I’m fortunate to have hungry friends and a perpetually ravenous boyfriend. To be able to count on my them, my loyal taste-testers, the Judges Table to my sometimes misguided culinary explorations, is to be able to execute questionable recipes without judgement. When, in a fit of gastronomic ambition I set out to re-create a seafood pasta I’d tried somewhere, my boyfriend dutifully ate every last bite while I sat and watched, appalled by the horrendous, fishy concoction I’d created. In my defense, I should mention that the protein of choice in Texas does not come from a shell, but I suppose I should have known my limits.
Since the disastrous shellfish incident, I’ve gotten better, using ingredients that I’m comfortable working with and giving seafood in general a wide berth (I’ll get there one day). I can say with confidence that I’ve mastered green chile chicken enchiladas, roasted brussels sprouts with parmesan cheese and homemade Puttanesca sauce, but when I decided recently that I was ready to tackle Indian food, the people involved were rightfully wary, Indian food being notoriously complex and often involving dozens of ingredients.
I decided to start small, using what appeared to be a relatively easy recipe for Indian Butter Chicken. Turns out, I already had all the spices I needed except for Cardamom, so I went out and purchased my chicken, garlic, whipping cream, diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. (You might be wondering why I didn’t purchase butter. It’s because I’ve taken a cue from Julia Child and staked out a permanent spot in my refrigerator for butter). Ingredients gathered and practically glowing at the prospect of preparing an Indian feast, I shooed BF out of the kitchen, turned on ESPN to make sure he’s stay out, and got to work.
Now, I really loathe cleaning raw chicken. It’s really just disgusting. But this particular day, I gladly sliced away without a second thought to the chicken-goo dripping from my hands. The recipe I used instructed that I marinate the bits of chicken in lime juice and spices overnight, which I did, but which prompted me to begin cooking at 5:00 the next afternoon in my excitement to add Indian cuisine to my ever-expanding culinary arsenal.
Once the chicken was done, there really wasn’t much else to do; saute onions, add the other ingredients and wait. The more smells that wafted into the living room, eliciting high praise for the wonderous scent of exotically spiced chicken, the more nervous I got. What if it just smells good, but is actually inedible? What if, God forbid, we had a repeat of the seafood pasta catastrophe?
ESPN, for perhaps the first time ever, had been abandoned in favor of the kitchen. Straddling a dog and trying to keep various intruding utensils out of steaming pots, I finally managed to get food on plates an onto the table. A few bites into my masterpiece, I looked up expectantly like a labrador expecting a pat on the head, and I was greeted by silence. Crickets. I knew I had succeeded.
We have a saying in my family, “a quiet table equals a good cook,” and this was my first silent-table treatment. I relished it, happily refilling our plates until we could eat no more and were forced to cancel our evening plans do to over indulgence and lethargy. Indian Butter Chicken was fantastic, simple to prepare and has earned itself a place on our higly-selective list of recipes to repeat.
Now that I’m on the other side of my Indian Butter Chicken feast, I did a little research and found that there are literally hundreds of variations, apparently tweaked here-and-there according to familial preferences, but below you’ll find the recipe that I used (I can’t remember where I found it, but if I do I’ll update).
Indian Butter Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces.
5 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cardamom
1 whole lime, juiced
1 whole onion, diced
¼ cup butter
1 can (14.5 oz. can) tomato sauce
1 can (14.5 oz. can) diced tomatoes
1 pint whipping cream (I substituted fat free half-and-half)
1 bunch chopped cilantro
2 cups Basmati rice (I used couscous)
Combine first nine ingredients in a gallon-size plastic bag, seal, and let marinate overnight.
Saute the onion in the butter until soft, about five minutes. Add marinated chicken and cook about 10 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Cook for 30 minutes over medium-low heat, covered. Add the whipping cream and cilantro before serving over rice.