Butter Chicken Adventures

Apparently, it’s White Girls Making Indian Meals Day here on the blog. Hurrah!

A while ago I tweeted that I’d like to take a look at 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi, as it was recommended by Francis Lam, who’s writing I’ve enjoyed on Salon.com and who is also very nice on Twitter. Turned out Sarah owned this book, and she lent it to me.

I have tried in the past to make curries, both Indian and Thai, from recipes gleaned from the Internet; all of them my husband has hated. This is an impediment, surely, since, y’know, that’s half of my cooking audience, generally. One of the problems with cooking for myself and my fuzzier half is that we have very different taste buds, or so it seems. He has a very sensitive palate, and is laid low by what I consider to be very mild levels of spiciness. On the other hand, I prefer very strong flavors and very spicy dishes. He thinks that my taste buds are in some way lacking in efficacy, and he may well be right, but I think this has its advantages: I genuinely like the taste of those bitter, dark green vegetables that one is always being told to consume for health, I can appreciate a good peaty Scotch, and I never look like one of those Middle American, Golden Corral patron-types when I go out to dinner to an “ethnic” restaurant. (A related aside: Nick and I went to lunch at Taste of India last week. There, we overhead one of said Middle Americans lecturing the Indian waiter, “Well, y’know, we Americans like middle-of-the-road stuff – nothing too spicy.” Sigh!)

Anyway. Trying to appease Ted’s delicate taste buds, and trying to make things easy on myself by picking a recipe I already had almost everything for, from Camellia’s cook book I chose Butter Chicken. Here is the recipe as I found it:

2 lb. chicken, skinned quarters, smaller pieces on the bone or boneless pieces (tikkas)
4-5 tablespoons oil

For the marinade:
2 cups plain yogurt
6 cloves garlic
1/2-in square of fresh ginger
2/3 teaspoon red chile powder or paprika
1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder
a tiny pinch of tandoori coloring (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lime juice

For the makhani sauce:
1&1/2 lb tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
[Sarah gave me a bag of these – yes, it appeared as though I had a huge bag of weed in my purse.]
3 oz. chilled butter [This amounts to 5 tablespoons, FYI.]
1/2 teaspoon paprika
few drops of vinegar
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
salt
1&1/2 fl oz of light cream
[About 2 tablespoons.]

My kitchen as I made my chicken curry, rice, and veggies.

Butter Chicken in process

I didn’t follow the recipe completely exactly. For one, Camellia wanted me to drain my yogurt in cheese cloth, which I don’t have, and didn’t feel like trying to track down. For two, she has very specific instructions for like, adding spices – “Add such and such, wait 30 seconds, add such and such, stir for a minute, add such and such …” – there’s something about this that just … I don’t know, I’m impatient: the spices went in all at the same time. Finally, instead of fresh tomatoes I used canned crushed tomatoes, since there aren’t any good tomatoes available this time of year anyway, and it saved me the effort of scalding and peeling and smooshing the substandard supermarket tomatoes. Oh, and I omitted the oil from the chicken, because it just didn’t seem necessary.

 

Basically, you put everything in the marinade, mix it well, insert the chicken (I used some free-range, vegetarian-fed, air-chilled, boneless, skinless thighs) and let it sit over night. Then you cook the chicken in the marinade, and make the tomato sauce at the last minute, pouring it in with the marinade-y chicken right before you serve the dish. I also made basmati rice and a mess of vegetables to go with the curry. Ted and friend Roger were my guinea pigs.

A pot full of simmering chicken in yogurt sauce.

The chicken as it cooked in its yogurt marinade.

Some trouble arose. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t drain the yogurt through cheese cloth, but the marinade became VERY watery as the chicken was cooking, such that, though Camellia said to cook the chicken low and covered, I ended up uncovering it and boiling off quite a bit of liquid. Also, I think in the future I would use a leaner cut of meat, as the thighs gave off quite a bit of fat that I had to skim off – actually, I think in the future I’d just make this with chickpeas, but that’s a different point.

 

So how was it received? Well, Ted loved it. Seriously. Roger also seemed to be very much in favor of it. I found it … bland, frankly. I knew that it wasn’t going to be spicy, of course, as I’d specifically picked a recipe that wouldn’t be spicy for Ted’s sake. But mild is not necessarily unflavorful. I felt as though all of the spice measurements should have been doubled. But perhaps that’s just my disabled taste buds talking. It was also a bit too tomato-y, perhaps because I’d used canned tomatoes instead of fresh – fair enough, in the future I suppose I’d try to track down a decent green house tomato or several.

I wish I had a picture of the final dish for you: I took one, but my phone’s camera decided not to save it, in a fit of pique. The dish comes out a creamy, orangey pink, and it presented well: had I had some fresh cilantro, that would have been a welcome vegetal note to add as a garnish.

So, judge for yourself: two yeas and a meh. I’m going to take a run at another curry, I think, before returning to this one, perhaps one that involves a little less dairy. And upon returning to this recipe, which I think Ted will insist upon, I think I’ll try increasing the spice measurements by 50% – perhaps Ted and I can find a happy medium.

2 thoughts on “Butter Chicken Adventures

  1. Ted shouldn’t object too much if you increase the non-hot spices… and then you just keep a jar of cayenne pepper on the table for your own portion.

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