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CHEF'S CORNER

Tastes that travel

When tasty dishes migrate, they blend with the flavours of their adopted country


It is not uncommon to find chicken tikka masala made in olive oil. Neither is it uncommon to see chicken tikka masala with brocolli pulao



BREAKING FRONTIERS Japanese and Chinese cuisine are examples of how local can become global

Fresh air, sunlight, twinkling stars in the night sky, and good food have one thing in common. They don't have any territorial boundaries.

So if Italian cuisine is considered to be good food then nothing can stop it from reproducing itself in India. Japanese sushi has broken many a territorial boundary. Chinese cuisine has flown all across the world on the wings of its quick food and fine gourmet delicacies.So has Indian food.

The taste of a dish that belongs to a particular cuisine may be different in its country of origin from that in a place it has travelled to. The long journeyof good food from one part of the world to another makes it pass through various other cultures and thus it adapts, becomes more culturally relative. This happens due to three main reasons.

First, and the most important, is the availability or unavailability of ingredients. Some local ingredients end up becoming substitutes, thus affecting the taste. We all have seen how a pizza tastes different when one uses the locally made Mozzarella cheese in place of Italian Mozzarella. The second reason is that slight changes are deliberately made to the original taste of a dish to suit local requirements. It may not just mean tampering with the quantity of the ingredients but also entail adding or deducting some of them. For instance, pork vindaloo is a well-known dish but you should not be surprised to see chicken replacing pork in some countries due to religious considerations. And finally, the third reason is the actual chef. Chinese food is best cooked by Chinese chefs, simply because they understand the Chinese food best. So also, Indian food is best cooked by experienced Indian chefs, for they understand the Indian food best. Most hotels do understand these key factors and that's why you now see a lot of chefs travelling and so see an increased rate of import and export of a a lot of ingredients. As a typical example, the story of chicken tikka masala is rather apt. Its origin as chicken tikka is undoubtedly Indian. But how it became chicken tikka masala, currently listed among the best selling food items in the West, is really some thing worth understanding.

The Indian story

Chicken tikka masala is one of the most popular Indian dishes in the world now. Its popularity has proven so great that almost every Indian restaurant worldwide offers it. It has arguably replaced tandoori chicken as the flagship dish of Indian cuisine, and its origins have attained legendary proportions.

It is commonly believed that chicken tikka masala originated from the kitchens of U.K.-based Indian restaurants, run by Bangladeshi chefs. Many establishments claim the origin but none of these claims has been convincingly established. Many theories about its origin do the rounds. Some say a chef tossed together a tomato gravy when a diner returned a dry tikka. Some think it was a way to recycle leftover chicken tikka, and many others say it was just an inventive adaptation. Some even claim that it was born during the British Raj!Finally though, the necessity to adapt Indian food to the liking of the British palate was the impetus behind its creation. The spice content was made more suitable to British taste. It is not uncommon to find chicken tikka masala made in olive oil. Neither is it uncommon to see chicken tikka masala with brocolli pulao!


Time now to relish our very own chicken tikka masala in the Western style.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Ingredients

6 chicken thigh pieces (boneless)

Marinade for the tikkas
6 tbsp yoghurt
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp garlic paste
2 tbsp ginger paste
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala
4-5 tsp lemon juice
Salt to taste

For the gravy

2 tomatoes (chopped)1 onion
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp sugar
Salt to taste

Method

Cut the chicken into smaller pieces. Drain any water. Mix all ingredients for the marinade and add the chicken pieces into it. Set aside for at least an hour.

Grill the chicken in a hot tandoor to golden brown. Baste butter (or oil) frequently to ensure that chicken remains tender and moist. Do not overcook.

Heat oil and add the ginger and garlic pastes. Fry a little and add the chopped onions.

Keep the heat on high to slightly caramelise the onions. Caramelising onions enhances their flavour for this dish.

When onions turn golden, add the chopped tomatoes and keep frying on medium heat until the oil separates. Add cumin and coriander powders and mix well.

Add the salt and sugar and drop the chicken tikka pieces in it. Let it simmer for five minutes on low heat and let the flavours mingle a little.

Increase the heat to high and pour in the milk slowly, stirring continuously.

Once the gravy is of right consistency, reduce the heat to low. Let it cook for a further five minutes.

Chicken tikka masala is a two-step process: making the tikka and the gravy. But you could start making the gravy simultaneously.

Cooking the chicken in a tandoor definitely adds flavour to this dish, but if you do not have a tandoor at home, you could use any oven.

Serve hot with steamed rice.

RAKESH KUMAR

The author is Executive Chef, Crowneplaza.
He can be emailed at chefrk@crowneplazadelhi.com
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