Finger-Licking-Good Chicken Tikka

While preparing to move to Seattle this summer, I shared a list of things and places in D.C. that I knew I’d miss, and already I’ve got a hankering for one of the mentioned -- the divine Indian morsels at Rasika in Penn Quarter.

Chicken tikka, close up. (Kim O'Donnel)

A stroke of luck -- or maybe just some excellent timing -- came my way over the weekend, when I picked up the latest issue of Food & Wine, which features seven recipes by none other than Rasika chef Vikram Sunderam. Score!

Eventually, I plan to test and savor every one of Sunderam’s F&W recipes, but chicken tikka is one that hooked me straight away. For some, chicken tikka -- boneless bits marinated in yogurt and spices and baked in a blistering hot clay tandoor oven, is considered unadventurous fare compared to the countless options under the Indian cuisine umbrella, but when done well, tikka may well be one of my top-five comfort foods. (Hmmm…I sense a future blog post in the making...)

Sunderam’s restaurant version is consistently flavorful, with plenty of yogurt tang, and his published at-home version, is downright spectacular. The spices, which he recommends grinding to order (I use a spare coffee grinder dedicated for spices), do a magnificent dance on the tongue – you’ll have fun with this one!

One note: You’ll need a minimum of two hours for marinating, so this may not be appropriate for weeknight kitcheneering. Without a grill at our new digs in Seattle, we decided to broil our tikka on a baking sheet, and aside from the smoke alarm letting us know it still works, the broiler option is seamless. Mister MA and I both agreed that the next time for chicken tikka should be sooner rather than later -- including a batch of Sunderam's kicky cilantro yogurt sauce (also featured in the magazine).

Chicken Tikka
From the October 2008 issue of Food & Wine

1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder (KOD: usually a mix of cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves and Sichuan pepper – I substituted 1 star anise pod and a smidge of cinnamon)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (KOD note: a hunk the length of your thumb)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
salt to taste
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into two-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

In a spice grinder, pulse mustard seeds with five spice powder (or alternatively, 1 star anise pod and some cinnamon bark), turmeric, cayenne, cayenne and bay leaf until fine. Transfer spice powder to a medium bowl. Add ginger, garlic and yogurt and season with salt (For two pounds of chicken, I added 2 teaspoons coarse salt). Add chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate for two hours.

Light a grill (alternatively, you can broil). Remove chicken from marinade and brush pieces with melted butter. Season with salt, if desired. Oil grate and grill chicken over high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and cooked through, about eight minutes. (If broiling, place chicken on a baking sheet; after five minutes, use tongs to turn chicken for even charring.)

Serve with warm naan, roti or paratha.

P.S. Chicken can be marinated for up to eight hours.

Makes four servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 8, 2008; 11:04 AM ET Chicken/Poultry , Dinner Tonight
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Good timing - I have some chicken thighs that will be dinner tonight. Do you have any vegetable sides that don't include eggplant that would go with this?

Posted by: Fran | September 8, 2008 12:47 PM

Hmmm. Last time I bought chicken thighs, fooled by the way they are displayed meat-up, I spent hours trimming them. What do you do?

Posted by: Bartolo | September 8, 2008 4:07 PM

I don't know about anyone else, Bartolo, but I personally just don't worry about it. If they came boneless, I just make sure there's not too much fat and let it go. You don't really notice unless you get a big chunk of fat.

Posted by: daetara | September 8, 2008 4:50 PM

Hi Kim:

I love chicken tikka and look forward to trying the recipe! I have a few questions:

1. could you substitute nonfat plain yogurt? what about nonfat Greek-style (thick) yogurt for those of us trying to reduce fat? In the same spirit, is brushing the chicken with melted butter truly necessary?

2. In order to reduce burning, should you scrape off the yogurt marinade before grilling?

Thanks! Hope you're settled in to the new Casa Appetite!

Posted by: Bethesda Mom | September 8, 2008 6:30 PM

Bethesda Mom: You could try but I think you'll want the fat in the yogurt. The melting of the butter (or if clarified, ghee) is probably unnecessary but in this case, I'd say worth experiencing for the flavor boost. I might pat dry the marinade rather than scraping off, just to eliminate the extra.
Fran: I think legumes are a great side for tikka, but if that seems too involved for one evening, what about a cool cucumber salad?

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 8, 2008 10:09 PM

"Without a grill at" Casa Apetite???????? Sure hope that is a temporary phenomenon, and not a permanent one!!!

Posted by: FTolson | September 10, 2008 9:51 PM

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