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Author Notes: I'll let you in on a secret: even thoroughbred Indians don't know the exact recipe to Chicken Masala. Some suggest the softening properties of yogurt in the marinade and others swear on using vinegar. Popular Chicken Masala recipes demand cream in the gravy, while others use pureed cashewnuts to fatten up the curry.
This recipe's from my sister Arpi. It uses toasted spices along with a vinegar marinade. And the curry uses pureed tomatoes and full-fat milk,
You need this Chicken Masala in your life.
Serves 4-5 people
- 1 piece black cardamom
- 1/2 inch pieces cinnamon
- Pea-size pieces nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 3-4 pieces cloves
- 2 flowers of mace
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 pounds chicken, chopped into curry sized pieces
- 2 large tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, something tasteless like canola or sunflower oil
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 large red onion, sliced thinly
- 1/4 cup full-fat milk
- Salt, to taste
- 1-2 pieces of green chilies, chopped
- Freshly chopped coriander, optional
- In a non-stick frying pan dry-toast cardamon, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel seeds, cloves and the mace flowers, till they start giving off a nutty aroma. Take them off the heat before the fennel seeds start to colour. This will take less than a minute on high heat.
- Blitz the mixture in a blender to turn it into a semi-fine powder. You could use a mortar and pestle for this if you want. The masala mix should not be coarse at all, but it shouldn’t be as super-fine as shop-bought spices.
- In a large bowl, mix the masala with vinegar and turmeric and coat the chicken with the marinade.
- You can wrap the bowl with cling film and let it stay overnight in the refrigerator. But the recipe is seriously flexible. if you’re pressed for time, a marination-period of 1/2 to 2 hours will also do.
- When it’s time to make the curry, make criss-cross slits on the head of the tomatoes and cook them for five minutes in boiling water. The water should just cover the heads of the tomatoes.
- After they’re cooked, reserve about 1/4 cup of the water the tomatoes were boiled in. Drain the rest of the water away and blitz the tomatoes, skin and all, into a puree.
- Heat a non-stick pan and add the oil. When the oil is hot enough, saute the garlic and onions on medium heat, till they’re soft and caramelized well at the edges.
- Reserve the oil they were cooked in. Fish the garlic and onion out and blitz to form a paste.
- Re-heat the garlic-onion infused oil in a heavy pot and add the marinated chicken along with the residual liquid at the bottom.
- Cook the chicken on high heat till all the pieces are white on the outside and the pot has a few bits stuck to it.
- Add in the onion-garlic paste, tomato puree, the reserved water from boiling the tomatoes, sugar and the milk/cream. Stir everything well together.
- Cover and cook on medium-low heat for fifteen minutes. Take the cover off and stir in about a teaspoon or two of salt. Mix and conduct a taste check, Adjust the amount of salt or sugar as necessary.
- Take the largest/thickest piece of chicken and make a small cut in its center to check if it's cooked through. If it is,continue to the next step. If not, then cover and cook for two-three more minutes.
- The curry is meant to be dry without too much liquid or gravy to it. Mind you, the chicken pieces will give off a fair amount of liquid themselves. At the end of your taste check, if there’s too much liquid in the pot, turn the heat to high and cook uncovered for a few minutes till the liquid reduces to the consistency you want.
- Take the pot off heat and stir in the chopped chilies.
- Serve with pilaf or steamed white rice with freshly chopped coriander leaves scattered on top.
- Note: Nutmeg can be overpowering, but don’t be scared. Take a full-sized nutmeg and crush it under a pestle till you get a pea-sized piece. The chicken pieces can be boneless if you want, but keep in mind that chicken cooked on the bones taste much richer. If you’re going with boneless pieces try using chicken thighs rather than breasts. If your prefer the heat from the chilies to be milder then scrape off the seeds before chopping them. I, however, like it hot, so I’ve kept the seeds intact. Make sure to add the chopped chilies after the curry’s been taken off the heat. Milk is the option I prefer. It adds a subtle mellowness to the pungency of the spices while keeping the curry light. Cream, however, can be used if you’re aiming to impress guests with something richer. The curry is much better the next day, when the ingredients have had a chance to meld together.