1 c. whole-milk yogurt
3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on is fine, too)

For the masala:
4 Tbsp. ghee, butter or neutral- tasting oil
1 onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
6 cardamom pods, crushed, with seeds reserved and husks disposed of
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. paprika
1⁄2-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. garam masala
1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 Tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press or pounded in a mortar and pestle
2 serrano peppers, finely minced
1 qt. roasted tomatoes or a 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
12 oz. sour cream
1/2 c. whole-milk yogurt
3⁄4 c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish
Steamed basmati or jasmine rice, for serving

Break open cardamom pods and reserve the small seeds, discarding the outer shells. Roughly crush the cinnamon stick into small pieces in a mortar and pestle. Combine all the spices in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook spices briefly until they emit a roasty aroma, but be careful and don't allow them to smoke. Empty into small spice mill or small coffee grinder and grind as finely as possible. Store in airtight container.

Make the marinade: In a medium bowl, stir together garam masala, coriander, cumin, paprika, turmeric, kosher salt, garlic, ginger and yogurt. Fold in the chicken thighs. Cover and chill for 4 hours or overnight.

Make the masala: On the stove top, heat a Dutch oven or similar pot over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons ghee, butter or neutral oil, then add onion, cardamom, bay leaf, paprika, pepper flakes, garam masala and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are brown and tender, 10 to 15 minutes, adjusting temperature as needed so the onions don’t burn.

Make space among onions in center of pot, and add 1 tablespoon ghee, butter or neutral oil. When it sizzles, add ginger, garlic and serrano peppers, and sizzle for about 10 seconds. Stir into the spiced onions, then add tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the liquid is almost gone, 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir sour cream, yogurt and chopped cilantro into the mixture in the pot. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 40 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

In the meantime, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, turn on oven broiler, and arrange an oven rack about 6 inches from broiling unit. Lay the marinated chicken thighs on the parchment in a single layer. (Stir any remaining marinade into the sauce.) Broil thighs until they begin to blacken in spots, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the browned thighs to the masala sauce, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Just before serving, taste and adjust salt as needed. To serve, garnish with cilantro sprigs. Serve hot, with steamed basmati rice.

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