I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in New Orleans. I love it there – it’s such a fun, friendly city. Between the fantastic food and music and the festive atmosphere, a trip to New Orleans always feels like a celebration. But this visit was extra special because I was there for my son’s graduation from Tulane University. Hooray for Alex!!! After a weekend in The Big Easy I felt inspired to cook something super tasty and special. Chicken Tikka Masala – with its spicy, creamy, colorful, tender, tangy, exciting deliciousness – definitely fits the bill!
The magic of this dish comes from first marinating the chicken in yogurt to tenderize it. Then it’s partially cooked on a very hot grill, for that “tandoor” flavor. Of course you should use your tandoor oven, if you have one!
The chicken is then cut into bite-sized pieces and finished in a richly spiced, creamy tomato sauce.
The Tulane graduation ceremony was festive and wonderfully unconventional. The students marched out to the sounds of New Orleans jazz with “Just a Closer Walk With Three” played live by Dr. Michael White’s Original Liberty Brass Band. The Keynote speaker was New Orleans-born, Jazz great – Wynton Marsalis. Holding his trumpet in his hand at the podium, he delivered a brilliant and powerful speech, punctuated with several trumpet solos.
What made the commencement all the more poignant was that it was a wave goodbye to Tulane’s beloved long-time president Cowen, who’s stepping down in July. Cowen is credited with rebuilding Tulane after Katrina and has since made community service a graduation requirement for all Tulane students.
A big part of the message at the commencement was to go out into the world and make a difference. Here’s something Cowen said to the graduates that stuck with me:
“No one will ever remember you for what you did for yourself. They will only remember you for what you did for others.”
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs or a combination (if using breasts, poke them a few times with a fork before marinating)
- Marinade Ingredients
- 2 cups plain whole milk yogurt (not the Greek kind)
- 8-10 large garlic cloves, flattened and peeled (see here for how to flatten & peel garlic)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Sauce Ingredients
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large white onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 5 large garlic cloves, crushed in a garlic press
- 2 tablespoons finely minced or grated ginger root
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons cumin powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 cups tomato puree from a 28 ounce can (I recommend Organic or San Marzano for best flavor)
- 1 cup water
- ¾ cup half and half (you can use heavy cream if you want to splurge)
- ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
- Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
- 1 bunch chopped cilantro (about 1 cup)
- Marinate and Grill the Chicken Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 8 hours.
- Preheat your grill to high. Shake off excess marinade from the chicken and grill it for 5 minutes per side. Don't worry if it isn't fully cooked. It will continue to cook in the sauce. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes and then cut it into bite-sized cubes. Set it aside while you make the sauce.
- Make the Sauce Measure out all the spices for the sauce into a small bowl: coriander, cumin, paprika, chili powder, salt and cayenne pepper. Heat butter and oil in a heavy kettle or dutch oven over medium heat until hot. Add onions, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or so, until onions are tender and starting to brown. Add spices and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil. Lower to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes, uncovered. Add half & half, lemon juice, chicken cubes and half the cilantro. Simmer gently for 6-8 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in the rest of the cilantro. Serve with steamed basmati rice or naan.