Monday, August 20, 2012

Chicken Tikka Masala

I love Indian food.  When I think about having a cheat meal, Indian food with all of its creamy goodness often comes to mind.  I really excited to find this this recipe from for a paleo friendly chicken tikka masala as it is my favorite Indian dish.  

I saw Mark Sisson present at conference last March.  I had not read his book and really only knew that there were differences between between his primal approach and a paleo approach when I went to his presentation.  I was so impressed with his positive, inclusive, whole food based message that I bought his book.  Sure there are differences, but there is far more to learn from what both approaches have in common.   

Most of my ingredients.

I'm going to start this post with a confession.  Blogging this recipe brought to light that I was obviously not paying attention when cooking this dish and I inadvertently omitted some ingredients along the way.  While blogging, I referred to the recipe and at first wondered if this recipe was actually from but then realized it was and I had messed up.    

I considered not blogging this attempt at the recipe once I discovered my mistakes, but decided this is exactly what I need to blog.  This is life in a real person's kitchen.  I was probably distracted by picture and note taking, but you may be distracted by a multitude of things (e.g. family, pets, work, pick your distraction, etc).  Spoiler alert: As the end result was still quite good and I think cooking the recipe as written will only bring improvement to the taste, here is my chicken tikka masala with all of its issues for the world to see.  

I headed to the kitchen and gathered my ingredients. 

There are two parts of this recipe:  the Chicken and the Sauce.  I started with the chicken.  I cut up my chicken breasts and trimmed away visible fat and put it in a glass baking dish.  This chicken was marked antibiotic and hormone free, but the size of the breasts made me wonder.  

I chopped the stems off my bunch of cilantro, washed it and gave it a whirl in the salad spinner.  After chopping off the stems I noticed some of the cilantro had some stems that were a bit thick, so I stripped the leaves off of those and threw out the stems.

I also chopped up my garlic.  As the sauce also called for garlic, I chopped up what was needed for both the chicken and the sauce.

I peeled and grated my ginger with a microplane grater.  What you see in the picture below is basically all but a nub of the piece of ginger on the left.  It produced about 2 tablespoons of  grated ginger- half what the recipe called for.  I decided that was enough ginger.  I reasoned that by using the microplane, I probably got a decreased total volume yet more concentrated ginger flavor than if I had just chopped it finely or grated otherwise.
I've seen you can peel ginger with a spoon, but this just seemed easier.
All that grating and that's it?
I put all of the spices, ginger and garlic on the chicken.  I then put on my latex gloves.  Latex Gloves?  Yes.  First, for some reason, when mixing meat with my hands, I don't like the texture for some reason, so I put on gloves.  It so nice to just take off the gloves after mixing the meat and not have to scrub your hands and fingernails to get the meat gunk and spices off of them.  I also use them when chopping hot peppers- no more burning eyes hours after handling peppers.

Also, these spices will stain your fingernails.  I'd already taken my gloves off when I realized I had forgotten to mix in the cilantro.  Drat!  I took one for the team and put my clean hands in there.  It's been two days and many hand-washings later and my fingernails are still a bit yellow.  Have I mentioned this guy was one of my favorite childhood Saturday Night Live characters while growing up?

Even before cooking, the spices smelled wonderful.  Next time, I will mix the dry spices together in a separate bowl before adding them to the chicken to insure even distribution.
Fragrant Spices!
The Claw!
After mixing everything, including the cilantro, I covered the baking dish with foil, put it in the preheated oven and set the timer for an hour. 

And now we have reached my first cooking error.  I completely forgot to add the coconut milk to the chicken mixture.  I got it in my mind that the coconut milk was just for the sauce.  Oops!  The copy of the recipe I was working from had all of the pictures deleted or I would have known that my chicken clearly did not look right.  Wow, that sort of mistake will get me fired from the blog.  Oh well, on with the show!

I then started the sauce by slicing my onions, and sauteing them in the olive and coconut oils until golden brown.  
I added the remaining sauce ingredients and let it simmer.  Well all of the remaining ingredients except for the crushed tomatoes.  This cracks me up now as I was thinking while making the recipe that for a dish that is so full of tomato flavor all it needed was one small can of tomato paste.  Goodness.   Everything looked good and smelled so far, so I had no reason to suspect anything was amiss.  
Pretty Creamy Less Tomato-y Sauce
The sauce was done a little ahead of the chicken.  When the hour timer went off, I took my chicken out of the oven.   I was not impressed by the appearance of the dried out cilantro, but figured it would be re-hydrated in the sauce and nothing to worry about.
Baked Chicken: A little on the dry side.
Once combined, everything looked yummy.  I plated it up with with some Basic Cauliflower Rice from Well Fed.  
Accessibility of Ingredients and Cost:  There are many spices in this recipe, which is to be expected because it's Indian food.  Though numerous, all of the spices in the recipe are available at your big box grocery store.  

When you start cooking more of your meals, you'll build a good spice collection.  I have two racks I keep on my counter top with the spices I use most often and recently got a nice pantry door organizer for the ones I don't use as often.  Small kitchen organization win!

Other than the spices, the remaining ingredients are all available at your big box fairly inexpensively as well depending on how picky you are with respect to your coconut milk.  I prefer to order Tetra Pak Aroy-D Coconut Milk that has only coconut milk as an ingredient.  Canned coconut milk, typically has some sort of preservative in it.  Chris Kresser has a good article that discusses the questionable additives in some coconut milks.  Of course, its all up to you as to what you use. This is the beauty of cooking your own food!

Cooking time:  It from start to finish, it took me almost 2 hours to make both the chicken and the sauce.  The last 22 minutes of that time I spent cleaning up and then working on making the cauliflower rice.  So for me, this is another weekend only dish.

Clean up: While waiting on the chicken to finish, I was able to do a little clean up.  Everything except my knife, salad spinner lid and cooking pot could go in the dishwasher, which was fairly empty to start with but quite full once done cooking this dish.

The Paleo Review: Thumbs up!  While blissfully ignorant of my ingredient omissions, I sat down for a taste of my chicken tikka masala.  It had all of the flavors I would expect from this dish if served in a restaurant.  I used 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and it really had no heat.  Next time, I'll add more.  My only other complaint, at the time, was that the chicken was a little dry.   No wonder!  I have no doubt the next time I make this recipe with the omitted coconut milk and tomatoes the dryness will not occur.  I can say after eating this dish for lunch today that  the chicken was already less dry from sitting in the sauce overnight.  Go ahead and indulge your craving for Indian food with this great recipe.