I come from Manchester In The North West of England and there’s a very special place near the city center in a small district called Rusholme. It’s name is The Curry Mile and, if you didn’t guess, it gets that moniker from the fact that there are around 60 Indian restaurants on the same road, Wilmslow Road, within one straight mile.
My favorite and regular meal here on Friday or Saturday night was 2 poppadoms with mango chutney, spicy red onion, lime chili and mint raita dips, a sheekh kebab starter, chicken tikka masala, pilau rice, garlic naan bread and a side of madras sauce…
When I say Indian restaurants, they don’t serve Indian dishes like you would recognize, also they don’t serve Indian dishes an Indian would recognize as authentic. I’ll explain – The style of cuisine I’m referring to is known as British Indian Restaurant style (BIR). Indian food is by far the most popular takeaway food in England and, in addition, in every town and city center throughout England you will find that it’s almost exclusively Indian restaurants that are open after midnight, often until 3 or 4 am, making them the go to fooderies for everyone who leaves a bar or a club in the early morning hours.
It’s quite a tradition, for myself included, to finish off a night of drinking and debauchery with a good curry.
The result of the Indian food popularity and the high demand for fast cooking times means that a traditional chicken madras or lamb bhuna that would normally take 6 hours plus to make authentic, has to be ready in minutes.
The long authentic cooking times are due to the need to fully incorporate the complex flavors of the many distinct spices and other ingredients. The only solution for the British Indian restaurant was to devise a base sauce that contained all the ingredients for every dish apart from a final differential spice mix. Final cooking time for each dish after the base is ready – 10 minutes or less!
The result of this is the very specific British Indian Curry taste. The best way to replicate this is to start with your own base Curry sauce recipe which I will write about after the holidays but in the meantime this Chicken Tikka Masala recipe replicates the sweet and spicy creamy dish that I love to cook and love to eat.
There are a lot of ingredients at first glance, I know. But trust me, it’s worth it. The spices needed are common in all kinds of Indian food so it’s well worth the effort to go out and buy the whole selection. I’ll be posting several Indian recipes and from this basic spice mix you’ll be able to make dozens of fabulous dishes with ease. Common to many Indian meals and essential for your Indian spice stash are cumin, turmeric, coriander, paprika, garam masala, and curry powder
You can buy these at any Kroger, Walmart or Publix but for the best value you should search out your nearest specialist Indian store – you’ll get 4 or 5 times as much for the money and the quality is generally better. I shop at the Patel Bros store in Nashville and the selection is outstanding!
Ok, onto our Masala! Start off by heating the ghee in a medium heat skillet, adding the onions and stirring for around 5 minutes until they are soft and translucent.
“What’s ghee?”, you ask, “Is it the same as butter?”
Good question. Ghee is clarified butter, which means that butter has been simmered and the liquid (mostly water) has been removed. This leaves ghee with a nutty and slightly aromatic taste that is common throughout Indian food. However, ghee is generally more expensive than butter and you will be absolutely fine substituting plain unsalted butter instead.
Next step is to add the garlic for one minute to get the flavor going and then add the spice mix, stirring it in and allowing the heat to bring out all of those fantastic aromas. Stir it for around 2 minutes to release the spice essence but avoid burning them.
Add the tomato sauce, bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. This gives the spices time to incorporate with the liquid and lose the slightly powdery taste they have. Next add the sugar and paprika. The sugar is essential to counter what would otherwise be a bitter taste from the spices. As an interesting alternative, I sometimes substitute a tablespoon of sweet mango chutney that adds a new layer of flavor…
Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes whilst preparing your chicken:
In a separate skillet heat the oil to a medium heat and add the chicken pieces. Stir fry for a couple of minutes and then add the garam masala and curry powder. Stir for a couple more minutes – you are aiming to sear the spice coated chicken but not cook it through – it will be finished in the sauce.
Add the chicken to the sauce, stir it in and cook for a further 30 minutes. Voila!
Serve with turmeric rice (simply make rice as per packet instructions but add half a teaspoon of turmeric to the water) and, ideally, a fresh garlic naan bread. Enjoy!
(I also added red food coloring towards the end of the cooking – purely optional but for me this turns the dish the nuclear orange that I grew up with :))
I will be posting more British Indian Restaurant recipes soon. In the meantime please try this out and let me know how it goes. Photos welcome!