So, guess what? I found out, after the fact, that Alec Baldwin was in my grocery store, at the very same time I was in there picking up an onion and serrano peppers for this dish. Apparently, he was there with his mom, who lives in the neighborhood. They were filming a holiday commercial for Wegmans, the most super-awesome grocery store ever. In fact, Mr. Baldwin claims that Wegmans is the primary reason he’ll never be able to get his mom to move to the west coast. Hey, Mr. Baldwin… if you’d let me know you were gonna be in town, I would’ve had you over for dinner, Gourmand Mom style. Bring your mom!
Alas, we ate our dinner without the Baldwins, as usual.
This post has been a long time coming. If you’ve been with me from the beginning of this blog, you may remember the passionate tale of mine and my husband’s common obsession with Chicken Tikka Masala. For me, Chicken Tikka Masala runs a very close second to Macaroni and Cheese as a dish I could eat at every meal, every day, for a very long time.
In essence, Chicken Tikka Masala is composed of chunks of marinated chicken in a spicy tomato-cream sauce. But, search for a recipe and you’ll be presented with a mind-boggling array of completely different interpretations of this dish. In fact, every chicken tikka masala I’ve ever tasted has been quite different from the next. I’ve tried making it several times, experimenting with the proportion of spices, source of creaminess, and type of pepper used for heat. And every recipe I’ve tried has resulted in the same, over-spiced result. Not over-spiced in the hot and spicy sense, but just generally over seasoned with garam masala, cumin, coriander, chili powder, and the like, resulting in an indiscernible cloudy taste. This result isn’t necessarily wrong. As I’ve said, there are varying preparations of this dish, but it’s not the flavor I’ve been going for. My goal is to create a Chicken Tikka Masala similar to our favorite Chicken Tikka Masala, which is lightly spiced and full of creamy tomato flavor; a good amount of heat, with a pleasant flavor.
It occurred to me that I just needed to be more gentle with the sauce preparation. Rather than lightly marinate the chicken and heavily spice the sauce, as many recipes instruct, I decided to be a little more aggressive with the marinade and conservative with the sauce. My husband, an experienced amateur musician, compared my approach to something called Subtractive EQ, a process used in music recording which involves turning down the levels of certain frequencies to achieve the desired result, rather than turning up the levels of other things to counterbalance something else. He appropriately coined my culinary approach to our Chicken Tikka Masala as Subtractive Flavoring.
Well, my subtractive flavoring approach produced the best result yet. The sauce was rich with tomato flavor, with a good amount of heat, and a perfectly balanced level of spice; a really pleasant tasting sauce, which I’m happy to share with you.
After reading my previous post about my Chicken Tikka Masala, a very thoughtful friend sent me a couple of spice mixes direct from India, along with a beautiful bowl and spoon. I recognize that not everyone has a friend living in India to send you spices. But, never fear. This recipe calls for a spice blend known as Garam Masala, which is readily available in most well-stocked grocery stores. My grocery store carries multiple options for Garam Masala, right alongside the Oregano and Parsley. Masala simply means mixture, which is exactly what Garam Masala is; a mixture of multiple spices. Look for something which contains a blend of coriander, cumin, ginger, chile powder, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves.
In addition to my new approach with the sauce, I cooked the chicken using a different technique, which I saw here. Cooking the chicken breasts on a cooling rack, set above a baking sheet, allows the excess marinade to drip away during cooking and the chicken to cook more evenly. It’s still no substitute for the tandoor cooked chicken from our favorite Indian restaurant, but in the absence of a tandoor oven, it’ll suffice.
Chicken Tikka Masala is best served with a side of basmati rice and naan bread. I made fresh naan for our dinner, following a recipe I found online, but was less than satisfied with the end result, which resembled more of a pizza dough than a light, floppy piece of naan. Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza dough, but it’s just not the same as naan. I’m going to keep working on the naan recipe and will get back to you when I’ve got it right. In the mean time, check your grocery store for pre-made naan. My grocery store carries it in the frozen food section, as well as in the bakery department.
Chicken Tikka Masala
- 1 1/2 pounds Chicken Breasts, trimmed of excess fat
For the Marinade
- 2 containers Plain Yogurt
- 3 Tbsp Garam Masala
- 2 tsp Garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Paprika
- 1/4 tsp Cayenne
- 1/2 inch segment of Ginger, grated
For the Sauce
- 3 Tbsp Butter
- 1 small Onion, diced
- 1 tsp Garlic, minced
- 1 1-2″ segment Ginger, grated
- 2 small Serrano peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced
- 1 1/2 Tbsp Garam Masala
- 1 (29 ounce) can Crushed Tomatoes
- 1/4 cup Tomato Paste
- 1 cup Heavy Cream
- 1/4-1/2 tsp Cayenne (plus more, if desired)
- 1 tsp Salt (plus more, if desired)
Combine all marinade ingredients in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Place the chicken breasts in the marinade and toss to evenly coat. Refrigerate and allow the chicken to marinade for at least six hours or overnight.
Preheat broiler. Place a metal cooling rack on top of a baking sheet. Spray the cooling rack with cooking spray. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and and allow the excess marinade to drip away. Place the chicken on the cooling rack. Place the baking sheet, with the cooling rack above it, about 10 inches below the broiler. Cook for 15-20 minutes, turning the chicken halfway through, until the chicken is cooked through. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the chicken breast. Allow the chicken to cool, then cut into medium-sized chunks. Set aside.
To make the sauce, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and serrano peppers. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent. Add the garam masala, stir, and cook for another minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine. Continue cooking until heated through, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and add the cream. Add the chicken. Cook for a few minutes to heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper, as desired.
Serve with naan and basmati rice.