I love Indian food. I know, that is a very surprising fact given the picky eating habits I possessed when I was younger. However, Indian food was one of the many cuisines Josh turned me on to while I was in college. Shh, don't tell him because he is always taking credit for the newfound variety to my diet. ;) Anyways...chicken tikka masala quickly emerged as my favorite dish at one of the local restaurants in Cincy - Ambar India. If you live near Cincy, you must go there and get some of the best food in the city! Josh and I like our Indian food pretty spicy. Traditionally at Indian restaurants, you order the spice level you want for your dish on a scale of 1 to 5 or 6. I normally order a "3" or "4", and Josh gets anywhere from a "4" to "6", depending on how much he wants to sweat. ;) One time we made the mistake of opting for the lunch buffet instead of ordering our meals. Never again. The food they prepare for the buffets is made to appeal to the masses and is at about a "1" on the spice scale. Definitely not enough spice for us.
A few weeks ago a friend posted a recipe for chicken tikka masala to be prepared in the slow cooker. I couldn't wait to try it out because 1) I haven't had the dish in ages and 2) I love meals that I can just throw in the crockpot! Sadly, LaGrange is not exactly a hot spot for Indian food. There are NO Indian restaurants anywhere near us. :( Such a travesty, isn't it? We were definitely spoiled in Cincy living just minutes away from Ambar India. In Kentucky there was a really good Indian restaurant just down the street from where I worked at UK. I definitely took advantage of that one, especially during the last 5 months we were there, as I craved Indian food more than anything else during my pregnancy with Ethan. After moving south we were left with no options to satisfy those cravings. :'(
So, this past weekend I decided to give the recipe a try. I was going to have it ready on Friday when Josh arrived home from his 5+ hour trip from Tennessee, but unfortunately, though it is a crockpot recipe, it does require a bit more prep work than I was able to accomplish with a needy 4-month-old in the middle of the day. :( So, with Josh home all day Saturday, I had time to get it assembled to enjoy that evening.
The recipe can be found at Meal Planning 101's blog. Here it is, in full, if you don't feel like visiting their blog...
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp cumin
1/4 to 1 tsp cayenne (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
6 to 8 chicken thighs (skin on, bone-in)
Stir all of the ingredients, except chicken, into the bottom of a large plastic container. Add the chicken and coat the chicken completely with the marinade. Cover and place in the fridge for at least an hour, or overnight.
1 can 28 oz diced tomatoes
1 can 5.5 oz tomato paste
2 inches fresh ginger, grated (store your ginger in the freezer and it will be super easy to grate)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, diced
1 Tbsp garam masala
1 Tbsp tikka paste (could use mild curry paste instead, but then also add about a Tbsp of lemon juice)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 cup cream
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
Turn your oven on to broil. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a rack over top. Take the chicken out of the marinade and place on the baking rack. Place under the broiler about 6-10 inches from the heating element and broil on each side about 10 minutes. You don't have to worry about cooking the meat all the way through, you are just looking for a nice browned color. As you can see, I didn't have a rack, so I placed it right on the baking sheet.
While the chicken is broiling, in a pan over medium high heat, add about a tsp or two of oil. I used olive oil. Add the onion and saute for a few minutes to soften. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for a few more minutes until the mixture is nice and fragrant. Place the mixture into your crockpot. To that, add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, garam masala, tikka paste, cumin, chili powder and coriander. Stir together. When the chicken is done broiling, add them straight to the slow cooker and stir into the masala. Slow cook on high for 4-6 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.
Before serving, stir in 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp garam masala and salt if it needs it (it needs it!!). Then stir in the cream and fresh cilantro. Serve a chicken thigh and lots of sauce over basmati rice or Yellow Basmati Rice: 2 cups basmati, 4 cups water, salt, and 1/2 Tbsp of turmeric. Stir together and prepare as you normally would. When the rice is done, stir in 1/2 cup frozen peas.
More notes: I used greek yogurt. Not sure if this affected the flavor or not. For the cayenne pepper, I used 1/2 tsp as I didn't want it to be too spicy in the hopes that Ethan would eat it. I was short on time, so I marinated the chicken for just an hour. Fortunately, I already had almost all of the spices in my cabinet because I have a delicious chicken curry dish I make and I also love using the Indian spices on roasted chickpeas. :) I did need to get the tikka paste. Unfortunately, I couldn't find tikka paste at my local Publix, so I settled instead for red curry paste. I also passed on the cilantro as I didn't think it was really needed. Still short on time, I cooked the meal on high for just 4 hours. At the end, I used regular whipping cream, not knowing for sure what to use since the recipe didn't specify. I served the dish over plain kasmati rice with plain naan (Ethan's favorite!) on the side.
Now for the bad news. We weren't super excited about this dish. :( As I said before, we like our Indian food spicy and this just didn't hit the mark. It was definitely more along the lines of a "1" on the spice scale, which was great for Ethan. He ate a whole plate of it! I don't know if using the full amount of cayenne pepper would have remedied this problem or not. We felt the dish was too chunky from the tomatoes (even though I bought the petite diced ones), and at the same time, the sauce was not thick or creamy enough either. Perhaps a heavier cream would have helped this? Maybe using a tikka paste versus a curry paste would have made a difference too? If I was to make the dish again (not sure if I will yet), I think I would opt for boneless chicken breast. The thighs may have given more flavor, but I definitely got a few bites of cartilage (not as easy to spot as the bones), and it wasn't pleasant. Overall, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the dish was bad. It just wasn't the chicken tikka masala I know and love and was craving when I decided to try the recipe. I may give it a try again and alter some ingredients to see if I can recreate the dish that I want.
As I noted in the previous paragraph, I was excited to see Ethan eat a good portion! For a little guy who normally prefers hot dogs and mac 'n cheese, he sometimes surprises us with what he will eat. :)