Monday, February 9, 2015

Murgh Masala (Chicken Masala)

Not to be confused with Chicken Tikka Masala or Chicken Marsala, Chicken Masala (or Murgh Masala) is a mild curry dish originating in Northern India. It's lightly spiced and uses thick yogurt to create a "creamy" consistency without the actual cream found in Tikka Masala. You can add some ground chili powder if you'd like to kick it up a notch, but even without added heat, this curry is really delicious.

The sauce starts with an onion-tomato base. Ripe tomatoes are few and far between this time of year, so even though I had a couple smallish not-so-ripe ones on hand, I also added some canned crushed tomatoes to add more flavor and more of that appealing tomato color to this dish. You could stick with only fresh tomatoes if it's summer, or even use all canned crushed tomatoes if it's the dead of winter (as it is now).

The original recipe uses bone-in chicken pieces, but I actually whipped this together during a recent blizzard and used ingredients I already had. My pantry is well-stocked, and I even had a nub of ginger in the fridge, but no whole chickens or bone-in chicken parts in my freezer. Just some boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

The photo from the book showcases the dish made with bone-in chicken pieces--it also uses fresh curry leaves, but I omitted those from my version to simplify it.

Even though I used breast meat, it didn't dry out because it was soaked in the fragrant masala sauce the entire cooking time, but boneless thighs would work really well too if you're lacking bone-in options like I was.

This Chicken Masala is very easy to make and cooks quickly. I definitely recommend letting it simmer for a while uncovered at the end to thicken the sauce nicely. I served mine over basmati rice, although hot, fluffy naan would also be lovely for dipping into the tasty sauce.

Murgh Masala (Chicken Masala)
Serves 4 to 6
(Adapted from The Food of India)

3 pounds 5 ounces skinless chicken thighs or chicken pieces (I used 2 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken cut into bite-sized pieces)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2-inch piece ginger, roughly chopped
2 very ripe tomatoes, chopped (mine weren't very ripe, so I also added about 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes--you could substitute the fresh tomatoes entirely and use about 2 to 2 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes instead)
3 tablespoons oil or ghee
5 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2/3 cup thick plain yogurt (strained regular yogurt or Greek-style both work)

Trim off any excess fat or skin from the chicken. Mix the cumin, coriander, garam masala, cardamom, and turmeric together and rub it into the chicken.

Put half the onion with the garlic, ginger, and chopped tomato in a food processor or blender and puree into a smooth paste.

Heat the oil in a medium Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the remaining onion, the cloves and cinnamon and fry until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the tomato and onion paste and stir for 5 minutes. Season with salt, to taste. Stir in the yogurt until smooth and then add the spiced chicken.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has come together. Stir the ingredients occasionally to prevent the chicken from sticking. If the sauce is too thin, simmer for several minutes uncovered (I simmered covered for about 40 minutes, and then another 15 minutes or so uncovered to thicken the sauce a bit). Season with salt, to taste and serve with basmati rice or naan.


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