I have a kind of “go big or go home” mentality about most things I do. I’m not proud of it, but it’s unfortunately my default.
I was one of those kids, for example, that never, ever used video game cheats. Not even for The Sims. Not even the money cheat. Even today I always play iPhone free cell on the hardest setting. Chances are it would probably be more fun to just win a few, but I can’t help but feel less satisfied that way.
Especially when it comes to trying new recipes, I’m all about doing things “the right way,” at least the first time I make them. This, I imagine, was incredibly frustrating for my parents when I would send them on wild goose chases for things like lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves in the middle of winter. But there’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment (not to mention the flavor) when you perfectly recreate a favorite dish the way it was meant to be made.
But, sadly, I’m only human, and there are weekends when I just don’t have the mental space to tackle something complex and exotic.
Making chicken tikka masala, for example, is deceptively time- and equipment-intensive (at least according to Bon Appetit.) You start by marinating the chicken in a spiced yogurt (or coconut milk) mixture for up to 24 hours, and at least 4. Then, you make the gravy-like tomato sauce (separate from the chicken) and let it simmer on the stove for 30-40 minutes. Meanwhile, you’ve got to grill (or broil) the marinated chicken before cubing it and adding it to the tomato sauce, where it all mingles for an additional 10-15 minutes.
The whole thing requires 15+ ingredients and multiple pans, racks and bowls. Plus, it uses both the stovetop and the grill (or broiler). I mean, I’m sure it’s delicious. But it’s no weeknight meal.
A few Saturdays ago, I was craving those warm, satisfying masala flavors but I knew I didn’t have enough time to “go big.” So I decided to get creative. I used the traditional tikka masala ingredients with a much simpler cooking method, and the result was pretty awesome.
My version uses just one pot and one bowl, and skips the marinating time in favor of slower (but totally hands-off) cooking. Purists (like, ahem, me) would probably argue that because the chicken isn’t grilled, it shouldn’t be called “tikka.” But your mouth won’t know the difference.
- 1 Tbsp garam masala
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp coriander
- ¼ tsp cayenne
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
- 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 2 Tbsp ghee
- 1 leek (or onion), finely chopped
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 1 can coconut milk
- ½ cup broth or water
- 3 lbs. skinless dark meat chicken (I use ½ thighs and ½ drumsticks), left whole*
- In a small bowl, combine the dry spices and grated ginger.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
- Heat ghee in a large Dutch oven (mine is a 7-quart) to medium-high.
- Add chopped leek, tomato paste and spice mixture and sauté, stirring often, until tomato paste is a deep red color and leek is translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium and stir in crushed tomatoes, broth and coconut milk.
- Simmer the sauce, uncovered, until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
- Next, nestle chicken into the sauce, doing your best to make sure the pieces are fully submerged. (If they're peeking out a bit, it's not the end of the world. Just be sure to turn them over a few times during cooking.)
- Pop the lid on and cook the whole shebang in the oven at a gentle simmer for 2½ to 3 hours, or until chicken pulls easily from the bone. Every oven is different, so you may need to adjust the temp slightly to reach the perfect simmer.
- Once the chicken is nice and tender, use tongs and/or a big fork to pull the meat from the bones. Discard the bones or save them for stock.
- Break up the chicken pieces to your desired texture and give it all a good stir.
- Serve over caulirice or spaghetti squash (as pictured). A few sprigs of fresh cilantro would be tasty, too!
So, what classic recipes have you bastardized?
Jk. But seriously, I’d love to know!