Chicken Tikka Masala...Eight Years Later

 I came to realize last night that I have been wanting to make Chicken Tikka Masala for eight years. Eight years. Eight years of thinking about this. Wow. Okay, maybe not every day for eight years. Or every week, for that matter. But still. WHY had I not done something (especially something like make Chicken Tikka Masala) that I have wanted to do for eight years until last night? (Sigh.) It's a rhetorical question, people.

In 2002, I was living in Sausalito around the corner from a fabulous little (and i mean little) Indian place called Sartaj. I believe it's still there - for the sake of my Bay Area friends, I really hope it is. It was a tiny, family-owned operation. No more than 4 tables, and maybe 2 out on the sidewalk. I loved going there. The family was always in good spirits and the food was nothing fancy but seemingly authentic and definitely fresh. It had that home-cooked quality...my patience was often put to the test while waiting for the plate, which in that kind of environment usually means the food is being cooked to order and well looked after. (Sidenote: Isn't it unnerving when you're at an Asian restaurant with 227 entrees that have corresponding numbers and 6 minutes after you order your food it appears?)

Now I am certainly not presumptuous enough to pretend that mine was as good as Sartaj. But it was very good. I made the Masala marinade around noon so it and the chicken would have enough time to get to know one another in the fridge. The bamboo skewers were soaked for thirty minutes before skewering and broiling. By the way, I learned that tikka means meat cooked on skewers.

I more or less followed a recipe from Gourmet and threw together a simple salad with heirloom cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and a light vinaigrette. We opted for basmati rice. (I know, I know, I just wrote recently that we use whole grains as often as possible. Well, last night we didn't.) For my veggie friends, I can't wait to make this with tofu or tempeh.

                    1/4 teaspoon cumin
                    1/4 teaspoon coriander
                    1 cup plain yogurt
                    2 garlic cloves
                    1 (1 1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger
                    1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
                    1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
                    1/2 teaspoon salt
                    1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
                    1/2 teaspoon garam masala
                    1/4 teaspoon black pepper
                    1/4 teaspoon cayenne
                    1 lb cubed skinless boneless chicken breasts
                    bamboo skewers

Puree all of the ingredients except the chicken in a blender.

Combine the chicken and yogurt mixture in a large bowl, stirring or turning to coat. Marinate covered and chilled for at least 4 hours.

Soak the skewers in water for 30 minutes. While they are soaking, bring the chicken to room temperature. Preheat the broiler and brush a baking sheet or broiler pan lightly with oil.

Divide the chicken among the skewers, leaving an 1/8-inch space between cubes, and arrange around 5 skewers across the pan. Broil the chicken 4 inches from the heat, turning once, until it is browned in spots and just cooked through, 9 to 12 minutes total.

Remove the chicken from the skewers and serve warm or at room temperature over rice.

Makes 2 servings.

Adapted from Gourmet, April 2004.

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