I was wary of Indian flavors for a long time. Like a lot of people, I’d been misinformed about the heat level and feared an amount of Scoville units that were simply out of my league. But a friend steered me in the right direction with a couple of well placed pieces of advice, and I’m going to attempt to set this boat on that same course now: Start with the Tikka Masala, and there can never be enough naan.
Because Tikka Masala is a great, fairly mild way to get better acquainted with that side of your spice cabinet without being overwhelmed — and the tomato-based sauce is creamy and rich, toasty and fragrant. We’re also going to be using a method of tenderizing the chicken that makes all the difference in the final result: marinating the chicken thighs overnight in yogurt and spices before broiling them until browned; a clever way of imitating a tandoor oven at home.
The addition of deeply toasted almonds sets this recipe apart from the others swirling around out there (believe me, there are tons and I think I’ve cooked them all). We’ll be taking the extra step of toasting and grinding them in a food processor, and I promise you’ll see it’s well worth it when you taste the sauce and the depth of wonderful, toasty flavor it adds.
This recipe is fairly generous as far as portions, and that’s on purpose because it freezes so well. Feel free to halve it, but I hope you don’t. Because a pot of this when you’ve had a long day and don’t feel like cooking? The best. Slap some rice in the rice cooker and pull some naan out of the freezer while you’re at it (Costco and Trader Joe’s both carry tasty varieties) and prepare for the easiest (and tastiest) meal you didn’t have to cook today.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted from Grace Parisi via Food & Wine
For the marinade:
8 oz plain yogurt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon tumeric
2 lbs. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs (trimmed of excess fat)
For the masala:
½ cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil, or other neutral cooking oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 ½ tablespoons garam masala
1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 35 oz. + 1 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes
¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
Place a large zip bag in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the yogurt and marinade spices to the bag and zip it shut. Use your hands to massage the zip bag until the spices and yogurt are well combined. On a plastic cutting board, lay out the chicken thighs and make several shallow gashes in each thigh, being careful not to cut all the way through the meat. Add the thighs to the bag and zip it shut, getting out as much air as possible. Toss the bag around to make sure the thighs are all coated with the yogurt mixture. Let the chicken marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
While the chicken is marinating, toast the almonds. Place a small skillet over medium heat and add the sliced almonds. Toast until light golden brown all over, stirring frequently (don’t walk away! They start slow but once they get going, they really get going). Place in a small storage container and set aside until you’re ready to make the masala.
When the chicken has done it’s thing in the fridge, preheat your broiler to high. Line a rimmed sheet pan with foil and lay the chicken flat, making sure they don’t touch and getting all the yogurt off them that you can without rinsing. They should all fit on the same pan. Broil for 6 minutes, pull them out and gently drain all of the liquid out of the pan that you can. Flip the thighs and broil the other side another 6 minutes. Pull the chicken out — it should be just cooked through and deeply toasted in spots. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Place a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onions and saute until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Next add the garam masala, chili powder, cayenne and ginger. Toast the spices for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes with their juices and stir until everything is well combined. Bring the mixture up to a rapid simmer, cover partially and lower the heat to medium low. Simmer for twenty minutes, until the mixture is reduced slightly.
Meanwhile, add the almonds to the bowl of a food processor and pulse on high until finely ground. Grab the reserved plate of chicken and chop the thighs into bite sized pieces.
Add the almonds and cream to the pot and stir to combine. Add chicken and fold into the mixture. Cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with long grain rice and naan, if desired.
Serves 6 as a main course