We shouldn’t ever complain about paying more money to eat ethnic food. Know that when I say, “We,” I’m really talking about me.
No, we shouldn’t complain. Well, unless it’s food from Antarctica- I can’t imagine they have sophisticated cuisine (I’m totally going to get reamed for that, aren’t I?). I have been wrong my fair share of times; but I’m willing to wager that the dishes in the Antarctic require minimal preparation, so go ahead and complain if someone serves you pemmican and charges you Le Bernadin prices for it. But, only when it comes to Antarctic food! The rest of the world’s cuisines? Just buck up and pay the bill.
I sometimes have to remind myself and my soldier of this when we venture out to try new (or, even familiar) ethnic cuisines. I have to remind him because he’s never made ethnic foods for himself (or for me for that matter). He’s made Spam. That’s as ethnic as he gets.
Recently, I have had a craving for Indian food (no! I’m not in a state of grace with child). The problem is, there’s one- count ‘em, one- Indian joint in this town. One- and it’s just okay. My issue is that I’ve eaten Indian food in New York City, and I swear on my knives that if you want to find the closest thing to authentic ethnic cuisines, you have to find the neighborhood in NYC where that particular culture lives to get it. That, or go back to the country of origin. My way saves money on the airfare to Mumbai or Amritsar, the baggage fees and all that other jazz. The depth of NYC and its micro-neighborhoods’ cuisines are so vast that I could (and will) do a whole separate post on it. Suffice it to say that in order to get truly authentic Northern Indian cuisine, like this butter chicken- well, this butter chicken may not be “Truly authentic Northern Indian cuisine,” because I’m making it. I’m a black Puerto Rican, not Punjabi. So, there’s that caveat- I’d recommend that you go to Richmond Hill, Queens, where the majority of Northern Indians live, not to Central Texas. Not here.
BUT! No matter where you go in the country to get your Indian (or Thai or Mayan) food, don’t complain about paying a little more than you would for, say, a burger from Bobby Flay. It costs more money to get these specialized dishes because of the amount of work and ingredients that go into them. I found that to be true the first time I pulled this dish, originally a Guy Fieri recipe, off. I tell you what, once I “Martafied” it, I was smitten! It is so simple, yet so full of flavor, and a snap to make. The steps that go into the final execution of it, however, can be overwhelming if you don’t have a hot, blogger friend to guide you *wink, wink* ME! I’m talking about me! Most of the work could be alleviated by purchasing your garam masala already made, but where’s the fun in that? The overall taste is compromised when using anything mass-produced God knows how long ago. I find that no matter how lazy I’m feeling, I succumb to whipping out the spice grinder and doing my own thing. As always, since this is a no-judgment zone, you do your thing as well.
Aside from the preparation of making the garam masala, the process of making this dish is straight-forward. Roast seasoned chicken. Cut it up. Make butter sauce. Warm chicken in the butter sauce. Chopping of veggies adds to the process, of course, but overall, it’s a pretty simplistic preparation of a well-loved Punjabi classic. Serve it over some basmati rice, with green lentil daal and a side of naan. Ghee makes an appearance in this dish. What is ghee? It’s a super-complicated emulsion of linear proportion used to enhance the pervasive unctuous flavor of the butter chicken….not really. It’s clarified butter. See! I make you think it’s super hard and complicated when it’s really as simple as buying it in the gourmet foods section or making it yourself!
Stay tuned for the in-depth round-up of NYC ethnic eateries.
Garam Masala Spice Blend
- 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seed or 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 2 green cardamom seeds
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 cloves
- 1 bunch cilantro leaves chopped
- Prepare the Garam masala: begin by toasting the spices until fragrant. Once you smell their aromas, remove it from the heat. The goal is to heat the spices just until they release their oils and fragrance.
- In a spice grinder, grind to a fine powder; working in batches if necessary.
- Store for up to two months in a glass jar with a tight fitting jar, away from heat and moisture.
- Heat your oven to 400°F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.
- In a saute pan, heat the ghee over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and ginger and sweat. Cook for 3 minutes.
- Add the chili powder, turmeric (be careful- it stains!) and the Garam masala spice blend. Stir to create a paste.
- Thin the paste with the cranberry juice, adding more if necessary to achieve the consistency of tomato sauce.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool down enough to handle.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken and the cooked paste. Massage the paste into the chicken to coat it.
- Arrange the chicken pieces onto the sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes,
- While the chicken is resting, and using the same saute pan used to make the paste, heat the second measurement of ghee over medium heat.
- Add the onions and garlic and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and cook until they begin to break down, another 5 minutes.
- Add the spices and cook for 1 minute.
- Pull the pan off of the heat and pour in the cream, stirring constantly.
- Return the pan to heat and add the butter. Stir to combine. Keep warm, stirring occasionally.
- Cut the cooled chicken into one inch cubes and fold into the butter sauce. Warm through and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Sprinkle a healthy amount of chipped cilantro to finish off the dish!