Chicken tikka masala + a happy birthday

January 9th, 2010

Chicken tikka masala plated

I wonder if I still know how to write – of course I know how to type letters and words, which then make sentences and so on, but I mean really write? Or maybe I just wonder if I can still write like myself – like the self that used to fill pages and pages with words that were pictures that were the stories that painted my life and reflected my soul. Education, society, convention, adulthood, the uncontrollable in life have all taken stake in the empty pages of the journals I have kept toting around for the last decade. So, I’m not quite sure how I feel about all this writing, but what I do know is that I just ate a fat fried brown organic egg on a plate with leftover maple syrup on it from our last minute dinner of french toast (yes, I took a break after cooking nonstop the past couple of days), and it was one of the best eggs I’ve ever had. I also know that Tuesday was my dear friend S.’s birthday, and she loves Indian food and chocolate, so that’s what she got, because it was her birthday, after all.

Ginger, spice, lemon, yogurt in sunlight

S. is the therapist I interned under during my last two semesters of grad school.  She runs her counseling practice out of her nineteenth century Victorian home on Main Street in downtown Smithfield, Va (like Smithfield Ham, yes).  I would sit in on client sessions with her for training in addition to seeing clients myself and do various odds and ends administrative tasks such as scheduling and confirming appointments, helping with treatment plans, and making deposits.  I drove forty minutes to be at S.’s house at 7am in the morning two days a week to do required supervision, which with S., amounted to doing yoga in our pjs in her bedroom before the first 8am client or walking up, down, and around Main Street (still in pjs) in countless repetitions, discussing cases, or whatever else was deemed urgent at the time.

Mixing spices into yogurt

I started bringing my stovetop espresso maker with me in the mornings and cappuccinos after the 8am client became a morning ritual.  Soon S. became obsessed with my little espresso device and proceeded to buy at least six different types of stovetop espresso makers.  You really can’t compete with S., she always wins. Some days I would come home exasperated saying to my husband, “You won’t believe what S. said to me today! The audacity!”  His response, “I would have said:  this, or that, or whatever,” and I would say, “No, first of all, she is evaluating me; second, I really think we can be friends once this is all over with.”  It has been three years since that internship, and S. is a treasured friend – so thankful.

Cutting ginger into a cube for gratingUsing latex gloves while cubing raw chicken

Last year I made chicken curry for S.’s birthday and packed it up in the car along with four month old little J., and took the birthday dinner to her house. This year, we decided to celebrate at my house, since taking a 16 month old child to someone’s house for dinner and having to leave at 7:30 due to your child’s escalating hyperactivity and exhaustion is not exactly a recipe for a relaxed, celebratory dinner amongst adults.

Ingredients for chicken tikka masala tomato cream sauce

I decided to make chicken tikka masala from a recipe I’ve been using for several years. There are many variations to the spicing in this dish, and I cannot attest to them all since this is the only recipe I’ve tried so far, but I can attest to this one saying it is very good and tastes similar to the chicken tikka masala I’ve tried at many Indian restaurants. Chicken tikka masala is not a completely authentic Indian dish, but rather a Brit-Indi (my made up word) creation. Chicken tikka is a traditional yogurt spice marinated and grilled Indian dish that the English adapted to their tastes by dousing in sauce. Normally, I tend to be a purist in these types of matters (except I really do like Tex-Mex), but this match really works, so why argue?  The Brits love their Indian food, and I hear that this tops their list of favorites.  It certainly is at the top of mine.

Blooming spices in butter

An important step in Indian cooking is sauteing the spices (called “blooming”) in oil or butter until fragrant before adding other ingredients. This wakes the spices up by toasting them and allows their flavors to infuse the oil and thus the flavor of the rest of the dish.

Pouring cream into tomato sauce

One of the most intimidating things about cooking a new type of dish for me is having to go out and buy a bunch of ingredients and spices I do not have on hand and do not normally work with.  I remember it took me several months to try this dish for that very reason.  Grate fresh ginger?  Marinate chicken in yogurt – really?  Grill on skewers and then put in a spicy tomato cream sauce? Yes, really, and it is wonderful. I’ve found that grating ginger is quite simple if you cut the sides away to make a manageable, skinless block with which to work.  I also like to use latex gloves when handling raw meat. Who wants to touch raw meat? Not me.

Grilling chicken tikka skewers

I must really love S., because it has been especially cold in Va. this week, and I still went outside and grilled the chicken on our old little Weber. Of course I shouldn’t forget that it is S. who mail ordered fake grass spray and painstakingly sprayed dead brown spots green all over her lawn in order to throw me the most lovely garden baby shower not too long ago.  I told you, you can’t compete with S.

Chicken tikka being added to masala sauce

The grill flavor and charred chicken bits add both complexity and texture – I like to sear the outside of the chicken and leave the insides a little undercooked to finish cooking in the pan with the sauce, thus ensuring the chicken remains tender and not overcooked. For starters, we had roasted red pepper hummus with cilantro and pita chips, and for dessert, a decadent chocolate cake I made the night before. Incidentally, my husband and I try to let our son taste everything we eat, providing it is safe for his age, and as it turns out, roasted red pepper hummus and cilantro is a big hit.

Roasted red pepper hummus with cilantroChocolate birthday cake

S.’s friend M. also came.  Here are S. and M., with S. in the foreground – both looking as young and beautiful as ever.  Happy birthday, friend.

S. and M. on S.'s birthday

Chicken tikka masala
Adapted from

1 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1.5 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1.5 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1.5 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
4 long skewers
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, ribbed, and finely chopped (add reserved seeds and ribs for more heat at end if desired)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup heavy cream (I often use half & half)
sea or kosher salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a large bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper, ginger, and salt. Stir in chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Do not marinate for longer than 1 hour, as chicken can become over seasoned. If using wooden skewers, cover in water during this time to help prevent burning when on grill.
2. Preheat a grill for high heat.
3. Lightly oil the grill grate. Thread chicken onto skewers, and discard marinade. Grill until juices run clear, about 5 minutes on each side.
4. Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic and jalapeno for 1 minute and then stir in 2 teaspoons cumin and paprika and saute until fragrant, about 1 more minute. Stir in tomato sauce and cream. Simmer on low heat until sauce begins to thicken, about 15-20 minutes. Add grilled chicken, and simmer till chicken is completely cooked and warm, 5-10 minutes. Taste and add salt to taste, if needed. Transfer to a serving platter, and garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve with basmati rice and whole milk yogurt to cut heat, if needed.

Note: I like extra sauce to mix with rice, and usually increase the sauce recipe by one half.

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Posted in Indian | 14 Comments »

14 Responses to “Chicken tikka masala + a happy birthday”

  1. Artist says:

    Wow, sound so good. I have to try it.

  2. BettyeBob says:

    I can answer your question ………… yes, you can write…… wonderfully well in fact. Even an old country boy like me can appreciate excellent writing. I took a college course once called ‘Interpretive Reading’……. your writing, or moreso my reading of your writing, reminds me of that course where we were taught to use our personal expression while reading aloud to reflect the personal intent of the writer. That was one of my favorite classroom experiences even though it had absolutely nothing to do with my major but everything to do with my education. To use an old redneck expression, I would just say….”You go girl”, you’ve got the gift.

    • drcadmin says:

      BettyeBob, aww thanks. You know how to make a girl feel good!
      Artist, I checked out your website and your art is beautiful and inspiring – thanks for visiting – let me know if you make the dish!

  3. The Teacher Cooks says:

    What a beautiful blog and so well written.

  4. Catherine says:

    Laura, I am very impressed with your latest article; it was so well written and I’m sure your friend is extremely honored. Now, on to the food! I have been to England many times and have always said that my favorite restaurant there is an Indian restaurant. And, yes the Brits do put their spin on Indian dishes, just like we do on Mexican and Chinese and many others. My husband and I love to cook, and are very fond of Indian spices and curries, but he doesn’t like to grill in the wintertime if he can help it. Would this recipe be ok with the chicken grilled under the broiler in the oven? I do love the taste of charcoaled food, though, and wonder if that would detract too much from the overall effect? Do you use a gas grill or a charcoal one?

    • drcadmin says:

      Catherine – We had a gas grill but it is currently “out of order” -so we use a little old charcoal Weber. The flavor is great, so I’m not complaining too much. I especially like using hardwood charcoal (I buy this at Trader Joe’s) since regular charcoal and lighter fluid can sometimes leave an off taste. As for broiling the chicken inside during the winter, I have considered trying this, but haven’t gotten around to it quite yet. I believe it is worth a try – you will lose some flavor and texture, though the added convenience may be worth it – let me know how it turns out if you try it this way.

  5. anticiplate says:

    Chicken Tikka Masala MAY be my favorite Indian dish of all time. (Don’t tell Lamb Goa Curry) This looks great!

    • drcadmin says:

      anticiplate – can you believe I’ve been to Goa twice and I honestly do not remember the food (oh so young and naive was I that I did not appreciate any Indian food in those days-how sad to be in India- twice -and not relish in all of the amazing cuisine; oh well, youth is often wasted on the youth)? If you are talking about Vindaloo, I just bought Julie Sahni’s “Classic Indian Cooking” and she has an authentic promising recipe, but none specifically for Lamb Goa Curry – let me know if you have a good recipe or any suggestions.

      Catherine – I do use organic whole milk yogurt – Greek yogurt might end up a bit thick for the marinade. I have honestly never tried smoked paprika, but providing no extra flavors have been added the spice, it would probably be very nice – if the flavor is stronger than regular paprika, you might scale back the quantity a bit until you taste the sauce and then add more as needed.

  6. Catherine says:

    OK, we will try this tomorrow night done in the oven on broil. Believe it or not, I have most everything already, but will pick up the few things I’m lacking this afternoon. Do you use whole milk yogurt? Greek yogurt might be really good? I have some heavy cream still good from Christmas and also some half ‘n half. Also, I thought smoked paprika might go along with this, but would like your input. Thanks, Laura

  7. Harold says:

    I’ve had something like this a few years ago and it was delicious. Your recipe looks wonderful; probably enhanced by all the great pictures. Hope to have it soon!

  8. Catherine says:

    Laura, I fixed the Chicken Tikka Masala last night and it was wonderful! Like my mother used to say when she fixed something she really liked, “I almost swallowed my tongue!”. I broiled the chicken under the grill on high for five minutes on each side like you said, and it was great done that way. I also used the smoked paprika, which worked out well, too. What a success; this will be one of our favorites from now on! p.s. I couldn’t find organic whole milk yogurt, so I used the fat free organic yogurt, and we loved it.

    • drcadmin says:

      Catherine – So glad to hear it worked out broiled- I will have to try this method as well.

  9. White Elephant says:

    I know next to nothing about cooking–just enough to singe some wieners on my camping stove or cook a five dollar frozen pizza in my stove. I do know writing, however, and I believe you communicate with both substance and style. Keep up the good work and I wish you the best of luck with your culinary adventures!

    • drcadmin says:

      Wh Elephant – thanks for visiting dRc! Camp cooking is invaluable and I am sure I could learn some lessons from you – I will have some “how tos” and simple recipes before long – they are really my favorites, anyhow. (:


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