Sunday, September 26, 2010

The unauthentic classic: Tikka masala.

Tikka Masala is my husband's favorite thing on the face of the planet.

For the uninitiated, Tikka Masala - be it chicken, veggie, mushroom or paneer- is a classic curry of dubious Indian descent. One might say that it's really a British classic more than an Indian one, as anyone who has eaten a curry takeout or gotten pub food whist in that nation can attest.
It is a safe assumption to say that it is eaten in our house in some form at least once a week.

It is the dish that my husband and I bonded over, had our first dates over. It was the recipe (and accompanying spice mix) we gave out as favors at our wedding.

Needless to say, when we eat Indian food, (which is quite often) Tikka Masala has become my husband's benchmark for whether we ever shall return to the restaurant.
You can explain up and down to B. that Tikka Masala is unlikely to be actually found in India, and that it's doubly unlikely for most Indian restaurants to specialize in it rather than, like, the food they actually cook.


It might not be an authentic classic, but in our house, it is certainly a classic dish.

When we moved away from San Diego and B's favorite-ever Indian restaurant, it was pretty much required that I figure out the recipe. Being a white Jewish girl from California and having no experience with Indian cuisine (other than, obviously, eating it) it was a long and tedious process to recreate the restaurant version. The result is arguably better than anything we can find in the many places that we've lived since.

There are many elements to a perfect Tikka Masala, which really is just a spiced tomato cream sauce. Not too creamy; not overly tomato-y; definitely none of that tomato-sauce acid bite. A perfect balance of spices. Not sweet. Spicy, but not so spicy that it kills the flavor. Definitely no onion. And the secret ingredient: dried fenugreek leaves, which can be found at most ethnic grocery stores.

Chicken Tikka Masala is the well-known classic, to be sure, but it is really the sauce that makes it for us. I've put it on paneer made from leftover milk (paneer is simply milk+heat+lemon juice+gravity). Great on simply rice or veggies. If I were ever to follow the call to arms against the great Gray Squirrel that's being held in Great Britain right now and serve me up a varmint, I'd probably put it in a Tikka Masala to ensure B. would eat it.

Here's my recipe for the sauce.

J&B's Tikka Masala

Spice Mix: For all of these, spices freshly ground if you have the ability to do so.
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground hot chilli powder or cayenne pepper (less if you're a wuss)
For the Sauce:
  • 1 12 oz can of tomato sauce (make sure its not "italian' tomato sauce - no basil!)
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or veg oil
  • Chopped cilantro (optional)
Also: anything you want in the curry, cooked separately - grilled veggies, fried paneer, shredded roasted squirrel..
  1. In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, melt the coconut oil and bring it to a shimmer (look at the surface of the oil and you'll see what I mean).
  2. Add the spice mix and quickly fry it, moving it around in the oil for 10 seconds.
  3. Add the tomato sauce. Stir vigorously for 1 minute, making sure the spice mix is totally incorporated.
  4. Lower the heat and add the heavy cream, slowly in a drizzle while stirring with the other hand so that it becomes one.
  5. Add the dried fenugreek, along with any mix-ins you desire.
  6. Bring to a simmer and cook 20 minutes or so or until the curry has reached a nice, thick consistency.
  7. Sprinkle some chopped cilantro on top if you want to be fancy, unless you think cilantro tastes like soap. Hater.
Serve over rice, vegetables, with naan bread, on your comrade's foot if you are stranded in the Andes and are forced to eat your team-mates, whatever. It makes everything taste good.

Go put on Red Dwarf, and enjoy yourself.


Baking Barrister said...

yeah i know it's not authentic, but it's my favorite Indian-esque food as well. It's just so good, and if your Tikka Masala sucks, I have to eat Chana Masala and sometimes I don't want garbanzo beans. I've been using Cook's Illustrated version, but I'll definitely give yours a try. I'm looking for the perfect sauce still.

The Duo Dishes said...

Oh! Always thought there was onion in tikka masala. That's quite an interesting tidbit. This is a great starter dish for folks who want to try making Indian at home too. Nice to see what our fellow PFB folks are making for this challenge!

Food, she thought. said...

Love the cartoons!

Biz said...

I love chicken tikka masala - I've made it probably a dozen times since I first made it!

You have my vote!

Carrie said...

I love that you gave out the spice mix at your wedding!

Anonymous said...

That drawing is darling!

Kate @ Savour Fare said...

Aww, my husband made me chicken tikka masala the first time he ever cooked for me. With sauce out of a jar, and candles stuck in empty 2L coke bottles. This takes me back!

Foodbat said...

The nice thing about this recipe is once you have the spices available, its not much more difficult than making it out of a jar :)

maybelle's mom said...

authentic is all where you stand so this is authentic to some, I agree. nice #pfb2010 post.

Emma said...

You would get my vote just for the cartoon (but it's a great post too!) :) Best of luck!

Dan Clapson said...

Very cute! Love the cartoon too! :) 1 vote for you

Dave said...

Hahahahaha! I'm not a fan of Indian food, but your blog is great and you win 1 internets just for the hilarious reference to The State in your cartoon. Awesome.

sweet swallows said...

You get my vote based solely on the Louie reference from the State. Though I do love indian...

Pop Vulture said...

Thank you! I see so many recipes that include onion, which just ruins it! Thanks!