Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala.  Three little words that make any curry lover drool.  I read recently that this simple chicken dish is singularly responsible for fostering the love of Indian foods throughout much of the western world.  Ironically, this dish of chicken chunks (tikka) originated most likely in the United Kingdom, not the Punjab region of India although that’s hotly contested.  But who cares? It is delicious!

Heaven in a Bowl: Chicken Tikka Masala...or my take on it.

Heaven in a Bowl: Chicken Tikka Masala…or my take on it.

I’ve made a few versions over the years.  I love the American Masala recipe (by Suvir Saran) as well as his Murgh Pulao dish.  I’ve enjoyed making various versions of Tikka including one by Julie Sahni on Epicurious.  This recipe is my blended, personal, more healthy take on Chicken Tikka Masala so don’t be surprised if what you make at home is not what you love in the restaurant.  This looks like a lot of work but once you get the spices assembled, it’s rather quick and delicious.

** You will need a Mortar & Pestle** I love my small one from Le Creuset.  Its not expensive, super sturdy and cleans well.  Buy from Sur la Table or Sign of the Bear.

My little workhorse

My little workhorse

Chicken Tikka Masala

Note: Ask your butcher to pound the boneless, skinless chicken breasts thin for you.  4-5 breasts pounded to about 1/2″ thick.  Saving you time and clean-up later. If you want to do this at home place the breasts about 2″ apart on wax paper.  Place another large wax paper sheet on top of the chicken.  Then beat the chicken with a mallet or rolling pin until 1/2″ thin.  Do not use a hammer — you want a wider surface to pummel the chicken evenly flat.  Don’t ask how I learned this lesson… Lumpy chicken is never good.

To Marinate the chicken.  Prick the chicken breasts all over with a fork (both sides).  In a medium sized bowl, whisk together:

  • 1/4 cup of plain Greek Yogurt (low fat or whole)
  • 3 tablespoons of Avocado oil (you can use Peanut Oil or vegetable oil but NO olive oil)
  • 4-5 cloves of coarse-chopped  fresh garlic
  • Zest of 1/2 a Lime
  • Juice from 1&1/2 fresh limes
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Pinch of fresh chopped ginger (steal from what you use for the Sauce (see below)

Add chicken to the bowl and using your hands, massage the marinade into the chicken.  Cover and set aside.  I try to do this and hour ahead for extra marinade but it’s not necessary.  Just put it in the fridge until you start the sauce then bring it out.

For the Curry Sauce:

In a small clean bowl, mix the following after chopping or grinding each ingredient:

  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds — fresh grind using your mortar & pestle
  • 1 &1/2 teaspoons worth of fresh ground cardamon seeds — use your mortar & pestle
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds — fresh grind using your mortar & pestle
  • 1/2-3/4 teaspoon nutmeg (whole seeds) — use the small holes on your cheese grater
  • 1 &1/2 teaspoons of plain paprika.  (Not smoked, Spanish, etc.)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of peeled and fresh minced/chopped Ginger.  Use about 3 inches worth of fresh ginger.
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of cayenne (less if your little ones don’t like things too spicy)

Coarse chop 1 large WHITE onion.

Curry is a quicker dish.  Have ready:

  • 1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)
  • 2 fresh tomatoes cored and chopped in a bowl
  • 2 cups or 1 box of Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2-3/4 cup good water
  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (I like rainbow peppercorns)
  • 1 cup clean & chopped fresh cilantro
  • Fresh limes sliced in wedges for serving
  • Jasmin Rice (make per directions) enough for 4 people plus 1/2 cup frozen green peas to add into rice while boiling/simmering.  Add 2 pats butter once rice is “finished”.

    I am a complete convert to boxed Pomi tomatoes from Italy. Not only is the flavor delicious but I don't worry about toxins from the can being absorbed by the acids in the tomatoes.

    I am a complete convert to boxed Pomi tomatoes from Italy. Not only is the flavor delicious but I don’t worry about toxins from the can being absorbed by the acids in the tomatoes.

* Assemble ingredients for your rice in the sauce pot now but do not start the rice yet until you are cooking chicken.

In a sturdy, wide pot (opt for larger, like at least 4 quarts or bigger to protect you from hot splatters), melt a whole stick of butter (6-8 tablespoons) over medium heat.  Raise heat to medium high heat and Sauté onion until generally golden or light brown.  You will need to watch the onion and scrape up any burned bits — they add marvelous flavor.  I also like more butter.  I think real butter fights wrinkles.

Lower flame to medium or moderate heat.  Stir in spice mixture. Mix well.  Let the herbs heat and meld with the onions.  I wait for the aromatics to bloom up from the pot.  You don’t want to burn the herbs but want them to be hot.  Stir in your fresh tomatoes, the Pomi chopped tomatoes (the whole box including the juices), water, greek yogurt, and salt.  Bring the mixture to a short boil before reducing the sauce for 10 minutes at a gentle simmer.

While the sauce is simmering, heat 1/2 tablespoon of avocado oil in a large skillet and cook chicken over medium high heat.  You’ll have to work in two or three batches.  Brown well on both sides and remove from skillet when chicken is just cooked through about 6 or 7 minutes total each batch.  **Clean skillet between batches with a quick swipe of clean paper towel.  Add fresh avocado oil to skillet between batches too.  Place cooked chicken on a cutting board or plate and slice into 1/2″ strips.  Add the cooked chicken to the sauce as it’s ready.

Good Advice: Have things ready and staged before starting. Curry is about fresh ground spices and timing.

Good Advice: Have things ready and staged before starting. Curry is about fresh ground spices and timing.

Fire rice.  Make according to the directions on your box/bag.  I add in lots of green peas to the rice and butter for flavoring.  This dish can be too spicy for most kids but they love the rice and peas.

Once all cooked chicken has been added to the sauce, simmer for another 5  minutes.  Remove from heat and grind in your fresh pepper and 3/4 cup fresh cilantro.  Keep some cilantro for garnish.

Divide the rice into wide bowls. (Warm them in the oven at 150′ if you think of it before).  Spoon “Chicken Tikka Masala” mixture over the Rice and Peas.  Squeeze 1 wedge of fresh lime juice over the mixture and garnish with cilantro and another 1 or 2 lime wedges.  Serve immediately!

Our Annadel Chardonnay goes beautifully with this dish.  Or else opt for a crisp, non-grassy Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy!

Happy Eating!

 

 

Children, Cherries, and Vodka

I likely won’t win any parenting awards for this post but Anni has been wonderfully helpful making fruit liqueurs with me.  You may remember that during a gorgeous moment on horseback last month, I pretended I was 21 again flying down the field wielding a mallet.  Alas, despite my love of Jillian Michael’s workout videos, no amount of “shredding with weights” can protect a 36 years old woman from herniating a disc when the galloping polo pony opts to go one way and she another.  Somehow, after recovering fully last week (or so I thought), washing a baby bottle on Sunday night sent me into a full spinal seizure.

Now: Here I am.  Grouchy as hell.  Grateful for friends dropping by narcotics and baked goods.  Endlessly Icing my back as my husband valiantly fills my shoes as a stay-at-home-Mommy (+ still working full time Daddy) and I am scheduled for an MRI. He is doing a great job as I sit here like a frowning toad. So instead of being able to really cook, garden, or explore recipes here at the Farmhouse, my 3 years old Sous Chef and my very sedentary self have been making liquor.  Lots and lots of liquor.

Melita Road dark cherries ready for the Jar.

Melita Road dark cherries ready for the Jar.

We’ve been sticking to fruits in season and right now, the dark cherries are lustrous! In California, there will be a short Cherry season.  I heard from my Cherry guy up on Melita Road that the early-spring weather spelled disaster and this year’s yield is a mere 14% from last year.  Perhaps he was subtly upping my purchase but it worked.  Last week, before this searing vice grip of pain, I bought 6 pounds of dark organic cherries, made a U-turn for Safeway where Anni and I bought a huge gallon of Kettle One Vodka, a smaller bottle of Maker’s Mark, and one flat of wide mouth pint jars by Mason.

At home we rinsed the cherries and I scalded the jars in a roiling water bath.  Coltrane and Dean helped by eating cherries while Anni plucked off the stems and piled fresh plump cherries high up on our food scale.  She learned how to feel if the cherry was “yucky” and to put those aside.  Anni did a great job “measuring” out 2 pounds of cherries per batch.  We made 3 batches over the week — 2 vodka and 1 bourbon.  Each “batch” uses 2-2&1/2 pounds of cherries and yields three pint jars

Measuring out Cherries is a perfect job for your little Sous Chef

Measuring out Cherries is a perfect job for your little Sous Chef

Next, I took the clean, still-warm jars and Anni packed them tightly with intact cherries.  I carefully filled the jars with vodka or bourbon up until about 1/4″ from the rim.  You can use grappa too.  The alcohol just must be 80 Proof or higher.  We sealed them tight, labeled and dated the jars and stacked them up in a cool dark shelf to be enjoyed and given as gifts when the weather cools this Fall.  And mommy went back to icing.

Cherries in Vodka Waiting for lids.

Cherries in Vodka Waiting for lids.

I love cooking.  A big part of cooking for me is helping Anni develop her own love of foods.  To find her own joy in the kitchen and in the garden. I am so very proud of my feisty little girl.  But something surprised me about making this “Cherry Moonshine” — little Anni realized she was making something for other people to enjoy.  Something for “tall people only” that she wasn’t even going to taste but that was going to be “something special” in the Fall for her Daddy, Mama, LaLa and Papa-Wil.  And she was happy to be helping make her family happy.  And that, dear friends, is one of my favorite truths about cooking.

Pigweed, Pickling, & Vegetable Refreshers

We have an assh*le in our midst.  Pigweed.  Pigweed.  Pigweed.

PIGWEED

PIGWEED

This evil weed has officially invaded each and every one of our garden boxes.  Last year we fought it valiantly but lost much of our later crops as this invasive brute marched on.  After several trips to the Sonoma Mission Nursery to consult with minds far more brilliant than ours, we’ve come to the decision to dig out all of our mature garden boxes, treat the beds, start over from scratch, and delay any planting until we can be sure this beast has been generally eradicated.

Our private garden beds here at the Annadel Farmhouse

Our private garden beds here at the Annadel Farmhouse last night at sunset.

Adding injury to insult, I painfully threw out my back a few weeks ago playing Polo for the first time in 14 years.  My brother’s new Father-In-Law, “Mr Bill,” kindly invited me out to “Stick & Ball” before the wedding festivities began last month.

Momentary Joy

Momentary Joy on the Field

It felt AMAZING to play even just a little bit…I felt like my old college self! Until I stepped off this gorgeous horse and back onto solid ground.  OUCH.  My participation in this fabulous wedding weekend dropped down to icing my back, Advils, and reading a Southern Cookbook of unknown title that I found on my now Sister-In-Law’s Kitchen Counter.  My sister Amy is luckily a nurse and administered small cordials of vodka (that I sipped through a straw) as we read away the afternoon.

Back Out & under sister Amy's care.  We're about to discover the Bloody Mary section in Eliza's cookbook

note the straw*

Tipped off by the deliciously chilled vodka, and painful hilarity of it all, we flipped to the Bloody Mary pages and found not just one recipe but a whole section on these “Vegetable Refreshers” and how to properly pickle the condiments.  We were hooked.  And I had a new mission once home: create the perfect Vegetable Refresher and learn how to home-pickle the garnishes.

Made it to the wedding!

Made it to the wedding with my gorgeous husband and wonderful family!

Thanks to Amy, Dean and my gown’s torso-hugging bodice, I recovered enough to attend my brother’s gorgeous wedding to the lovely Eliza and make it home the next day in one piece to Sonoma.

A Must Have for Home Pickling, Jarring, and Canning.

A Must Have for Home Pickling, Jarring, and Canning.

Since I’ve been forced to rest supine a fair bit lately, I’ve been reading up on home jarring, canning and pickling in “Saving the Season” by Kevin West.  A true tome and easy bible on the “do’s and dont’s.” So far, I’ve been able to buy local Spring carrots and asparagus from Oak Hill Farms down the road.

Asparagus pickling in progress

Asparagus pickling in progress

Pickling Bloody Mary condiments for our summer “Refreshers” may seem a bit too jaunty but I can’t wait!  Little Anni helped me peel the carrots and snap the asparagus stalks.  We managed to salvage fresh Tarragon and Thyme from the last corner of the Pigweed-free garden boxes.  Safeway sells darling mason jars in all sizes and shapes just up the road and the larger pint jars are perfect for maximizing cuteness and safely storing the vegetables.

Pickled carrots ready to store on a cool, dark shelf.

Pickled carrots ready to store on a cool, dark shelf.

But this Pigweed will be the end of me if we can’t plant soon!  Stay tuned for recipes in the coming weeks of the perfect Bloody Mary!  After I pickle some green beans in Tobasco, that’s my next task.  That, and get better.

Happy Eating!