All the parts of this classic dish -- the marinades, the blend of whole and ground spices, butter-basted chicken thighs and deeply flavored, creamy sauce -- provide a worthwhile tutorial in Indian cookery, making this one of our Payoff Recipes.
If your guests are not accustomed to Indian food, you may want to discard the whole spices just before serving.
To make this vegetarian, substitute large cubes of panir cheese for the chicken.
Serve with nan and basmati or jasmine rice.
Make Ahead: The spice-paste-rubbed chicken needs to marinate for 30 minutes. The yogurt-marinated chicken needs to be refrigerated for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. The sauce can be refrigerated a day in advance. The dish can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Where to Buy: The garlic and ginger pastes, dried fenugreek leaves, ground and whole spices for garam masala are available in the international aisle of large grocery stores as well as at Indian markets.
Servings: 6 - 8
- For the chicken and marinade
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more as needed
- 1 3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (may substitute chicken breasts, cut in thigh-size pieces)
- 1 cup plain yogurt (not nonfat)
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 tablespoons garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon ginger paste
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
- 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for basting
- For the sauce
- 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon combination of whole cloves, 1/4 of a crumbled cinnamon stick, whole black pepper, cardamom seeds (whole garam masala blend)
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste
- 1 tablespoon seeded and chopped mild chili peppers (optional)
- 1 3/4 cups tomato puree
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (powdered)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (also known as kasturi methi)
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
For the chicken and marinade: Combine 1 teaspoon of the chili powder, 1 tablespoon of the lime juice and the salt, blending to make a paste. Make shallow cuts in the chicken and rub the paste into the meat. Place the chicken in a bowl; cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, line a colander with cheesecloth. Place the yogurt on it to drain for 15 minutes, then transfer to a medium bowl and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of chili powder, salt to taste, garlic and ginger pastes, the remaining 2 tablespoons of lime juice, garam masala and oil, stirring to incorporate. Add the marinade to the chicken, making sure the meat is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the marinated chicken pieces in a baking dish, discarding the marinade. Bak for 10 minutes, then baste it with the melted butter. Turn the chicken over; bake for 10 minutes or until the chicken is almost cooked through but still moist.
Meanwhile make the sauce: Melt the butter in a pot over medium-low heat. Stir in the whole garam masala spices; once they become fragrant, add the garlic and ginger pastes and the chopped chili pepper, if desired. Cook for a few minutes until the mixture is fragrant, then add the tomato puree, chili powder, garam masala, dried fenugreek leaves and the water, stirring to incorporate. Taste and season with salt as needed.
Increase the heat to medium-high; once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Add the sugar, then the cream or half-and-half, stirring constantly; the dark sauce will turn an pinky-orange.
Transfer the cooked chicken pieces to the pot, along with the pan juices, stirring to coat them with the sauce, and cook (low heat) for 5 minutes. Serve hot.
Adapted from a recipe by Priya Phadke, a former assistant art director for The Washington Post.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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