Chicken Tikka Masala

buffet-315691_1280The United States, had traditionally been a melting pot. That is why the American cuisine is not a single cuisine but contains dishes from a patchwork quilt of nationalities. The U. S. has many millions of citizens of Indian descent. In the past few years, Indian cuisine has gone more mainstream. I am judging from the availability of packaged curry sauces and frozen curry entrees in supermarkets and specialty food stores.

The food has also gone mainstream in England. We were surprised when we came across an article on the BBC website about the national curry. Britain has a national curry? Who knew? What is it? The answer is Chicken Tikka Masala, a curry made with a creamy tomato sauce and mild to the taste.

To make a broad comparison: Tikka Masala is the Alfredo sauce of Curry. It became popular during the period when Brits began to go to the curry restaurant for family meals. Birmingham is generally considered to be the city of origin of the British version of the dish. The craze for curry boomed throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as British families weekly “went for a curry.”

Now you can buy a frozen version of it in your local supermarket. (Tandoor Chef brand is quite good for single servings and Evol makes a large portion of it for family dining.) There was a time in history when the sun never set on the British Empire, and India was considered the Jewel in the Crown of Empire because of its wealth in spices, textiles, gems, lumber and much else. India was a major country of origin for the spice trade, along the camel caravans of the overland Silk Road and the vessels on the maritime Silk Road, The Indians and the Arabs were never much for open ocean sailing, and the spice trade boomed along coastal ports. Once Europe tasted spices, the demand was insatiable.

If you, dear reader, recall your history, Columbus set sail thinking to find a sea route to India. The British, of course, were masters of the seas. Chicken Tikka Masala was originally called balti, and there is a huge controversy over where the dish originated. Of course there are questions about the origin of the dish. As is the custom in the world of food criticism, everyone has an opinion, and people fight over their point of view in print. This can’t be British. Did it originate in Pakistan? In Tibet? In Kashmir? Or in Birmingham, England? Who cares where it came from when it is sitting in front of you and the aromas waft up and intoxicate you? Food travels and changes according to local taste.

British cooks did away with the cast iron pan that was so difficult to clean and discolored food. The British made the dish in a stainless steel pot. They substituted vegetable oil for the ghee or clarified butter used in South Asian curries. The dish suddenly looked pretty and tasted lighter. The shared naan–the plate of flatbread offered with a curry dish–was a new trend that added a family-friendly touch.

Snobby food historians and famous chefs, including the famed Indian cook Madhur Jaffrey, who has been very nice to this author in interviews, dismissed the dish implying that it was not a proper curry with a proper pedigree. “I don’t think it has origins in any place we would want to visit.” I respectfully disagree with the great cook Jaffrey. I am a woman of the people. I am not a food snob. I am with the British public. They embraced the dish, and you will too.

It is mild enough for the person with swallowing difficulties, it is flavorful, and it is easy to prepare. It is perfect for Essential Puree. If your healthcare provider says that mild curry is permissible, this is the way to get a global dish into the diet. This is a way out of patient boredom.

To Adapt This Dish For The Dysphagia Patient

Tikka Masala is mild. It is mellow, a friendly stew. It warms and comforts. Tikka Masala purees beautifully and it freezes beautifully.

The Quickie Version

We at Essential Puree are not food snobs. We know that sometimes you need a top quality convenience food, one that conforms to clean eating. So here’s the quickie version. You go to your supermarket, and you buy a frozen entrée from Taste of India. The Tandoor Chef brand is found in the whole foods section of the freezer. Evol makes a large size bag of the dish, suitable for a family or for multiple portions.

For the Puree

Warm the frozen dish for two or three minutes in the microwave. Let it cool.

You add it to the pitcher of your blender or the bowl of your food processor, and you pulse until the biggest particles of chicken break up into small chunks. Puree to the desired consistency. You know your level.

You can thicken it to the required thickness by adding several tablespoons of cooked basmati rice at a time and pulsing and pureeing until you get the correct thickness.

If you like, add a little chutney, your favorite flavor, to get the authentic Indian combination.

Swirl Away!

Tip: The dysphagia patient is not supposed to have distractions while eating. The patient is supposed to concentrate on the swallow, for safety reasons. After the meal is consumed, the following great shows set in India might make for a night’s entertainment. For the nastier side of colonialism as dramatized in two popular television series, see the BBC productions of The Jewel in the Crown and Indian Summers. These are available online at the PBS store.

Note: This international recipe is an excerpt from the second volume of Essential Puree: Global Cuisine Guidebook. Publication date in early 2017.


Featured photo credit: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay, cc