(Recipe) Butter Chicken and cardamom



The triggers for this dish were the unused chicken, yogurt and a craving for something indian. Also, the pre-made sauce I used to (Kitchens of India) cook with has sky rocketed from 6 for $8 2 years ago to 6 for $20 now. I was not about to spend $3+ on a single packet of pre-made sauces, and with Dosa Factory just around the corner, it is really easy to procure indian spices anyway. You will be able to find standard ingredients like basmati rice, assorted beans, ghee, paneer, garam masala etc. One of the more exciting produce they carry are curry leaves, albeit at exorbitant prices. Now imagine what I can cook with them. Mmm

Have you ever wondered what gives indian cuisine that distinct flavor? That one fragrance that seem to perfume every single non-native indian dish? Cardamom. It is a potent mix of incense smokiness, with a touch of earthiness, and it is used in practically every iteration of indian food I have tasted outside of India. I don’t think I did a great job describing the flavor, but if you were to imagine that one common denominator that is associated with all indian cuisines, that would be it. As ubiquitous as it is, the proliferate use of cardamom is unwarranted; it is so distinct and overpowering that adding just a little bit is enough to change any dish to an indian one (or indiant fusion). Think truffle. Did you know that most chefs despise the use of truffle (oil, salt whatever) because it overpowers practically everything it is added to? It seems like the only reason why truffle is added nowadays is to sell the idea of classy food, with no regard for how it complements a dish. I am guessing that it is the same deal for indian cuisine, where cardamom is used to sell the idea of indian food and not so much to enhance the taste. To make matters worse, cardamom is cheap too, unlike truffle, so it can be spammed on practically any dish, which makes it even harder to tell indian dishes apart. Remember the last time you tried chicken tikka masala, butter chicken and chicken vindaloo? Don’t they taste similar? (I mean the renditions found outside of india.) Cardamom is not a bad spice by any measure, too bad its application is just a little too liberal for my liking.

Nonetheless, it is good to know that there is at least one element I can tweak easily if I wanted to change the ‘indianess’ of a dish. And in this case, cardamom is needed, else I will be making butter chicken in the most literal sense!

(Update) Tuscanini now serves saffron cardamom ice cream. How do you think those elements work in a sweet ice cream?

This dish is relatively straight forward if you follow the recipe on the ecurry website above. I would suggest increasing or even doubling the ratio of spice to tomato puree my dish was clearly lacking in punch. Don’t hold back on the salt and sugar either. You don’t want the dish to taste like cream of tomato soup with a sprinkle of garam masala powder. I personally enjoy thigh meat since it is a little fattier and more juicy, which makes it that much more forgiving from overcooking. Breast meat will fine though, and represents a more traditional cut for the dish. Note the amount of butter and cream needed. You may wish to tweak it to create something healthier, and I highly doubt it will affect the taste much.

I don’t consider this an easy meal to prepare since you need to cut, marinade, skewer and grill the chicken; blend and fry spices; and put everything together. We have not even talked about cooking flavored basmati rice… While I have no reservations making it again, it’ll probably be for special occasions given the amount of preparation required. Of course, I am guessing that I can skip certain steps like grilling the chicken since any depth it adds is likely to be overwhelmed by the spices.


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