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Cheater Chicken Tikka Masala

john barry

Once upon a time in Ireland, white Irish Protestants were virtually the only minority segment of the the overwhelmingly white Irish Catholic population.  Now Ireland has the youngest population in the EU and its monocultural, monotheistic nature has given way to a newfound multicultural Ireland complete with religious and ethnic diversity including Polish, English, Lithuanian, Latvian, Nigerian, Romanian, Indian, Philippine, German, American, Chinese, Slovakian, French, Brazilian, Hungarian, Italian, Pakistani, Spanish, Czech, and South African communities.  This diversity of citizenry, naturally, has brought with it the food of all of all of these far flung nations. These days you can walk the streets of Dublin and see not only rows of pubs but also Chinese, Indian, Italian and other ethnic restaurants.  

In the 1980’s and 1990’s many Indians immigrated to Ireland to work as doctors and nurses to replace Irish medical professionals who emigrated elsewhere. As the Irish economy boomed during the Celtic Tiger era, more and more Indians immigrated to Ireland to work in all kinds of jobs. Now, the South Asian population is thought to make up 1 to 3 percent of the total population of Ireland. Interestingly, the establishment of Indian restaurants in Ireland pre-dates the most significant waves of Indian immigration to the country by over half a century.  

The first Indian restaurant in Ireland opened in 1908.  The venture, pre-dating London’s first Indian restaurant by three years, only lasted a year. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when more Indian restaurants began to spring up in England that another Indian restaurant opened in Ireland, the Golden Orient, which opened in 1956. In 1966 the Golden Orient was followed by the Taj Mahal, which remained open until the mid-1990’s. At first, these restaurants primarily served Indian students studying at Trinity and their adventurous Irish companions. By the late 1980’s the Indian population in Ireland was larger and more Irish people were familiar with Indian food. The restaurant was even mentioned in Larry Gogan’s “Just a minute” quiz on RTE Radio 2.  When asked “Where’s the Taj Mahal?” a contestant responded, “opposite the Dental Hospital”.

 Credit – Dublin City Photographic Collection

 Credit – Dublin City Photographic Collection

The origins of chicken tikka masala are uncertain. Did it come from India? Glasgow? England? Wherever it came from, there’s no question that it is an incredibly popular dish in England, Scotland and Ireland.  And it’s delicious.  It’s even delicious when you make a cheater version like this one.

The chicken in chicken tikka masala is really supposed to be marinated in a combination of lemon juice, spices, garlic, ginger and yogurt, then grilled or roasted before being married with a spiced, tomato-based cream sauce. I didn’t have it in me to marinate and grill the chicken or even stick around while the sauce cooked so I did this in my slow cooker while we took the kids to Chinatown.  It worked out just fine and was full of flavor.

The best part was not having to come up with a dinner plan on Monday night after work.

Cheater Chicken Tikka Masala

5 pounds bone-in chicken pieces, skin removed

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon ground coriander seed

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons butter or ghee

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly mashed

1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems

1/2 cup heavy cream

Lemon to serve

Season chicken on both sides with salt.

Brown chicken pieces on all sides in slow cooker insert or in a saute pan on the stove over medium-high heat, about 6 minutes per side. Once chicken is brown on both sides, remove and set on a platter.

Add butter or ghee then onion, garlic, ginger and a little salt to cooker insert or saute pan and saute for about 10 minutes until brown and charred in spots.

Add spices and cook for 30 seconds more.

Add tomatoes, half of the cilantro and bring to a simmer scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. I do all of these steps in my slow cooker but if you are doing it in a pan, now is the time to transfer the contents of the pan to your slow cooker.

Add chicken pieces with their juices to the slow cooker.

Cook on low for 4-5 hours until the chicken is tender and comes off the bone easily.

Open lid and remove chicken pieces.

Add cream and taste and season sauce.

Puree the sauce with an immersion blender or in a blender (be careful!).

Taste and season again.

Pull chicken meat from the bones and add them back into the sauce, discarding the bones.

Garnish with the remaining fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lemon and serve.  Or, allow to come to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator for a quick weeknight dinner.