Introduction: Chicken (or Whatever) Curry
Every other Tuesday at my house is curry night. Make some curry (most always chicken), pull out the tv trays, and eat in front of the TV.
The trick with curry is to make it the day before. It's always better a day or two later because it gives the herbs and spices time to wander through the whole sauce.
Step 1: About Our Bastardized Brit-American Indian Food
You can find all the Indian cookbooks you want, but you'll never make curry at home as good as your favorite restaurant. It's like that with all restaurants. Either it's the ingredients they have access to, their cooking equipment that gets super hot or can grind anything into a super smooth sauce, or they just don't give a f@#$ and throw in four sticks of butter which we would never think of doing at home.
Disabuse yourself that you'll ever make any of your favorite restaurant dishes at home. The fun of cooking is in chasing those tastes down. You won't find them all, but you'll know more than when you started and probably find something that'll be in your recipe card file for life.
Indian food commonly uses what we in America might think of as pie spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom. The awakening American palate wouldn't have thought to put cinnamon on anything but buttered toast or in an apple pie fifteen years ago. Along with these you'll find those common equator spices: cumin, coriander (seed and leaf - cilantro), ginger, hot peppers, turmeric. And those versatile, ubiquitous alliums: onion and garlic.
That's pretty much all you need for most any curry (not all at once, but you could run across a recipe that does use all of them). A few specialty spices will have you ready for any curry you might encounter.:
Fenugreek (leaves), they will probably be called kasuri methi or just methi leaves
Spice blends like garam masala, chaat masala, tandoori masala, etc.
If you have these things around you're halfway to becoming a curry head.
Step 2: Marinade Your Whatever
Chicken Tikka Masala and Murghi Mahkani (butter chicken) are pretty much the same dish. You have chicken, you have an orange/red sauce). Whether you use lamb, goat, beef, pork, chicken, vegetables, or that lovely Indian cheese, paneer, you'll want to make a marinade to park it in overnight.
Many curry dishes will have a marinade made of yogurt or coconut milk. I don't often keep coconut milk around, but for those that think coconut is gross, you really don't have to worry when using it in curry. It becomes so much a part of the dish that you wouldn't know it was in there.
For this dish I used 2 pounds of chicken tenders. I make only enough marinade to cover the meat. Anything else will just be wasted, unless you toss it into your cooking sauce which would be acceptable.
I mixed about a third of a cup of yogurt with some grated ginger (maybe a half tablespoon), about 2 tsp of garam masala, 1 tsp garlic podwer, 2 tablespoons of paprika, a sprinkle of salt, some oil to loosen it up (I used mustard oil), and then mixed the mess together, mixed in the chicken, covered it up, and let it rest over night in the fridge.
Step 3: The Sauce Is Infinite
I do not follow a recipe for curry sauce. I've read enough recipes and tried enough of them to have a feel for how they are put together. You can go about getting spices into the sauce in a few ways.
1) heat your oil or butter and add the spices to the hot pan. You'll only want to do this for no more than 20 or 30 seconds, otherwise you'll have bitter, burned spices. And that's no fun.
2) blend the spices with the tomatoes or other liquid and cook them in it.
You can handle your onions, garlic, and ginger the same way. Saute them first or just grind them up in a blender.
You can see how the myriad pathways of currydom unfold in front of you.
Here I chose to blend a can of tomatoes with the spices and everything else. Lazy that day I suppose.
I used half an onion, three garlic cloves, 1/2 to 1 Tb of grated ginger, 1 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1-2 TB fenugreek leaves, a heaped up teaspoon of turmeric, 1 TB paprika, 2 tsp coriander, 2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp Indian red pepper*, a can of diced tomatoes (14 oz), a couple of large pinches of salt, and a little water to thin it out enough so it pureed well.
* Indian red pepper is what I call the stuff I get at the Indian grocery store I frequent. It is simply labeled as red pepper and it's hot as hell's bbq.
Step 4: Reducing the Infinite
Heat some butter or ghee (clarified butter) in a pan. Once it's hot dump in the contents of your blender and watch it sizzle. Reduce the heat on it until it is at a lazy bubble and let it reduce for a while. You don't want it to get dry, you just want to drive off some of that liquid.
Once it's thickened up a bit . . . thin it out, of course. Duh. Add some heavy cream or half and half. A large knob of butter. And if you want it thinner, add some water. And for the love of pete check it for salt!
Step 5: Grill That Whatever
Obviously if you're using a tough cut of meat you'll want to cook it slow and low. The place to do that is in the sauce when you make it. Or you could cheat and pressure cook whatever it is for 20 minutes and add it. Or sous vide it a few days. Whatever, it's your party.
I normally use boneless thighs for curry. It's damn near impossible to over cook them. But this time I opted for chicken tenders. And it turned out well. Of course they were tender. Duh. It's in their name.
Fire up the grill and char that marinade!
Once you've got your pseudo-tandoori chicken off the grill and cooled down hack it up with the nearest sharp thing.
Step 6: Putting It Together
Bring your sauce out of the fridge and bring it back up to temperature. Once you have it lightly simmering add your cut up whatever to it. If you grilled it like I did you don't want to leave it in too long and toughen it up. Just toss it and heat it all through.
Step 7: Service
Serve with basmati rice and some tasty sides. Like naan or some variation thereof. Here's a store bought version that's good. If you're up to it make some cauliflower pakora.