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Chicken Tikka Masala
Murg Tikka Masala

Mamta Gupta

This 'Indian' dish is said not to have originated from India! It is said that it does not even exist in India and if you ordered it in a restaurant there, chances are that they would not have even heard of it! Chicken Tikka-yes, but Chicken Tikka Masala-no! But in August 2009, I heard that it is Indian after all! The recipe is claimed to be a family recipe of a chef in Delhi. They have been making it at their successive restaurants for a few hundred years, from the days of one of the Mogul emperors of India! The story one hears in UK is that Chicken Tikka Masala, or CTM as it is known in short, is one of those dishes that was invented for British palate by an astute Bangladeshi chef. When a customer in his restaurant was served Chicken Tikka, a well-known Indian dish, he complained, “where is my gravy”? The chef called the dish back to the kitchen, just added some fried onion, ginger, garlic, added a little of tinned, Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Tomato Soup, a few more curry spices, re-heated it and sent it back to the ignorant customer. He loved it. Chicken Tikka Masala was born!

Some say that it was invented in Glasgow by a man called Sultan Ahmed Ansari, who ran the Taj Mahal restaurant in the 1950s. But who knows! There is no verifiable evidence to support any of the stories associated with this dish.

CTM is now sold in the ready to eat meals section of almost all British supermarkets, over 20 million portions are said to be eaten UK wide every year and it is supposed to make 15% of all the curries served in UK Indian restaurants every year. I have no idea how these figures have been reached and if they are accurate. Serves 6

Edited January 2012

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Ingredients

1 kg. boneless chicken breast, skinned, boned and cut into bite size pieces
Marinade (do not add tomatoes to the marinade):
200 gm. natural yoghurt or dahi. Creamy yoghurt is better. If you don't have it, hang the yoghurt in a muslin cloth or handkerchief for 30 minutes or so to remove excess water.
1 tbsp. oil
1 1/2 level tbsp. coriander powder
1/4 tsp. chilli powder (adjust to taste)
Juice of 1 lemon/lime
2 tsp. sweet paprika powder for colour (I do not use artificial colouring in this dish).
1-2 tbsp. Kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves), crushed
12 cashew nuts, ground to a paste (optional)
Salt to taste
For cooking:
1-2 tbsp. oil
2-3 brown cardamoms
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
1/2 inch piece of cinnamon
2 medium onions peeled and thinly sliced
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed or grated
1 inch root ginger, peeled and grated
1 large tomato, chopped* (picture shows only half the amount!)
1 tbsp. tomato purée*
1 tsp. Garam Masala
A handful of coriander leaves
*You can add 1 can of 'Condensed Cream of Tomato' soup to replace these two.

Instructions

1.Wash and drain chicken pieces.
2.Mix all marinade ingredients in a large bowl, mix to make a paste.
3.Add chicken pieces, mix to coat and marinate overnight or for at least a few hours. Keep in an airtight container, to avoid the smell getting into everything else in the fridge. Allow it to return to room temperature before cooking.
4.Traditionally, marinated chicken is cooked on a barbecue/tandoor or in a preheated grill or a very hot oven (maximum temperature) first and then added to the sauce at step 8. I find that you don't have to cook it first and the end result is almost as tasty.
5.Making Tikka Sauce & Cooking Chicken
6.Heat oil in a large wok or pan. Add cumin, cardamoms, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. As soon as cumin seeds crackle add onion, ginger and garlic and fry until nicely browned.
7.Add Tomatoes and tomato purée (or tinned ‘cream of tomato’ soup) and cook for a few minutes.
8.Finishing the dish
9.Add the cooked/uncooked chicken pieces and its marinade to the above sauce, stir fry on high heat for 6-7 minutes.
10.Continue to cook briskly until the sauce thickens and the chicken is tender (pre-cooked chicken will require less time). If the gravy looks too thick, you may need to add a little water or chicken stock. If it is too thin and you can't thicken it easily, add a teaspoon or two of corn flour dissolved in cold water and bring to boil. The sauce should be of custard like consistency.
11.Taste and adjust spices and salt.
12.Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with Nan or Plain Pulao/Pilaf Rice and sliced onion salad and slices of fresh lime.

Notes

*You can add 1 tin of tinned Campbell’s tomato soup to replace these two.
Tips for cooking with yoghurt:
Always use full fat yoghurt, if possible. Skimmed milk yoghurt sometimes curdles during cooking. If you wish to use low fat yoghurt, add 1 heaped teaspoon of plain or corn flour per cup of yoghurt.
Make sure that the yoghurt is at room temperature. If yoghurt is cooked straight from the fridge, it may curdle.
When adding yoghurt during cooking, take out a few tablespoons of the hot food in a bowl, mix yoghurt, warming it a bit and then stir it back into the hot dish.
Substitute sour cream for yoghurt, using only half the amount.

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