January 03, 2004


Okay, if you are a real Indian cook, please don't read this. I'll be the first to admit that my "Indian" cooking only grazes the surface of what can be a simply incredible cuisine. But, if you (like me) are just someone trying to "follow along" you might find this interesting.

Yesterday, I BBQed some "tandorri chicken". I place that in quotes because a) I don't really know how to spice this dish properly, and b) BBQ/smoking is really no substitute for a real "tandor" cooker. I marinated the chicken in yougurt, cumin, cillantro, and a commerical "tandorri chicken" mix. The later is an easy way to get the red color, as it contains powdered food dye. If you want to be traditional, you mix the spices yourself and buy powdered red food coloring. I figure that for the casual foodie a commercial mix (I use Sharwood's) is no better or worse than adding powdered red coloring.

But for me, the real treat is the next day. My favorite "Indian" dish is "chicken tikka masala". My understanding is that this is kind-of-sort-of based on a real Indian dish known as "butter chicken." But at this point, it has become so bastardized that you really can't tell where one ends and the other begins. For me, no matter, the combination of Indian spices with a heavy cream sauce is hard to pass up. My version always starts with "tandorri chicken" that I have offset smoked on the grill. For the sauce, I use a combination of standard Indian spices "garam masala" plus lots of cumin and corriander seed. I also add any extra yougurt marginade that I used for the chicken. I heat this up in a pan with heavy cream, and cook on low heat until it has obviously become a sauce. The chicken I large dice and re-heat in the sauce. Garnish can be cillantro, cashews, both, or neither.

The reality for me is that this 2nd day dish turns out to be much better than I get at the majority of Indian places. The reason is that I'm using a slow-ish smoked chicken, which adds amazing flavors to the dish. I suspect that in India, likewise chicken tends to be cooked over wood or charcoal fired ovens, whereas here in the states the vast majority of places use gas. I don't blame my $7.95 all-you-can-eat buffet friends, mind you. I'm just saying that when I have the time to make it myself, it is one heck of a treat.

To offset the heavy cream of this dish, I also used up some cubed lamb I had in the freezer in a run towards "lamb vindaloo." Again, I'm not even close to the real thing, which has much more heat, and much more mustard components. I used the recipe you'll find first if you hit Google (ie, Google for "lamb vindaloo" and pick any of the top 20 links). It turns out to be from Esquire (1986-ish) and is an acceptable start. I didn't have any tamarinde in the house, so I swapped out some tomato paste and apricot jam. The Esquire recipe also omits potatoes (which I require in a vindallo so I added one large, diced medium, and added it 30 minutes before serving) and underestimates the cooking time for the lamb (they say 30 minutes, 1:30 is more reasonable). So, I braised the lamb for an hour, and then added diced potatoes and cooked for another 30 minutes.

The only interesting thing about this version is that it points out a basic concept for vindaloo. You slow cook onions, garlic, and ginger together to form the start of the sauce. Spanish and Mexican cooks might notice this as similar to a "sofrito" (sp?), which is a common basis for dishes from that background. It just goes to show you that nothing is new under the sun -- just about ever culture has at one time or another employeed every method.

Anyway, with a quick cookup of some basmatti rice, it was a heck of a good quick, but not really authentic, Indian meal. Let the hate-email start!

Posted by dowdy at January 3, 2004 02:17 PM