One of the first things I learned when I took an Indian cooking class recently, was that if you take a specific recipe for a marinated chicken and cook it, it’s called “Tandoori Chicken“.
Naturally if you have an asian style tandoor oven then it’s the real thing, but here in Europe my oven will have to be a close enough substitute.
Then I learned that if you take “Tandoori Chicken” and add a sauce it, the recipe gets a new name and becomes: “Chicken Tikka Masala“.
“Masala” simply means “mixture of spices” and the origins of the Chicken Tikka Masala have now moved into the stuff of legend, with disputed claims that it was invented in Glasgow, Birmingham and Newcastle.
Wherever Chicken Tikka Masala was really invented, the story of how it happened runs more or less the same: a diner demands some spicy gravy for his dry tandoori chicken. The chef improvised by adding a sauce of spices, tomatoes and cream to the dish. The resulting dish is a runaway success, gathering a following that spread nationwide and quickly became one of the most popular dishes in the United Kingdom.
A survey in the U.K. claimed that Chicken Tikka Masala is the country’s most popular restaurant dish and the retailer Marks and Spencer claims to sell around 18 tonnes of chicken tikka masala per week in it’s shops.
One important piece of information I learned from my Indian cooking teacher is that although curry powder is a favourite staple in the western spice cabinet, and also consists of a mixture of ground spices, there is little variation in taste when curry powder is added to anything, so your fish, vegetables, and meat will all just taste of curry powder, rather than enhancing the actual flavours of the fish or meat or vegetables.
In my lesson we learn that even if you use a few staple spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves etc, adding them at different stages to a recipe can completely change the resulting taste, and for this reason the authentic Indian cook usually shies away from commercial ingredients like curry powder and sticks to a few basic “mixture of spices” (masala) ingredients.
The ingredients list may look a little daunting at first, there are a few “specialist” ingredients like the Tandoori Powder, but once you have this you are all set to make Chicken Tikka Masala into your own regular family favourite meal at home.
I’ve written out the recipe as provided by my Indian cooking teacher… and added step by step photographs and a few extra notes to help you see how it should all look as you make the recipe.
Although it’s photo heavy, never fear, not every photo is an actual “step”, rather I tried to use the photographs to give as much information as possible.
I understand that people around the world have different access (or not) to specialist ingredients and therefore since I have several recipes in this series I will also soon be running a small competition where you will be invited to make a comment on getting to know these genuine Indian recipes.
One lucky winner will then receive a small parcel of the more specialist items so that they can make and enjoy these recipes at home as well. Watch this space!
Chicken Tikka Masala
500g (approx 18 oz) chicken breast fillets
4-5 Tablespoons of Tandoori powder (Raja or TRS brands)
4-5 Tablespoons plain yoghurt
1 onion (finely chopped)
½ teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder (minced or salt)
fresh chopped chilies (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cloves of fresh garlic(grated or paste)
400g (1 3/4 Cups) canned chopped tomatoes
salt to taste
150ml (5 oz) cream
1 handful of freshly chopped coriander
Cut the chicken breasts into small square pieces and place in a shallow ovenproof dish.
In a small bowl, mix together the tandoori powder, ginger and garlic powders and yoghurt and spread evenly over the chicken. (In our class the teacher added them separately because she was telling us all about the spices as she did it) Don’t be tempted to use more yogurt, I was surprised at how little was required.
Cover with foil and leave to marinate for at least 4-5 hours (overnight for best results).
To the marinated chicken add small pieces of butter, before placing in a preheated oven at 150 C (300 F) (Mark 4) Cook for 30-40 minutes turning the chicken pieces regularly to prevent burning.
At this point of the recipe we have our oven version of Tandoori Chicken… time to turn it into Chicken Tikka Masala
Heat your wok and fry the onion for 5-6 minutes until softened. (Our teacher uses a “karahi” which is an Indian version of a wok, but any deep wok-like pan will do.)
Add and stir in the grated garlic then add the tomatoes, chilies (optional) and sugar. Cook for another 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Tomato pieces/blocks work better than whole canned tomatoes…
Add salt to taste. Then add the contents of your chicken tray, cook for a further 5 minutes.
To thicken the sauce and add flavour, add a few knobs of butter.
Lower the heat and add the cream. (Be careful, if the heat is too high your cream will curdle) Simmer for about 1 minute and then switch off the heat.
If you wanted to serve this in a serving dish rather than the wok, transfer the mixture now and then garnish with the coriander. Do NOT fold the fresh coriander into the mixture, it’s meant to sit on the top as the dish presents better this way.
Finally garnish with fresh coriander (also known in North America as “cilantro”) before serving. (This tastes amazing as a complement to the dish so don’t stint on it, add it stalks and all for best flavour. Do however be aware that about 10% of people have a genetic variation in their taste buds that will make them perceive coriander as having a bitter taste). I’m delighted to not be one of these: coriander is one of my favourite herbs so for me the more the better!
Serving tip: Serve with plain, Peas Pilau Rice, Saffron Rice (pictured) or Indian bread.