Wednesday, January 21, 2009

For the Love of Indian Food - Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken Sauce, Naan

I didn’t take a picture of my first attempt at butter chicken basically because I forgot, also I have to say that while the colours are beautiful and vibrant, the dish in its entirety is not necessarily the most attractive thing to look at. So, I hope you enjoy the shot of the beach from this afternoon. We surprised on our walk by a small flock of birds springing up from the rocks and swooping and dipping all around Dolan causing her to leap around with joy before they finally came to rest in the trees. During the summer Dolan and the birds have a playful relationship and chase each other up and down the beach daily. I think they were thrilled to see one another again.

This dish is a two-parter. First the chicken is cooked in tandoori spices and then the butter sauce is added. The dish wasn’t extremely work intensive because I had the opportunity to start the chicken marinating in the tandoori spices the night before.

Every time I attempt a new dish and I take a shorctut even one as seemingly slight as using a store bought garam masala, I realize afterwards that I should have gone all the way and broken down all the ingredients to their most basic parts. I guess I have to prove to myself that the added effort is worth it and I have to say it is! The next time I make this I will be grinding my own spices to make a garam masala.

The fact is the garam masala is really just a blend of spices (like a Chinese 5 spice) and the name simply means “hot spice.” The basic ingredients are cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg (or mace), bay leaf, cumin, peppercorn. The benefit of making a garam masala yourself is that you can choose how much of each spice you add and play around with the mixture until you are pleased. I think making my own will make all the difference in the world.

This is not to say that the dish was not successful. It was a resounding success according to the peanut gallery and in fact, I’ve been asked to make it again next week. I served the butter chicken with jasmine rice (I would have used basmati instead if I’d had some in the house) and I made my own naan. The naan was really the highlight for me. I’d never considered that I could make it at home, but it worked out pretty well. The secret to the whole dish really is trying to replicate the heat of a tandoor oven. The high heat is what really cooks in the flavours and marinade on the chicken and what gives the naan its texture. Obviously you can’t really do that, a tandoor is about 1000 degrees, so you make due with cranking your oven to the highest heat you’ve got.

So, onto the recipes:
Tandoori Chicken:
1 whole chicken broken down into small pieces
2 cups full fat yogurt
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. ginger, grated
1 ½ tsp turmeric
1 ½ tsp paprika
2 tsp. of garam masala spice blend or curry powder
Salt to taste

For the Tandoori marinade, mix the yogurt, garlic and spices in a large bowl. Whisk well. Taste the mix and play with the spices, I think I ended up adding more garam masala, but the chicken ended up very spicy once it had marinated. Add the chicken pieces, refrigerate and marinate for at least 3 hours (I did it overnight).

Preheat your oven to its highest setting.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on a rack set over a baking sheet, by putting the chicken on a rack you let the high heat circulate all around the pieces. Cook for about 20 minutes, depending on how high your oven goes (I cooked mine for 20 minutes at 550 degrees).

Butter Sauce for Indian Chicken

1 small can of whole tomatoes
1 cup 35% heavy whipping cream
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 chili peppers
3 tablespoons grated ginger
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
½ cup of butter

Puree the tomatoes, cream, garam masala, lemon zest and juice, chili peppers, ginger, cilantro and salt.

Melt the butter in a 3-quart saucepan. Let it brown slightly then stir in the tomato mixture and heat it through. Add in the chicken to coat it and then serve.


2 cups bread flour
½ tsp salt
1 1/8 tsp dry yeast
¾ cup full fat yogurt or buttermilk at room temp.
2 tbsp. melted butter or veg. oil
1 tsp. to 1 tbsp. of water (add as needed)
1-2 tbsp. melted butter (to brush on naan)

Mix all the ingredients (I did it by hand—it took almost no time) until the dough forms a ball. Knead it for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Put the dough in an oiled bowl (oiled side of dough up), covered with plastic wrap. Let it rise for an hour and ½ at room temp.

Put your oven rack on the lowest rungs and preheat the oven to the highest temp. Leave the oven at the highest temp for a ½ hour or so to build up the heat.

Punch down the dough and divide it up into 4 pieces, roll the pieces into balls and let them rest for 10 minutes.

Put a pizza or baking stone (or an inverted baking sheet) on the rack for 5 minutes to get it hot.

Roll out the dough balls into rounds about ¼ inch think and brush with melted butter. Place the rounds on the stone (make sure they don’t touch). Bake them for about 5 minutes or until they puff up and start to turn golden (baking time will depend on oven temp).


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