Chicken Tikka Masala
As much as I love Indian food and grew up eating lots of Indian dishes, I don’t cook Indian food well. I am honored to have Meeta of What’s for Lunch Honey as a guest writer on Rasa Malaysia. I adore Meeta’s writing skills and droolsome food photography, plus she is such a fine cook. Please welcome What’s for Lunch Honey as she shares the history, origin, and recipe of Chicken Tikka Masala.
The chicken tikka masala is known all around the world as one of the most popular Indian dishes. The irony of the chicken tikka masala, better known as CTM, though is that what is often enjoyed in restaurants as a traditional Indian dish has very little to do with authentic Indian cuisine.
When Rasa Malaysia wrote to me asking me if I would be interested in being a guest writer on her blog I was extremely ecstatic. She wanted me to help her show her readers how to cook a chicken tikka masala. She cracked me up when she referred to me as “a real Indian food expert” – I was flattered but modestly and in all honesty admit that I do not consider myself an expert in Indian food and the irony of this is that I am going to be showing her readers how to cook “Britain’s true national dish.”
It was the British Foreign secretary, Robin Cook who announced the chiken tikka masala as the new national dish of Great Britain. The statement was used to set an example for the British multiculturalism. The chicken tikka masala Mr. Cook was referring to was in actual fact the gravy based dish invented in Britain.
Chicken tikka, on the other hand, is indeed an original Indian dish, prepared by marinating small bite-sized bits of chicken in yogurt and and spices, which are then grilled over a charcoal fire, giving it that lovely, unmistakable smokey flavor.
No – you cannot have gravy with that!
Apparently that was exactly how the chicken tikka masala was invented. The story of this dish is somewhat amusing to say the least. A British gentleman dining in a restaurant, sometime in the early 1960’s, exclaimed his chicken tikka to be too dry and demanded a gravy with his bits of grilled chicken. The chef, who was exasperated and at his wits ends by the complaint, improvised by opening a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, added a dollop of yogurt and sprinkled some spices on the dry chicken tikka and presented the dinner guest with Chicken Tikka Masala! It was relished by the British gentlemen and that was when the chicken tikka masala was born. Today 18 tons of chicken tikka masala is consumed in Britain – per week!
In her book Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, Lizzie Collingham takes an excellent look at the history of Indian food. She dedicates an entire chapter to the chicken tikka masala. She writes, according to food critics the chicken tikka masala
“was not a shining example of British multiculturalism but a demonstration of the British facility for reducing all foreign foods to their most unappetizing and inedible forms. Rather than the inspired invention of an enterprising Indian chef, this offensive dish was dismissed as the result of an ignorant customer’s complaint that his chicken tikka was too dry. “
There is another theory for the origins for the chicken tikka masala. Some say that the chicken tikka masala originated in British India, when local dishes were bastardized to adapt to the British palate. The Punjabi dish of butter chicken is believed to have been the first prototype for the chicken tikka masala.
What would you call the chicken tikka masala – fusion food or a “mongrel dish”?
For those who belittle the chicken tikka masala for being inauthentic and untraditional to India will want to read Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. Collingham researches the true origins of several traditional Indian dishes like biryani, korma and dhanasak and finds surprising answers in the Middle East and Persia.
The chicken tikka masala might very well have been a dish adapted by the British upon their return from British India and today enjoys incomparable popularity. It might also have been the ingenious invention of an Indian chef to satisfy his guest. As an Indian however, I do have to say, I am delighted that it was the desire to experience a flavor of India that made this dish so popular.
The recipe I am sharing with you was not created by my grandmother, mother or my dad. In my family chicken tikka masala was only enjoyed in restaurants, I never remember it ever being made at home. While none of my family members prepared the chicken tikka masala at home they, just like several expatriate Indians living outside India, enjoyed the rich creamy flavor of the tomato based sauce and the combination of spices.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I really love the chicken tikka masala and unlike my grandmother and mother, do prepare it often at home. Over the years I have found my favorite spice blend and flavor combination for my own personal chicken tikka masala. Indian fusion food for everyone to indulge in!
It’s easy to see why this dish might get confused for a typical Indian dish. There certainly is a lot of flavor coming from a typical Indian kitchen. I love the smokey aromas the chicken gets after being grilled on the charcoal and I always do get Tom to throw on the barbecue for this. The oven is a great alternative but that smokey flavor goes missing. It’s also wonderfully distinct it the rich sauce. The incredible orange color appeals to the eyes and the thick creamy texture is just waiting for warn pieces of naan to be dunked and scooped up.
I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do and thank you for having me over as your guest.
All photographs and written content © Meeta Khurana unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved Please Ask First.
Marinating the Chicken:
3-4 boneless chicken breasts, skins removed and cut into bite-sized pieces
250g thick natural yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
Skewers, If using wooden skewers completely submerge them in water for approx. 30 minutes. This will hinder them from catching fire while grilling.
250g canned cocktail tomatoes
250g heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 red chilies, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika powder
1 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter
Handful of coriander leaves/cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper
Mix all of the ingredients for the marination in a large bowl. Thoroughly mix until the chicken is nicely coated. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
On the next day, either prepare your charcoal grill or heat up the grill function of your oven to high.
Thread the chicken pieces onto the skewers, discarding the marinade. Grill the chicken evenly on all sides, until juices run clear – approx. 5-6 minutes.
To prepare the gravy, heat a large skillet to medium and melt the ghee/clarified butter. Sauté the garlic and chopped chilies until fragrant. Sprinkle the ground cumin, paprika powder and a pinch of salt. Sauté for a further minute or two until the mixture turns into a paste-like texture.
Pour in the canned tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the skillet to deglaze it and to release any bits stuck to the pan. Simmer uncovered for approx. 10-15 minutes on low heat until the sauces begins to thicken, then add the grilled chicken pieces and cream. Simmer for a further 10 minutes, thickening the sauce further and to heat the chicken and cream through.
Serve sprinkled with fresh chopped coriander leaves and with steamed Basmati rice, fresh naans and pickles.
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