Monday, January 2, 2017

Ignorant American Fusion: Chicken Tikka Masala

Photo of Minar buffet via Midtown Lunch

Happy New Year!

Speaking of New Year's... Back when I worked in Times Square (cut to Marlon Brando hissing “The horror... the horror...”), one of the few bright lunch spots in the area was an Indian take-out joint called Minar, at 46th just off Broadway. (There was also Sophie's Cuban Cuisine on 45th between 5th and 6th, and an exellent biryani cart at 44th off 6th, where a disheveled and disoriented Pauly Shore once, moments after devouring a hot dog from the adjacent street cart, snagged the chicken kati roll I had ordered, but that’s another story.) (Well, actually, that’s the whole story. The only postscript is that now I see why they used to call him the Weasel.)

Anyhoo, at Minar, I always got the chicken tikka masala. It's amazingly delicious, although it costs $10 for an 8-oz. container with like 4 or 5 pieces of chicken floating in the amazingly rich and delicious sauce. Everything is out buffet-style, so it's a very quick grab-and-go lunch (although you can eat in, it's not the most ambiancey spot). You can get your meal with rice or naan, and if you select the latter, the woman behind the counter will turn toward the kitchen and yell “NAAN TO GO!!!,” and you will promptly begin salivating like a Pavlov dog. Damn, that is some good naan. It's a huge fluffy disc with crispy bubbles, all nice and warm and soft. You dip it in the sauce to sop up every drop after you've finished those measly 4 pieces of chicken.

Sadly, I do not know how to make that naan. (Sorry, gentle readers, for being a naan-tease.) But I did figure out a super-easy Ignorant American Fusion hack for the tikka masala, and you can feed dinner to 3 to 4 people with this chicken dish for the amount of money it would take one luncher in midtown to consume those 4 or 5 floating pieces.

So. I like to add some veggies to the dish, even though they wouldn’t typically be included in the tikka masala, because when served over rice it makes for a nice one-dish meal. Start by sautéing diced onions in a pat of butter with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt. Then add, say, some sliced mushrooms and/or zucchini. You could do chopped blanched cauliflower here instead/as well, or, I don’t know, green beans, red or peppers, whatever. Your kitchen, your rules.

When the veggies have slightly softened, I add about 1 tsp. of curry powder and stir to infuse it into them. Then I pour in 2 8-oz. cans of tomato sauce (obviously you could use one 16-oz., but the small ones are usually on sale), and—sorry, not sorry—1 cup of heavy cream (halve this if you like). You could throw in a handful or two of frozen peas at this point as well. Again, it's on you.

Then I drop in cut-up chunks of boneless, skinless chicken breast—somewhere between 1 and 2 pounds’ worth; you could also use thighs—and let that simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is tender but not quite shreddy/falling apart. Maybe 15 minutes. The sauce gets rich and thick and it’s just lovely.

As mentioned, I serve this pseudo-Indian dish over rice (usually take-out leftovers from my local Chinese/Tex-Mex spot, because America). It soaks up the sauce pretty nicely, though it's just not the same as that heavenly naan. But hey, maybe one of these days, I’ll figure out a hack for that. Y’all will be the first to know.

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