#136 chicken makhani

Murgh makhani, or literally translated ‘butter chicken’, is a dish from the Indian subcontinent of chicken in a mildly spiced curry sauce.  I ventured into trying out the new recipe with hopes of infusing not only the air in my kitchen, but also our taste buds, with some new tastes & smells.  As with many curry dishes, it was a savory success, but something inside me felt somewhat cheated of the novelty in this particular dish.  Now, I don’t know if it was a particular ingredient I missed or – very bluntly put – all Indian dishes turn out to be curry-sauced creations of the same sorts…but it seemed I spent a whole lot of time (& ingredients) and the results were little to no different than my traditional (and all-time family favorite) Chicken Tikka Masala.

This particular dish has its roots in Punjabi cuisine.  I’m having a hard time differentiating it from its close counterpart…if you read any description, find a picture, or look through the recipe, they are – at least to me – identical!  But, alas – research gave me the answers I sought.  The primary difference is that one is Indian and the other is British…WOW.  Had I only known…it had nothing to do with the recipes!  Chicken makhani, was invented in Delhi after the partition, which saw an influx of immigrants from the Pakistan side to the city, basically to prevent the already-cooked meat from drying out: it was slowly stewed in a gravy of tomatoes, aromatic spices, and butter!  Chicken Tikka Masala, on the other hand, was developed in the UK by a person of subcontinental origin…which basically means different types of local (or imported) spices to release a different sort of flavor.  In the end, butter plays much of the bigger role, especially when using ghee, a particular type of clarified butter from the Indian subcontinent.  The primary aroma of the dish unfolds with the addition of the fenugreek leaves – the one single most important ingredient I unfortunately didn’t have this time!  In the end, it’s all about learning…and today, I learned.

For the 1st Chicken Marinade

  • 2 pounds (1kg) of chicken, washed, patted dry and cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon of red chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Apply the ingredients to the chicken and set aside, covered, for about 20 minutes.  This is the first marination.

For the 2nd Chicken Marinade

  • 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon of mustard
  • 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon of puréed garlic

Combine all the ingredients of this second marination and apply to the chicken.  Refrigerate for a minimum of one hour; overnight works best!  Put the chicken on skewers and cook on a grill, for about 10 minutes while turning them over mid way.  Cook until done, but don’t overcook, as the chicken will dry out and get fibrous.  Baste the chicken with ghee (or clarified butter).  Set aside once done.

For the Sauce

  • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger
  • 4 cloves of garlic, puréed
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, slit
  • 4 tablespoons of melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds
  • 3 cups of tomato purée, or 1 can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon of dried fenugreek leaves, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon of honey
  • 1 cup of heavy cream

Heat the butter, or preferably ghee, in a thick bottomed pan.  Add the onion, along with the cinnamon and fenugreek seeds, and cook until fragrant.  Add the ginger, garlic, and jalapeño and cook for about 5 minutes, until a thick paste is formed.  Add the tomato purée or paste, the paprika, and salt.  Cook, partially covered, at medium heat for about 20 minutes.  The purée will reduce to a thick paste and the ghee will separate from the sides of the pan.

At this point, you might want to blend the cooked sauce into a smooth paste, if you want a restaurant-like smooth texture for the sauce.  This is where my immersion blender turns into my best friend!  I was never a fan of blending hot sauces and then putting them back into the pan – such a hassle!

Add about 2 cups of hot water to the pan and the peanut butter and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes; add the honey and crushed fenugreek leaves.  Add the cooked grilled chicken and stir well to combine.  Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Lower the heat, and add the garam masala and heavy cream.  Stir in the cream and simmer at low heat for about 20 minutes, or until thick and savory.  Garnish with fresh cilantro and add a splash of cream before serving…this recipe sure is hard work, but the results are delicious & nutritious!

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