Written by William Dobson
Although on Sugar Street our focus lies on the Arab world and the Greater Middle East, we’ve decided to post this typically Indian dish, the inspiration behind our own Chicken Tikka Masala, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the origins of the dish can be traced back to a chef called Kundan Lal Gujral in the Moti Mahal Deluxe restaurant in Daryganj, Delhi. Gujral himself though was a Hindu Punjabi who fled to India amidst the rioting that occurred post partition. While the Punjab region (coming from the Farsi words ‘Panj’ meaning ‘five’ and ‘Ab’ meaning water, for those who share my interest in etymology – the region is home to five tributaries of the river Indus) covers an area which straddles both Pakistan and India, he was born in Chakwal, a city in the Pakistani province of Punjab. Secondly, the Arab Gulf has little culinary tradition and, as such, due to the huge number of sub-continentals who live there has taken on their cuisine as its own. Thirdly, it’s absolutely delicious.
I have three stand out Butter Chicken memories (or Murgh Makhani to use its Indian name). The first, rather bizarrely, was in a restaurant in Kumasi, Ghana, coincidentally also called Moti Mahal; the second was in a Pakistani restaurant in Dubai called Ravi’s, which is an institution there; and the third was in Bangalore in a restaurant on Church Street (home of Blossom Books, the best bookshop in an unlikely setting you will ever find) and was the first ever meal I ever ate in India. They’ve all been incredibly different in taste and also in colour, from an almost radioactive red in Bangalore to a dull yellow in Ravi’s. However, in common they’ve all had a slight residual heat (something we wouldn’t perhaps associate with Butter Chicken here) and, most importantly, a rich, velvety tomato based gravy and succulent, grilled chicken.
This recipe is a very traditional and it works really well. The green chillies are added whole so impart flavour but not so much heat and look great as a garnish on top of the finished dish. The heat can be tailored to one’s own wishes by altering the amount of chilli powder. However, I think that too much heat can really overwhelm the other flavours. The technique used to make the sauce creates a really intense flavour as all the excess liquid is evaporated off, leaving the pure spiced tomato behind and with so much butter you know it has to taste good! It’s finished off by sprinkling kasoori methi on top which adds an interesting contrast to yellowy, red curry sauce and has a wonderful aroma. Think curry houses!.
- 4 tbsp lemon juice
- 110ml natural yoghurt
- 2 fat garlic cloves (crushed)
- 10g ginger (finely chopped)
- ½ tsp paprika
- 1 ½ tsp cumin
- 1 tsp turmeric
- A few drops of red and yellow food colouring
- Chilli powder (as much as you want but probably about ¼ tsp)
- 1 tsp salt
- 8 boneless chicken thighs
- 20g ginger (finely chopped)
- 8 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 80g butter
- 4 cloves
- 10 green cardamom pods (lightly crushed to open them)
- 2cm cinnamon stick
- 500g vine tomatoes (blitzed)
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 4 green chillies (pierced rather than chopped)
- 100 ml single cream
- 1 tsp sugar
- chilli powder to taste
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
Start by mixing all the marinade mixture together in a bowl. Cut slices into the chicken, add to the marinade and leave overnight...or at least two hours if you don't have time.
For the curry, make a paste out of the ginger and the garlic using a pestle and mortar and a little water. Add half the butter and the vegetable oil to a sauce pan, melt on a reasonably medium high heat, add the whole spices until they start to sizzle and then add the garlic and ginger paste. Cook until the moisture has gone and the garlic smell has mellowed. Then add the blitzed tomatoes and the tomato purée. Reduce on a medium high heat for about twenty minutes, stirring every now and then to make sure it doesn't catch. When the resulting paste starts releasing its oil (sounds a bit confusing but you'll see...basically when it resembles a paste rather than a liquid and oil starts appearing on the surface) lower the heat slightly and continue to cook for about 8 minutes, until it has darkened. Then add 250ml water, bring to the boil and pass through a sieve pushing out all the liquid you possibly can into another pan. Discard the solid remains.
Then, either using a griddle pan or an oven preheated to 240 degrees with the grill setting on (or a tandoor if you just happen to own one or can be bothered to go to the lengths that Heston did to make one), cook the chicken until just cooked through and starting to char grill on the outside; should be about 8 minutes (you can reserve some of the marinade to add to the sauce later as well).
Melt the remaining butter, add the whole green chillies, the sauce, plenty of salt and a splash of water, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 4 minutes. Add the chicken, cream, sugar, chilli powder, paprika (mainly for colour) and garam masala and bring back to the boil and then simmer for about 5 more minutes...sprinkle on the kasoori methi and serve with plain chapattis (ridiculously easy to make)