The cuisines and food traditions of the indian subcontinent are wonderfully rich and almost impossibly varied. Contrary to the recent ignorant comments of one so-called food writer, it’s not a monolithic cuisine, and that myriad of traditions is certainly not based on on “one spice.”
I’ve been lucky, in part because of living in interesting places, and in greater part through the generosity of friends from or with family from those places, to have tried a lot of different things from a number of different South Asian cuisines – ranging from Pakistani and northern Indian preparations, to dishes from Goa and Pondicherry that were influenced and shaped in part by the injustices of French and Portuguese colonization, to the wonderfully complex and sometimes extraordinarily spicy cuisines of far southern India and Sri Lanka. I’m an not an expert, and I’ve never even had the opportunity to travel to the region, but I’m privileged to have experienced foods you might not see on the lunch buffet at your local spot.
That being said, I’m a sucker for butter chicken. The dish has a reputation for being the go-to for Americans and europeans who are afraid of spices or chilis or … something. For me, it’s just a combination of flavors I find comforting and delicious. It’s been part of nearly every last minute takeout or delivery Indian meal i’ve ever had – with the exception of a few forays into vegetarian only eating. Even then, I’d order a vegetarian variation of it or it’s close cousin, Chicken Tika Masala.
This satisfyingly rich version is surprisingly easy to make at home– especially with the help of a pressure cooker and high-speed blender. Although it can also be made with a normal stovetop pan, a good quality blender is still necessary for this version. With warm bread and steamed rice, this dish can be a meal by itself … and it’s really delicious (though perhaps slightly heretical) draped over fresh hot fries and cheese curds for different take on Poutine.
As with other recipes I’ve posted originating in traditions that aren’t my own, I don’t claim this is an authentic representation of a cuisine or a culture. It’s simply my attempt to recreate flavors and experiences I love – in this case mostly takeout orders I’ve enjoyed over the years.. There are a huge number of cooks and writers rooted in those traditions writing about the traditions and cuisines of their families and cultures, and I strongly suggest you read their work.
Butter ChickenCourse: Boneless, Curry
- Marinated Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp Kashmiri chili, or ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, plus ¾ tsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp Greek yogurt
½ tsp kosher salt
Juice of ½ lime
1 12-14 oz can peeled, diced tomatoes
4 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp Kashmiri chili, or ¼ tsp cayenne pepper plus ¾ tsp sweet paprika
2 cloves peeled garlic
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp kosher salt
Chopped cilantro for garnish
- Marinate and Cook the Chicken
- Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
- Mix yogurt, chili powders, salt, and lime juice in a non-reactive bowl.
- Add chicken and mix well to completely coat the pieces. Cover and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours and up to overnight.
- Preheat your oven to 400°.
- Distribute the chicken evenly on a greased sheet pan and bake until fully cooked (15 to 20 minutes).
- Allow to cool and set aside.
- Prepare the Sauce and Finish
- Combine all ingredients except the cream and cilantro in a saucepan and bring to a low simmer.
- Cook for at least 30 and up to 90 minutes, or until about ⅓ of the liquid has evaporated.
- Transfer the contents of the pan to a blender and blend until smooth and combined.
- Wipe out the pot and return the blended sauce to a simmer.
- Add the cooked chicken and allow to simmer 15 minutes.
- Add cream and cook a further 5-10 minutes or until the gravy is thickened.
- To serve, ladle both the chicken and sauce into a bowl and scatter with chopped cilantro.
- Serve with steamed basmati rice and warm roti, naan or other flat bread.