Dreams of India
For as long as I can remember I had a dream of going to India and so in 2011 my partner Dave and I bought two plane tickets and packed our backpacks. There were no plans, hotels or tours booked, we simply wanted to be taken by the eventsand experience a different way of life.
We started our journey in the North of India wandering through the markets of Delhi. We soon came to hear that the birthplace of the famous ‘butter chicken’, the Moti Mahal restaurant, was still going strong. We made a booking and that very night, headed to the restaurant. We arrived and were greeted by the owner who seated us in a beautiful interior courtyard, where the vines climbed the surrounding walls and created a slice of paradise in the busy capital. We were presented with a tantalizing menu, the kind that makes you wish you could eat everything, but we were there for one reason only…. the butter chicken.
Moti Mahal is world-famous for its butter chicken but they are also experts in the art of the tandoori. So we ordered some papadums, raitas (dips) and a paneer tikka achaari (tandoori grilled cheese) and tucked in. The raitas were so fresh it was hard to believe and the paneer…. oh my, the paneer. That was the softest, smokiest, tastiest paneer I had ever tried in my life…and I had eaten a lot of paneer. But then it was time for the centrepiece of our dinner, the butter chicken.
This dish was created here at the beginning of the last century as a way to use up tandoori chicken (their speciality) and has become one of the most recognizable curries around the world – for a very good reason. The sauce was creamy, rich and velvety and the chicken, smoky and tender. Needless to say we scooped every single bit of it up with our tandoori naans.
We were happy and stuffed by now and started chatting to the owner, who invited us into the kitchen and asked us if we would like to learn how to cook the famous butter chicken. How could we refuse?
I grabbed my notebook and Dave his camera and headed to the kitchen to meet his head chef and his massive tandoori ovens…. I was in heaven. The chef guided us through every step of the recipe creating one of our most memorable moments in India.
“Moti Mahal” Butter Chicken
WITHOUT A TANDOORI OVEN YOU WILL NEVER REPRODUCE THE SAME SMOKINESS AND FLAVOUR OF THE REAL THING, BUT YOU CAN GET PRETTY CLOSE. THE RECIPE I AM SHARING WITH YOU HERE IS A MIX BETWEEN THE MOTI MAHAL RECIPE AND MY OWN ADAPTATION FOR OUR KITCHENS AND INGREDIENTS AVAILABLE HERE IN THE WEST.
For the first marinade
700g of chicken portions on the bone or a whole fresh chicken
1 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice
1 tsp of chilli powder
1 tsp of sea salt
For the second marinade
120 ml of plain yogurt
1 tbsp of garlic paste (finely grated garlic)
1 tbsp of ginger paste (finely grated ginger)
1/2 tsp of sea salt
1 Tsp of garam masala
1/2 tsp fenugreek powder
1 onion, cut into rings
1 lemon wedge
For the butter chicken
400g ripe red tomatoes
2 tbsp plus 50g of ghee
1 onion, finely diced
1 tbsp red chilli powder
1 tsp garlic paste
(finely grated garlic)
1 tsp ginger paste
(finely grated ginger)
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
100g plus 1 tbsp of double cream
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
Start by preparing your chicken by chopping it into pieces and making two deep incisions on each breast and leg.
Tip #1: You can use any part of the chicken that you like but I like to use the whole chicken as I think it gives a bit more variety to everyone. The important part is not to take it off the bone, you will end up with a tough chicken instead of a super soft one… not to mention the extra tastiness the bones will give your sauce.
For the first marinade, start by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl and rubbing it all over the chicken. Place it in a tray and cover with cling film. Place in the fridge and leave for 1 hour.
Mix the ingredients for the second marinade in a bowl and again rub it on the chicken pieces. Return the chicken to the bowl, cover again and rest in the fridge for at least 3 hours or if you can overnight.
Now that you have marinated your chicken it is time to grill it.
Traditionally you would skewer it and roast it in a tandoori oven but a wood burning oven or a charcoal grill are great substitutes so fire it up.
Tip #2: If you don’t have access to any of the wood burning grills or ovens you can still make great tandoori chicken but you will need to use the grill in your oven so preheat it to 180C.
Skewer the chicken and place it on your BBQ if you are using one. Alternatively place the chicken on a rack with a tray underneath to collect all the drippings, put it under the grill. Grill your chicken for 15 minutes. Turn the chicken and brush with a bit of ghee, grill for another 5 minutes or until cooked and tender. Remove and keep aside.
Now that your tandoori chicken is done it’s time to start making the butter sauce by placing a heavy bottom pan over a medium heat.
Add 2 tbsp of ghee then the onion and cook slowly until it starts to caramelize.
Tip #3: One of the best kept secrets in curry making is time, especially when it comes to onion, cook them slowly and on the low fire and they will release their sugars and give a natural sweetness to your curry.
Now add the garlic and ginger and allow it to blend in for about 15 seconds.
Tip #4: Time works the opposite way here, as garlic and ginger burn really easily and can become bitter quite fast. So add them in and keep them moving to avoid a disaster.
It’s time for the chopped tomatoes to go into the pan allowing them to cook until soft and breaking apart.
Once that happens add all your spices and give it a good stir and a minute or two to blend. Now add 25ml of water and reduce every-thing to a purée with a hand blender.
Add your tandoori chicken and cook for about 30 minutes or until the chicken starts falling off the bone.
Tip #5: To test this grab the thickest piece of chicken and try to pull the meat away from the bone, if it glides away with no resistance it’s perfect, otherwise return it to the pan and carry on cooking.
Once your chicken is done we only need to finish the dish and this part is what gives it its name. Add 50g of ghee and stir until it melts. Add the cream, chopped coriander and season with salt. Take off the heat.
Garnish with green chillies, corian-der and a dollop of cream. Serve with naan, chapattis or basmati rice.
Perfect every time Basmati rice
250g Basmati rice
Put a large pan of salted water on a high heat and bring to the boil.
Rinse the rice in a colander under running water for about 1 minute, or until the water runs clear.
Tip #1: This will stop the grains sticking together later.
Add your rice to the boiling water and wait for the grains to start dancing around. From that point on, boil for 5 minutes. Drain the rice in a colander.
Pour 2.5cm of water into the pan, put it back on the heat and bring it to the boil again, then turn down to a simmer. Cover the rice in the colander with foil or a lid. Place the colander on top of the pan of simmering water and let the rice steam over it for 8 to 10 minutes.
Tip #2: The trick here is never to let the bottom of the colander touch the water.
Remove from the heat and if you’re ready, serve immediately. If not, leave the foil or lid on and put aside until ready to serve – it should stay warm for about 20 minutes
Tip #3: Once you’ve got the hang of that, you can have a go at flavouring it – any flavouring you boil with the rice will infuse it with wonderful fragrances and flavours. So try boiling things like fresh herbs, a cinnamon stick, a few cardamom pods, a strip of lemon zest or even a green tea bag in the water with the rice.
Restaurant Info: www.motimahal.in