Wednesday, 28 March 2012

I can’t believe it’s not butter chicken

I can’t believe it’s not butter chicken
Beautiful granddaughter is staying with us for a few days over spring break and her favourite food is the ubiquitous butter chicken found in Indian restaurants all over.  At worst, butter chicken is, I am very sure, made of cubed chicken breast poached in a sauce of ketchup and heavy cream, being so bland, sweet and insipid.  At best, it’s a very rich, heavy cream laden tomato masala sauce, with grilled chicken bits tossed in.  Mine is less rich than what the restaurants offer, and a bit more nutritious.  BG’s at a stage where she thinks she hates vegetables, but this dish fools her, which is all that counts!
1 tablespooon mustard oil
½ teaspoon salt
10 turns freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon favourite masala

1 package (about 15) skinned, deboned chicken thighs
1 teaspoon grape seed oil
½ teaspoon dark mustard seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 red onion, diced
1 heaping teaspoon of your favourite masala (grocery store garam masala will do, if it has some heat)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (if your masala needs a sweet boost)
1 x1 inch fresh ginger, chopped
1 large sweet red pepper, roughly chopped
¼ cup dried coconut milk powder
1 ½ teaspoons ghee (clarified butter)
2 cups water, plus
1 fresh tomato, chopped
salt to taste
1 scant tablespoon heavy cream (optional)

In a marinating container, combine the first four ingredients.  Open each chicken thigh, coating with the masala oil.  There isn’t a lot of oil here, so it will cover scantly.  Set aside.
Using a non-stick pot large enough to cook this dish, put the heat on at medium high, to heat up.  When it’s hot, add the oil, and when that seems hot, toss in a few mustard seeds.  When they sizzle and turn white, add all mustard seeds.  Add cumin seeds, and let them sizzle and turn white too.  Add the onion and ginger, stirring, and turn heat down to medium.  Add masala and ghee and cook for a few minutes.  (I’ve been told that traditionally butter chicken has no butter; the term merely means the chicken is very tender.  Here, people expect the taste of butter, so I use just enough for flavour.)

Add red pepper, stirring, cooking for a few more minutes.  Mix the coconut powder and water, and pour over the mixture, along with the tomato.  Bring to a boil, then simmer till red peppers and tomato are soft.  The coconut mixture can boil down faster than you expect.  If it is very thick, to the point of sludgy, and in danger of burning, add more water.  Using an immersion blender, buzz to a puré.  The good thing about coconut milk powder is that you can make the coconut milk as thick as you like.  You don’t need to reduce it for hours.  When it’s a nice thick gravy consistency, taste it.  If you are content, just season with salt to taste.  Coconut milk is healthier than butter and cream, and it is delicious enough to fool many.  But if it needs to be richer, add that little bit of heavy cream.  Some add a wee bit of sugar (less than a teaspoon, please!) at this point, but I think the red peppers make the sauce sweet enough.  Turn heat down to lowest and let simmer very gently.
Grill the chicken on high heat.  I have a great barbecue, so it takes just five minutes on either side.  If you wanted, you could just poach the chicken in the puré, but grilling it is better.  Once the chicken is grilled and golden, you can chop it into pieces, or just toss it in whole into the puré, stirring well to coat it with sauce.  Let sit in the sauce at least ten minutes, so it can soak up the flavours.  Serve over basmati rice, and see if you can’t fool a few people into believing this is butter chicken.  They don’t need to know that you substituted the artery clogging and killing components for healthier ingredients, and tossed in a bit of healthy veg while you were at it! 

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