From Arugula to Ziti: Chicken Tikka Masala

I went to art school, which meant that each of my friends had a completely different discipline and take on their art, a totally different process. As a photo major, my process was regulated by the hours of the strictly monitored photo lab, which meant that my work in the lab had to be done when it closed at 11. Because of this, I was often done with my work while my drawing, painting, and sculpture major friends were not. Not one to sit alone by myself, I would hang out with them in their rooms, watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch and ordering takeout while they worked. I was a very supportive friend.

One of our favorite places to order food from was a place called Pizza Galerry. Not a typo, Pizza Galerry had horrible pizza but incredible Indian food, as their owners were from India. Their service was horrendous, our orders often arrived hours after we placed them and they rarely came correctly filled. Once they even gave themselves a generous tip on my card without my permission.

The reason we kept ordering from the Galerry, despite their awful service and questionable name, was that they had great chicken tikka masala, hands down the best you could get at 3 in the morning. We would order it when we were up late studying or working, even late at night after we stumbled back home from a party. It was awesome, came with naan and buttered rice, the kind of takeout that only gets better in leftover form.

One day, to our despair, Pizza Galerry closed. We called one night hungry and desperate for our masala and nobody answered. We spent the rest of our college career searching for a replacement for our late night Indian food urges but never found one. I graduated, moved in with a guy that wasn't huge into Indian food, and focused on other foods. Every once in a while I have Indian food with a friend, but mostly I've been suppressing a craving for masala for years.

Thankfully, I'm a food writer always on the prowl for new food to try, new cuisines to tackle. It helps that I read that tikka masala is a good starting-off dish when you're learning how to make Indian food. It's basically a cream sauce, similar to an Italian vodka sauce, just with different spices. A little trial and error brought me to a recipe that is full of flavor, rich and just spicy enough. My husband made some homemade naan to go along with it and served over rice, it satisfied the masala itch I've had since college.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Marinade:

2 chicken breasts
½ cup yogurt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp cayenne
½ tsp tumeric
Kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp white pepper

Sauce:

2 tbsp veg. oil
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 5-oz can tomato paste
Salt & pepper
1 white onion
2 serrano chiles
Cilantro
3 tbsp butter
1 cup cream
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp red chili powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cumin
½ cup slivered almonds

Pull the chicken out of the marinade, wipe off. Season with salt and pepper. Broil 12 minutes. Cube.

Heat half of the oil. Saute almonds. Set aside. When they're cooled, grind in a food processor.

Separate tomatoes from juice, reserving juice. Chop tomatoes. Set aside.

Heat remaining oil and butter. Chop onion, pepper, garlic, and ginger. Saute until tender. Mix together spices, sugar, and salt & pepper. Stir that in. Add tomatoes, juice, and tomato paste. Cover and simmer for twenty minutes. Add cream and ground almonds. Cook another ten minutes. Add in chicken, cover, and allow to simmer another 15 minutes.

Chop cilantro and stir it in. Serve over rice.

Elena Rosemond-Hoerr is a writer and photographer and can be found on her own website, biscuitsandsuch.com.
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