After an arduous journey over the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the kids in our food appreciation classes this week arrived in the Indian state of Punjab, where we immediately set ourselves to the task of perfecting that area’s culinary specialty known worldwide as chicken tikka.
Chicken tikka is the Punjabi version of kabob wherein the meat is flavored with two separate marinades–one of them involving yogurt–and the unique brand of Indian spices.
Perhaps what Americans need to know most about this and other Indian dishes is that unless you have an Indian grocery close by, where you can purchase various and sundry ingredients, you will need to learn to adapt a bit. For instance, in this recipe we have substituted paprika for Kashmiri chile pepper. Likewise the traditional Indian mustard (or rapeseed) oil was replaced by canola oil. (But that’s alright, since canola oil is a version of rapeseed engineered in Canada to be more palatable.) The original recipe also called for garlic paste and ginger paste. Instead, we mashed the garlic and ginger together with our mortar and pestle. You could also use a small food processor.
Also, chicken tikka traditionally is made over hot coals. If you are able to do that, so much the better. But for our classes, we used the broiler in our oven
Otherwise, you should be able to find the ingredients called for here at your neighborhood supermarket. Best to start a day ahead to give the marinades an opportunity to work their magic.
Step 1: Place 5 long wooden skewers in a pan of water so they won’t burn when you cook your kabobs.
Step 2: Mash 4 cloves garlic and 1 medium knob ginger, peeled, with a mortar and pestle (or in a food processor). Or substitute commercial garlic paste and ginger paste if you can find it.
Step 3: Cut 1 pound plump chicken breast into 1-inch cubes and marinate as follows: Place chicken in a bowl and mix with 1 teaspoon garlic paste, 1 teaspoon ginger paste (or half the garlic/ginger mix you prepared earlier), 1 teaspoon paprika (or Kashmiri chili pepper), 1/2 teaspoon salt and the juice from 1/2 lime. Set aside for 1 hour or more.
Step 4: Prepare second marinade as follows: Pour 1 cup plain yogurt into a mixing bowl. Meanwhile, make a rudimentary roux of 2 tablespoons graham floor (we used garbanzo bean flour, but white whole wheat flour also works) and 2 tablespoons canola oil cooked in a small skillet over moderate heat. Stir the roux continuously for a couple of minutes until it begins to toast. Scrape the roux into the bowl with the yogurt and mix. Add 1 teaspoon garlic paste, 1 teaspoon ginger paste (or the remaining garlic/ginger paste you prepared earlier), 1 teaspoon paprika (or Kashmiri chile powder), 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon garam masala and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix to combine.
(Note: garam masala, an aromatic mix of ground spices such as pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and cardamom, is frequently sold in the spice section of the supermarket.)
When all of the spices have been incorporated into the yogurt marinade, whisk in 1/4 cup canola oil. Then add the chicken from the first marinade, toss well until the chicken is completely coated, cover and refrigerate overnight.
The following day, heat your coals or broiler until very hot. Remove the chicken from the fridge and thread the pieces onto the skewers that have been soaking in water. This is great fun for the kids, as they get to dip their hands into the yogurt marinade to fish around for the chicken pieces. Be prepared to make a mess, as the marinade tends to drip. As you finish the kabobs, place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
Now cook the kabobs. Ten minutes under the broiler should do it. Turn the kabobs once after 5 minutes. They will show signs of browning around the edges. Serve the kabobs hot with your favorite rice. Or, even better, order a bunch of exotic breads and side dishes from your neighborhood Indian restaurant and pass them around.