Friday, November 12, 2010

Butter Chicken--My Quintessential Indian Dish

I was standing in the line to the register at an Asian grocery store, which I visit frequently to get some less common vegetables and spices. There was an Indian man just behind me standing with his daughter who looked about six years old. As the customer ahead of me was taking a long time to check out his groceries, I started to inspect the items that the man behind me had in his cart. I peaked with curiosity at the exotic Asian vegetables he chose--small eggplants, hot peppers, mangoes, fresh coriander. And also chicken breasts, garlic, potatoes, and rice. I could only imagine what a delicious Indian dinner will his family have tonight. Maybe dal, maybe spicy eggplants, some samosas, biryani meat? I was imagining some thick and creamy Indian dishes, I almost felt the aroma of the basmati rice, covered with a spicy curdled yogurt sauce, and a piece of freshly baked naan with that.

I was almost drooling as I thought about all the lovely and fragrant possibilities and the aromas of coriander, curry, and cumin when the man's phone rang. He answered and after exchanging with somebody on the other end a couple of sentences in his native tongue, he switched to English and turned toward his daughter: "Mommy asks what you want for dinner--pasta or chicken nuggets?".

That was the best example of what a united world we live in today. There is neither rice nor potatoes on every table, but pizza, hot dogs, or pasta, no matter, if we are Asians, Arabs, Americans, or Europeans.

Nevertheless, my senses were still inspired by his shopping list. When I got home I have decided to cook an Indian dinner to satisfy my craving for all these spices. Butter chicken is almost always my first choice, as my sons both like it as much as I do.

I know that there are many butter chicken recipes with individual influences deriving from various family traditions. Mine is just another one, coming from an Indian friend, and it is a version that my family happens to love.

Butter Chicken
(Serves 4-6)

2 lb chicken breast tenderloins, or chicken breasts,
3/4 cup natural whole yogurt,
1/2 tsp chili powder (if you like it more spicy),
3 bay leaves,
1/4 tsp ground cloves,
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon,
1 tsp garam masala,
4 green cardamom pods,
1 tsp ginger pulp,
1 tsp garlic pulp,
1 can (14 oz) crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce,
1 1/4 tsp salt.
6 tbsp butter,
1 tbsp oil,
2 medium onions sliced,
3 tbsp fresh chopped coriander,
4 tbsp cream--heavy whipping cream tastes better but single cream can be used as well.

1. In a large bowl place the yogurt, ground almonds, all the dry spices, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, and salt. Blend all the ingredients thoroughly to make a homogeneous yogurt sauce.
2. Put the chicken into the yogurt sauce and set aside.
3. Melt together butter and oil in a frying pan.
4. Add onion to the pan and fry for about 3 min.
5. Add chicken to the mixture and fry for about 7-10 minutes.
6. Stir in a half of coriander and mix well.
7. Pour over the cream and stir in well. Bring to the boil and cook for another 5 minutes.
8. Garnish with the remaining chopped coriander and serve.

I like to serve it with the plain basmati rice, naan bread, accompany by the Indian carrot salad or cucumber salad.

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