Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Indian Food Experiment

I love Indian food.

I've loved it since I did a group project in high school and another group member and I went to our local Indian restaurant to immerse ourselves in the cuisine. So what if the project was on Hinduism? Background information is important.

I only slightly burnt out on Indian food after I was in India for two and a half weeks my sophomore year of college. After eating nothing but Indian food for days and days, I thought it would be a long time before I craved it again. Wrong.

As I contemplated aspects of my own food life during the initial stages of my thesis preparation, I considered making a few changes to the ways in which I eat the foods I want. One of these considerations was making at home foods that used to be homemade -- crackers, cookies, cereals -- but are now uber-processed. A noble and doable idea, indeed, but for a college student working on a year-long thesis in addition to regular class commitments, the cost-benefit analysis turned out in favor of going to the boxed cracker aisle of my Kroger on the rare occasion I wanted these treats. While I know I can make my own crackers (I pretty much always make my own cookies anyway), it's just not practical for my life right now.

But then I got to thinking about the cost-benefit analysis of restaurant food, ethnic food in particular. I love going out for some good Italian or Indian food. Luckily there's a good Italian place in town, but in order for me to get a tasty Indian meal I'd need to drive to Indianapolis or Bloomington and then pay for food on top of everything else. Not practical, even though I love Indian food a lot. Making the Indian food, though? I could do that.

By the time I got around to buying an Indian cookbook, it was after Thanksgiving, which means I violated my family's no-buying-things-for-yourself-before-the-holidays rule. (Sorry, Mom.) By the time I actually tried out some recipes, though, it was already after Christmas, so I'm going to go ahead and say the rule-breaking was inconsequential. At any rate, the result was tasty indeed.

Makhani Murgh, or Velvet Butter Chicken
adapted from Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni

1 1/4 lb Tandoori chicken, cooked (recipe below)
3 c canned tomatoes in puree, measured with puree
1/2 tsp red pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
8 tbsp butter
4 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp paprika
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 1/2 c whole milk
2 tsp garam masala

Cut the cooked chicken into 1"x1" cubes. Put the tomatoes, red pepper, and ginger in a blender and blend to a fine puree (an immersion blender would work, too).
Place 6 tsbp butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. As the butter melts, tilt the pan in all directions to coat the bottom. When the foam begins to subside, add the chicken pieces and brown them. Remove the chicken when all pieces are browned.
Add the cumin and paprika to the butter in the skillet and cook, stirring rapidly, for 10-15 seconds. Add the tomato puree mixture and cook, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, about 5-8 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent sticking and burning.
Add the salt, milk, and chicken pieces (with any juices that may have accumulated). Gently stir the chicken to coat the pieces evenly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Check and stir the dish often, but only 1 or 2 stirs at a time, to ensure the sauce does not burn.
Sir in the remaining 2 tbsp butter and garam masala. Turn off the heat and let the dish stand, covered, for half an hour before serving. The dish should still be hot enough to serve, but you can reheat just before serving if you want.
Serve with rice.
Tandoori Murghi, or Tandoori Chicken
adapted from Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni

2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/3 c lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp red pepper
1 tbsp paprika
1/3 c plain yogurt

Prick the chicken all over with a form and make diagonal slashes on the meat without cutting through it. Place the chicken in a bowl with the lemon juice, rubbing the juice into the slashes. Cover the chicken and marinate 30 minutes.
Put the remaining ingredients into a blender and blend until reduced to a smooth sauce. Pour this marinade over the chicken pieces and mix to coat all the pieces well. Cover the chicken and marinate in the refrigerator overnight (you may want to transfer the chicken to a plastic bag to marinate).
Take the chicken from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature. If you are roasting the chicken indoors, roast for 25-30 minutes in a very hot oven, at least 500 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are using an outdoor grill, make sure the grill is very hot. Let the chicken cook about 10 minutes per side, longer if needed to fully cook the chicken. Serve the chicken immediately.

1 comment:

The File Clerk said...

O my goodness, Indian food is the greatest thing ever and you are awesome. Lately, I have been very fake cheap and buying these one dollar instant curries. They are decent, but I would imagine this would be better. Too bad I am slightly a crap cook.