Tikka Masala

Tikka Masala

Its roots might be Indian but the heartland of this creamy baked
curry lies further west. Tikka masala has become a national
treasure, and an edible exemplification of multicultural Britain.

The roots of chicken tikka can be traced back to the Punjab, and the 16th-century court of Babur. The ruler couldn’t abide bones in his food, so his cooks pulled the meat into pieces to remove them. But the masala magic wasn’t added (allegedly) until the 1970s. After a complaint about the dryness of the chicken, it’s said that Ali Ahmed Aslam – owner of Glasgow’s Shish Mahal restaurant – created a sauce using spices and condensed tomato soup.


You’ll need
4 chicken thighs, boned,
skinned, diced

2 bunches of fresh coriander
(cilantro), leaves only
½ cup (125mL) full-fat natural
4 fresh green chillies
½ tsp salt
2.5cm (1in) piece of fresh
ginger, peeled
4 cloves of garlic, peeled

Masala sauce
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
3 red chillies, minced
Vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2.5cm (1in) piece of fresh
ginger, peeled and grated
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground fenugreek
1 tsp hot chilli powder
1 tin (400g/14oz) chopped
1¼ cups (400mL) water
½ cup (125mL) single cream
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt

Cooking Method
1 Blend the marinade ingredients into a paste; pour over the chicken and leave for at least 2 hours.
2 Fry the cinnamon, cloves and minced chilli in the oil for 1 minute. Add the onion and fry until soft.
3 Blend the garlic and ginger to a paste and add to the onions.
4 Add the ground spices and chilli powder and cook for 5 minutes.
5 Stir in the tomatoes and water, and cook until reduced by half. Leave to cool slightly, then transfer to a blender and process to a smooth paste.
6 Return to the pan. Off the heat, stir in the cream, sugar and salt, the return the pan to the heat.
7 Grill the chicken until it cooked through and slightly charred.
8 Toss the cooked chicken in the pan with the sauce.
TIP Marinade the chicken for several hours for the tastiest tikka.

Tasting notes
The classic curry-house experience is usually scoffed after a night on the town. It goes like this: first, you destroy a pile of poppadoms and a cold Indian beer. Then the tikka masala arrives – a vibrant-red vision, so bright it glows. It feels like cheating – amid the phaals and vindaloos, this is the soft option, a creamy treat rather than a fiery challenge. But, so what? You value your bowels and taste buds, and would prefer your head not blown off, thanks very much. Plus, it looks so good: chunks of marinated chicken enveloped in velvety sauce, pungent with ginger, garlic and spices. And, with rice and naans, it’s ideal for soaking up the excesses of the night.

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