16 January 2007

Chicken Tikka Momma

I grew up in a house where most things were homemade, and while I am now grateful to my mother for an early introduction to good quality butter and soft-shell crabs, this also led to some good-natured teasing during my school days. I suspect it had more to do with jealousy than hostility: "What's for your gourmet lunch," my friends would ask as they opened their Lunchables and dug into their cafeteria-purchased tater-tots. (I begged for Lunchables and when I finally got that little plastic box, I quickly discovered they were terribly bland.) Then there was the time I came back from a friend's house asking my mother for ketchup, to which she replied "you don't really want any of that bourgeois sauce." The next day, in the grocery, I innocently asked if we could get "that bourgeois sauce."

However, my mom was a busy working mom, and during my high-school days it was an occaisonal treat to rent a movie and order a pizza. It may sound cliche now, but in our far-from-typical household, this was an exciting symbol of normalcy, and I remember waiting in anticipation for the pizza delivery man to pull up and ring the doorbell. But the real reason for my peering out the window in excitement was the pizza- good enough to warrant mouth-salivating anticipation.

The pizza place carried some generic Italian name like DiPaulos, but had always been run by a smiling Indian family as long as anyone could remember. About half the pizzas on offer were of the classic Italian variety while the other half had names like 'curried prawn' and other Indian-leaning specialties. My mother’s favorite pizza was the chicken tikka, topped with hunks of alarmingly red spiced chicken and drizzled with chutney. It was my mother’s first introduction to the now ubiquitous chicken tikka masala.

I myself don’t care for chicken, but my mother loves it, and I always enjoy the opportunity to cook it as a way of expanding my culinary repertoire. I made these chicken tikka skewers while visiting my mother, and they were a hit. Marinating the chicken in the yogurt mixture tenderizes the meat and the spices are just enough to add interest without overwhelming. I like the skewers because each piece has lots of flavor and you can serve them as is (good for buffets), or use the chicken to top a salad or noodles. “If I had known it was so easy, I would have done this earlier,” my mother exclaimed. “And it’s not that funny red color.”

Chicken Tikka Skewers
I made these under the broiler but they would probably be great in the summer on the grill. Using freshly ground spices instead of dried makes a big difference in the flavor.
You could also adapt this to chicken pieces (breasts or drumsticks), baking them longer in the oven.

2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tbl cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon grated ginger
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
pinch of garam masala, if you have it
2 tablespoons vegetable oil.

- Combine all ingredients except chicken in the blender and puree until the spices are well ground. Combine yogurt mixture with chicken and stir until chicken is well coated. Refrigerate chicken (covered or in ziplock bags) at least 3 hours or overnight.
- Preheat broiler (or barbeque on medium-high heat). Discard excess marinade and thread chicken on skewers, dividing equally, and place on a greased baking sheet. Broil the kebabs, about 4 inches from heat, for about 9-12 minutes, turning occaisonally, until lightly browned in spots and just cooked through.

If you use bamboo skewers, make sure to soak them in water about 1/2 an hour so they don’t ignite!

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