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Friday, February 11, 2011

*tikka my solace.

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Tikka masala, from what I understand, is a mostly British invention, one that—aside from the flavor profiles—doesn't have a whole lot to do with authentic Indian cooking. I happen to love authentic Indian cooking, or what passes for it in the Deep South. (Although I'm pretty sure the dishes are closer to the homeland in more diverse metropolises; I once ordered the spiciest dish on the menu at an Indian restaurant in DC—not out of false bravado, but because I thought it sounded good—and the waiter good-naturedly refused to bring me more than one glass of water because he didn't think I could handle the heat. It was insane, and amazing, and blistering, and I was high for hours afterward.)

Still, I'm not sure why some people turn their nose up at anything that deviates from tradition. If I love something, chances are I'm going to love its bastardization just as much! If not more! See Mexican Salad Pizza, for heaven's sake. Most of the Mexicans I know would be all, "Take our name off that, por favor."

This, like most popularized perversions of culinary conventions, is quintessential comfort food. I prefer an adaptation of Pastor Ryan's version, courtesy of The Pioneer Woman. There's heat here, to be sure, but it's not the eyes-watering sort. (My 15-month-old niece loved this, after grocery store limitations forced me to omit the jalapeños.) The cream—and there is plenty of it; comfort food comes at the expense of waistlines—mitigates any aggressive spiciness and leaves behind a soothing warmth that's perfection on cold nights after stressful days.

I usually do add a jalapeño, and I find that my chicken has to be much closer to the broiler than Ryan suggests to get the blackening effect (which is delicious). I use Greek yogurt, because I like the gentle sourness and the easy way it sticks to the chicken. The turmeric in the rice isn't necessary—I don't find that it adds any flavor, particularly—but that electric color is spectacular. You'll want the peas, too, which Ryan says are optional; they cut some of the richness. I can live without the sugar, because I generally think canned tomatoes aren't that acidic, but I'll leave it in the recipe for those who want an extra touch of sweetness. Don't be put off by strange words like "garam masala"—it's a spice mixture that, if you can find it in my neighborhood market, you can find anywhere. Aside from broiling the chicken this is essentially a two-pan meal, so it's perfect for a weeknight dinner. And it's easy to adjust the quantities depending on how many people you need to feed.

LSis tends to call this "chicken marsala," which confuses me because that's a dish of a different color, but I will say to you what she says to me when I correct her: "Whatever," tikka masala. I love you, ya crazy bastard.

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Tikka Masala
3 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground coriander, to taste
Ground cumin, to taste
½ cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 cups basmati rice
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 jalapeño, minced
3 tablespoons garam masala
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
1½ cups heavy cream
6 ounces frozen peas
Fresh cilantro leaves

1. Preheat broiler to high heat. Season chicken breasts with kosher salt, coriander, and cumin. Dip chicken breasts in yogurt, coating all sides. Place on a baking sheet under broiler, and cook 5 to 7 minutes per side. (It should have slightly blackened edges.) Remove from oven, and let cool slightly.

2. Bring 4 cups of water, 4 tablespoons butter, turmeric, and 1 tablespoon kosher salt to boil in medium saucepan. Stir in rice; reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 20 minutes.

3. In a large, deep skillet, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat; add onions, and sauté until lightly browned. Stir in garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon kosher salt; cook 30 seconds. Stir in jalapeño and garam masala until well mixed; add tomatoes. Stir in sugar, if desired. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 5 minutes.

3. Reduce heat to low, and stir cream into sauce. Chop cooked chicken, add to sauce, and cook until heated through. Stir in cilantro.

4. Add peas to cooked rice, stirring until heated through. Top rice with chicken and sauce, and garnish with more fresh cilantro leaves. Makes 6 servings.

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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