One of my favourite ways to entertain friends is to cook Indian style meals and often Makkhani Murghi is the main dish. It has the advantage not only of being delicious but also being very simple, a definite bonus if you are making a number of other dishes to accompany it, as well as thinking about a suitable dessert course (and sometimes a starter as well). It is a great way of transforming simply cooked Tandoori chicken with a rich buttery tomato sauce.
It comes from my much loved and much used book Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery. In the book this recipe follows on from one for home-made Tandoori chicken. When I entertain, I often make the Tandoori chicken from scratch the day before using Madhur Jaffrey’s original recipe which I have also added further down this page but, especially if I am just cooking the dish for day-to-day consumption, I pre-marinade the chicken in a mixture of the Tandoori Masala spice powder and yoghurt and oven bake for about 30minutes. Both are versions which do not need the traditional Tandoor oven: not a common piece of kitchen equipment here in the UK! I then follow Madhur’s original rich and calorie laden recipe for Makkhani Murghi fairly faithfully. However, I also make a ‘cheats’ quick and less authentic everyday version of Makkhani Murghi by cutting some corners with the method and ingredients. In the simpler version I usually use chicken thighs and I also use milk, or a mixture of milk and cream, which gives a thinner but quite satisfactory ‘everyday’ sauce and much less butter. (It is worth cooking this everyday sauce a little longer to reduce it so it is less thin.) It is a much less rich, in fact, a different dish, but still tasty. The original recipe uses ghee, which is clarified Indian butter, but I successfully use ordinary salted butter. Madhur Jaffrey recommends that the butter should be folded into the sauce at the last moment to prevent it separating. I would recommend adding the fresh coriander at the last minute as well. (See No. 5 below for serving and menu ideas.)
Tandoori Chicken in a Butter Sauce
Tandoori chicken cut into 1-2inch (2.5-5cm) pieces from 2½lb (1kg 125g) skinned chicken pieces (legs or breasts – thighs for everyday meals)
4tbsp tomato paste
8fl ozs (225ml) water
1inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
10fl oz/300ml single cream (Elmlea low fat) – 5fl oz/150ml milk for everyday version
1tsp garam masala
1 small green chilli, seeded & very finely chopped
¼tsp cayenne pepper
4tsp lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
1tsp ground roasted cumin seeds (or a generous ½tsp cumin powder)
4oz/100g unsalted butter (I usually use about half this quantity so it is less oily)
1tbps chopped fresh coriander, more if you wish
If using Tandoori Masala spice mix marinade then the following should be added:
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1. Gradually mix the tomato paste into the water, blending them well together. To this tomato mixture add the ginger, cream and/or milk, garam masala, salt, sugar, green chilli, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and cumin and mix well.
2. Melt the butter in a wide sauté pan.
For Tandoori Masala marinaded chicken: Once the butter has melted the onion and garlic should be fried gently until softened, then add the sauce and bring to a simmer.
For Tandoori chicken made from scratch: Once the butter has melted add the sauce and bring to a simmer.
3. Stir until the butter is well mixed into the sauce. (Do not let the sauce boil, especially if you are using cream.)
4. Add the pre-cooked chicken, but not any collected chicken juices which would thin the sauce. Mix in the fresh coriander. Stir until the meat is thoroughly heated through, which takes just a few minutes and serve.
5. Put the chicken onto a serving dish. The sauce should be spooned over. Garnish with a little more fresh coriander if you wish.
5. Serve with boiled rice, Onion Rice Pilaf (or similar) , naan breads or paratha roti , a vegetable side dish and poppadums. When entertaining, along with poppadums and a rice or bread, I usually add some or all of these depending on the number of guests: a simple Masoor Dhal (Red Lentils) (or other bean or lentil dish), raita, vegetable curries and/or onion bhajis , lime pickle , mango chutney and a relish (often chopped tomato/onion/cucumber mix with a sprinkling of cayenne and fresh chopped coriander). I add a substantial meat/fish free dish as well if I am catering for a vegetarian.
Tandoori Chicken – without a Tandoor Oven
1.25kg/2½lb skinned chicken pieces,legs and/or breasts or breast fillets
1 tsp salt
3tbsp lemon juice
450ml/¾pt plain yoghurt
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2.5cm/1inch piece fresh root ginger, grated
1 green chilli, chopped – remove seeds for less heat
2tsp garam masala
lime or lemon wedges, to serve
1. Cut the chicken legs into two pieces and breasts into four. Make two deep cross cut slits on the thick parts of each leg and breast. The slits should not reach the edges and should be cut down to the bone. Spread the chicken pieces out on two large baking dishes. Sprinkle half the salt and half the lemon juice onto one side and rub in well. Repeat for the second side with the remaining salt and lemon juice. Leave for 20 minutes.
2. For the marinade:
Blend the yoghurt, onion, garlic, ginger, chilli and garam masala until smooth using a blender or food processor. If you wish, strain through a coarse sieve into a large bowl, pushing through as much liquid as you can, but I often omit this stage.
3. Put the chicken and the juices that have accumulated into the bowl with the marinade. Rub the marinade well into the slits in the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight or a little longer if possible: 8-24 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to its maximum temperature and put a shelf in the highest part of the oven where it is hottest. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and spread them out in a single layer on a large, shallow, baking tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until thoroughly cooked.
5. Lift the chicken pieces out of their juices. Serve with lemon or lime wedges or use to make Makkhani Murghi, as above.