In high school, we had a few restaurant eating traditions. If we ventured below 14th Street, it was for pad thai at Republic or dragon bowls at Angelica’s Kitchen. If we went east, it was probably for an Americano Panini at Via Quadrono, before or after a visit to the Met. On the Upper West Side, a.k.a. my hood, the regular spots were more numerous, but if it was a big group of girls, we almost always ended up at Mughlai.
The Indian food at Mughlai no longer seems particularly special—as we’ve discovered this since going back with the same group of girls in recent years. Perhaps it’s gone downhill since our high school days. Or maybe it was never that good in the first place. It’s also not all that cheap.
Regardless, a girls’ dinner at Mughlai was at least a monthly affair. Perhaps if we had instated Mag Club back in the day, it would have taken place over bowls of biryani and copper pots full of steaming baigan barta—a rich eggplant and tomato dish that appealed to the vegetarians amongst us. Leora, who hadn’t yet begun her foray into cooking, had already become an expert over-orderer and would either be put in charge of corresponding with the waiter or would chime in after the fact to add one more of everything.
These days, what I notice is how an Indian restaurant’s scent sticks with me even after I’ve showered. For this reason, and a traumatic first date experience on Curry Hill where my suitor told the waiters it was my birthday and the waiters then flashed a room full of chili pepper lights on and off in my honor, I try to avoid Indian restaurants at all costs.
But I still crave Indian food like crazy, even if I rarely eat it out. Recently, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and test out a Chicken Tikka Masala recipe for the blog. I took a risk, and served it to two of Josh’s friends who were coming over for dinner. I didn’t really know their tastes, and since they were not in high school or girls, I worried that if my apartment ended up smelling like an Indian restaurant, they would be remembering the meal for days. And not in a good way.
It turned out, my simplified version of the dish was easy and delicious. Best of all, I made it start to finish the day before, leaving my kitchen counter-tops masala-free, and the apartment smelling warm, homey, and only ever slightly Indian.
From my kitchen, bringing high school Indian traditions back home, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Chicken Tikka Masala
Makes 4 servings
The number of ingredients and steps in this recipe may not make it seem instinctively easy, but I promise you it is. Everything can be made in advance, and it’s a fairly simple one-pot dish, other than the broiling of the chicken.
This is a great make-ahead meal. You can do the whole thing start to finish one or two days before. Or you can marinate the chicken overnight and cook the sauce ahead. The night of the party, simply broil the chicken, add to the sauce, and simmer for ten minutes. Dinner is ready!
If you’re a vegetarian, be sure to try the Chana Bateta–it’s practically the same dish, only it uses chickpeas and potatoes.
NOTE: You can mince the garlic and ginger for both parts of the dish, reserve half for the tikka masala sauce, and then proceed with the chicken marinade in the food processor.
For the chicken:
2 garlic cloves
1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
1 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tablespoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 Serrano chili pepper, halved
One 28-ounce can fire roasted crushed tomatoes (you can use regular if you can’t find these)
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
Marinate the chicken In a small food processor, pulse the garlic and ginger (or chop finely by hand). Add the yogurt, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, and oil and puree until smooth. In a large bowl or Tupperware container, mix the chicken with the yogurt mixture until very well coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
Make the sauce In a medium Dutch oven or lidded saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over a medium flame. Saute the onions, garlic, and ginger until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the garam masala, cayenne, and serrano chili pepper. Cook for 2 more minutes, until very fragrant. Carefully pour in the tomatoes, sugar, and salt. Simmer partially covered over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. (The sauce should be much thicker than what you expect–the cream and the chicken juices will thin it later.) Add the cream and stir to combine.
NOTE: sauce can be made up until this point up to two days in advance.
Make the chicken: Preheat the broiler. Remove the chicken from the marinade and lay the pieces flat on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil until the chicken is slightly browned on top (it wont get too charred), about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken and broil again on the other side for another 5-7 minutes. (The chicken will not be completely cooked through when you remove it.) Remove to a cutting board and roughly chop. Pour any remaining juices into the masala sauce.
Add the chicken and juices to the sauce. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is very tender. Stir in half of the cilantro.
Serve alongside basmati rice and garnish with the remaining cilantro