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With fresh garlic, ginger, and turmeric root blended in a sauce of lemon and tomato how could anyone resist this? My 100% authentic Indian girlfriend, Farheen, suggested which spices to use and taught me the importance of using fresh whole spices to toast and then grind before use. The difference between doing this and not, is the difference between smelling and, well, NOT SMELLING. The fragrance and flavor is immensely improved when you toast your spices whole and grind them fresh. I simply use a food processor. 100% worth the extra step.
The fragrant preparation of dry toasting whole seeds of cumin and coriander in a pan is very rewarding. Grinding and pounding with a mortar is extra fun for the kids- or a stressed out adult. I combine the toasted spices with paprika and some cayenne to achieve the awesome flavor imparted to tikka masala. I use only fresh turmeric and ginger. Fresh turmeric root has such a powerful flavor and is very beneficial for your health. Aside from the stained yellow fingers, this is one fabulous root to incorporate into savory cooking for a major flavor impact.
The mariande involves a deliciously zesty yogurt-lemon-spice sauce that the chicken bathes in overnight, or at least 2 hours. I use chunks of chicken breast because it is a lot less preparation and eliminates the whole step of chucking the meat off of the bone after it cooks. Because this recipe uses a flavorful marinade and simmer sauce, juiciness is not compromised at all.
Once all those flavors get well acquainted with the chicken, you char-grill it or broil it in your oven. Grilling tastes much better, of course.
I use a tablespoon of olive oil or coconut oil + a tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter or “samna”) to impart the essential buttery flavor, without having to use the 4 heaping tablespoons of ghee originally called for!
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let it sizzle…
…until nice and caramelized with some tasty burnt parts!
Tomatoes, lemon, and cilantro are then added and pureed with an immersion blender.
Add milk or cream- whatever your dietary preference is. Cream and butter are traditional and necessary for the classic creamy and buttery taste, but even I feel that would be too heavy. I prefer a dash of cream or milk with lemon and tomato being the dominant flavors of the sauce.
Add the chicken and the remaining chopped cilantro and serve with rice or naan. SO GOOD.
- 7 pounds chicken breast pieces, skin removed
- 4 tablespoons toasted ground cumin
- 3 tablespoons toasted paprika
- 3 tablespoon toasted ground coriander seed
- 2 teaspoons fresh turmeric root
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 12 cloves garlic, 8 whole, 4 minced
- 4 tablespoons fresh ginger root
- 3 cups plain yogurt
- 1 cup fresh juice from 6 to 8 lemons, divided
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon butter or ghee
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 c sliced shallots
- 3 cups diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1/4 c cup heavy cream (optional)
- 1/4 c milk
- 1/2 c vinegar for washing (optional)
- Wash chicken pieces with vinegar and salt. Place in a large rimmed baking dish.
- Toast cumin and coriander seeds in a pan over medium heat, moving around frequently so that it does not scorch. Grind in a food processor or spice mill. Toast the paprika over medium heat in pan.
- Combine cumin, paprika, coriander, and cayenne in a small bowl and mix well. Set aside 4 tablespoons of spice mixture.
- Combine remaining 7 tablespoons of the spice mixture, 8 whole garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons ginger, turmeric root, yogurt, 1/2 cup lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until combined, and garlic and ginger are minced. Pour marinade all over chicken pieces, stirring well to ensure good coverage. Cover and refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
- GRILL: If cooking on a grill, preheat the grill and spray olive oil onto the grill tray. Scoop up chicken pieces and shake off excess marinade off of chicken and place over hot side of grill. Grill without moving until well charred, 2 to 4 minutes. Flip chicken and cook until second side is charred, another 2 to 4 minutes. (Chicken may not be completely cooked through, which is fine as it will cook more in the simmer sauce). BROILER: If cooking in the oven under the broiler, line a pan with heavy duty aluminum foil (to prevent charring and stuck on stains) and preheat the broiler to high with the rack set as close to the top broiler as possible to fit a pan under. Shake off excess marinade off of chicken and place on foil-lined pan. Broil until charred and blackened on surface, about 7-10 minutes, depending on your oven (chicken may not be completely cooked through, which is fine as it will cook more in the simmer sauce). Be careful not to dry out the chicken!
- Meanwhile, heat ghee in a large pan over medium-high heat until melted. Add onions, remaining 4 cloves of grated garlic, shallots, and remaining 2 tablespoons of ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, until dark and beginning to char in spots, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add the olive oil and allow to heat then add the reserved spice mixture stirring frequently for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and half of cilantro, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a spoon. Simmer for 15 minutes until tomatoes are juicy and soft. Puree using a hand blender.
- Stir in cream and milk and remaining half cup of lemon juice. Season to taste with salt, then set aside until chicken is cooked.
- Transfer chicken chunks to the pan of sauce. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro, then serve immediately with rice or naan.
- *The marinade yields a large quantity. I save half of it for later and cook only 3 pounds of chicken at a time for my family, but make the same amount of the simmer sauce for 3 pounds of chicken as it is so delicious and good on the rice or naan! Make the entire quantity if cooking for 6-8 adults.
- *Cream and butter may be completely omitted and the dish will still taste fantastic but this will take away from the traditional and characteristic creamy Indian tikka masala flavor. I substituted some milk and used just a bit of ghee to impart the buttery flavor. Making ghee at home is very easy and smells/tastes amazing! If you are interested in seeing this method, leave me a comment below!