Tag Archives: North India

Indian Butter Chicken

 

B00NNYZKC8_MotiMahal_ChickenButterMasala_640x480

Butter chicken – two simple words to describe one of the richest of Indian and most popular dishes where succulent pieces of chicken are cooked and then simmered in a sauce that is utterly a buttery combination of cream, tomatoes and aromatic spices. Known as murgh makhani in Hindi,this dish is a culinary star that tickles palates across the world. While this iconic dish remains a much-loved favorite on menus across the country, few people know about the humble and practical origins of the butter chicken.

The genesis of the original butter chicken is inextricably tied to the evolution of another gastronomical hero, the tandoori chicken. The origins of the latter lie in Gora Bazaar in Peshawar, British India, where nearly 100 years ago, a man named Mokha Singh Lamba started a small restaurant called Moti Sweets.

In the 1920s, in Peshawar in undivided India, a  young boy aged 12, named Kundan Lal Gujral,  started working as a kitchen helper in at  Moti Sweets. Having lost his father at a very young age, he had to start earning early in life. When the eatery’s owner died a few years later, the boy took over the chain, as the owner was very fond of him. He renamed the place Moti Mahal.

Moti Mahal was the first resturant to dig up a tandoor right in the middle of the eatery. and as a young chef, Kundan Lal Gujral decided to experiment by skewering yogurt marinated pieces of chicken and sticking them into the tandoor oven, which was previously used only for breads. Thus, Peshawar cuisine was introduced to the culinary art of tandoori chicken and the incredibly popular, ubiquitous tandoori chicken was born.

OB-RC309_imoti1_G_20111221023343

 A view of the tandoor at the earliest Moti Mahal restaurant in 1948 where a cook is seen putting bread inside the tandoor to cook it . Photo Credit:Monish Gujral

Cooked in the radiant heat of the clay tandoor, fragrant and flavored by the smoke rising from the hot coals, the version Gujral made—with crispy skin and a recognizably bright red exterior—became an enormous success until Gujral was forced to flee Pakistan during the 1947 Partition of India.

flash5 (1)    Photo Credit: http://www.motimahalindia.com

The tragedy of partition forced Gujral to flee to Delhi with nothing but his skills as an innovation and creative user of Tandoor, an oven used by the people of North India.

Moti Mahal had already established itself among the British elite in Peshawar but the challenge came with Partition, when Gujral had to move to India and start a new life as a refugee.

Because he came from a more privileged background than most other refugees,  starting afresh was less of a struggle. Gujral  was among the few rich people who flew to India rather than taking the train. He stayed in a refugee camp initially and thought of setting up a dhaba (roadside eatery) to introduce Delhiites to the tandoori chicken.

In his new home in Delhi, Gujral co-founded a new restaurant and also called it, Moti Mahal, in Daryaganj, with Kundan Lal Jaggi and Thakur Dass.  It was one of the first restaurants to introduce the Punjabi cuisine to the rest of the world and many famous dishes include tandoori chicken, butter chicken and dal makhani.The place quickly proved popular and within a year Gujral turned Moti Mahal into  into a 400-seat restaurant.  Gujral also tried to make Moti Mahal a different experience by introducing live “qawwali” (a form of sufi devotional music) and a see-through kitchen.

Because of the lack of refrigeration facilities during this era, necessity led Gujral to having to innovate once again to avoid wastage, especially that of the unsold tandoori tikkas. He cleverly reasoned that a tomato gravy, lushly made with butter and cream, would soften his leftover chicken. He took the leftover pieces of tandoori chicken and cooked them over a low flame and served it as such. The combination proved to be a masterstroke and thus, by an act of genius, the butter chicken was born, a dish that is now a staple of Indian restaurants around the world. And by the same token, the very same gravy recipe was then used to make dal makhani.

709457284Kundal Lal Gujral (Center) with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (Left)
                    Photo Credit:Moti Mahal Delux Resturant

Moti Mahal enjoyed the patronage of India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who used to get catering done from here. So fond was he of the Peshawari cuisine that the owners had even set up a tandoor at Teen Murti House to serve piping hot naans and rotis to state guests at this august venue. In a rare gesture, the then Prime Minister had allotted an adjacent area to the owners — Kundan Lal Gujral, Kundan Lal Jaggi and Thakur Dass — to expand their business. The restaurant menu at the time as well as the placard outside used to make it clear that it had no branches anywhere and it was the sole restaurant to ensure that no one would misuse the name to start business elsewhere.

In its 1950s heyday, Gujral’s Moti Mahal resturant was extremely popular with celebrities and world leaders, including former Indian President Dr. Zakir Hussain, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy and actors Raj Kapur and Nargis were among the famous patrons.

OB-RC310_imoti1_D_20111221023614

Dr. Zakir Hussain (Left) and K.L. Gujral (first from the Right).

Photo Credit: Moti Mahal Delux

In its 1950s heyday, Gujral’s Moti Mahal resturant was extremely popular with celebrities and world leaders, including former Indian President Dr. Zakir Hussain, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy and actors Raj Kapur and Nargis were among the famous patrons.

It  was also the favorite restaurant of former Soviet and Pakistan Prime Ministers Nikita Khrushchev and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, respectively. So impressed was Bhutto with the culinary skills of the chefs during an earlier visit that Indira Gandhi decided to get food served from here during the famous Simla pact meeting. Khrushchev would get handpicked dishes on the menu flown to Moscow for his official banquets.

Freedom fighter and independent India’s first education minister, Maulana Azad reportedly even told the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, that while in India he must make two visits – to the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Moti Mahal in Delhi. And the Shah followed his advice, adding his name to some of the most renowned patrons of Moti Mahal.

In its more recent times,the resturant now called Moti Mahal Delux with its global chain of restaurants with over 120 franchises in India and around the world, the Dehli location was visited by master chef Gordon Ramsay, who even went behind the counter in the kitchen of this iconic restaurant.

With time, Moti Mahal changed, too. While it retained the signature dishes of dal makhani, butter chicken, tandoori chicken, chicken pakora (fritters), the restaurant reinvented itself to suit the changing palate of the Indian customer. They introduced tandoori dishes made with broccoli, trout and lobster.

In this version of the famous dish, I found that marinating the chicken in yogurt and a seasoned tikka masala curry paste makes the chicken extra tender before finishing it in the oven and adding it to a creamy, rich, fragrant, mildly spiced tomato sauce. Served on the side, there’s ginger-spiced sautéed spinach, rice, and of course, plenty of warm, toasted naan for scooping up the extra sauce.

Definitely a favorite dish that is perfect for adding to your meal rotation.

Enjoy!

Serves 6 to 9

Ingredients:
For the Chicken:
½ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon tikki marsala curry paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces

For the Sauce:
1 stick unsalted butter, divided
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 whole clove
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 serrano chile, split lengthwise and seeded
Kosher salt, to taste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes

For the Spinach:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
10 ounces, baby spinach
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Fresh coriander chopped, for garnish
Thinly sliced serrano peppers, for garnish
Fresh cream, for garnish

Directions:
For the Chicken:
Preheat oven to 475°F.

In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, curry paste, lemon juice, salt and pepper to combine. Pat chicken dry with paper towels, cut into 1-inch pieces, and add to bowl with marinade. Turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate in the refigerator for 1 to 3 hours.

For the Sauce:
Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add cinnamon atick and clove, stirring, until slightly darker and fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Add onion and chile season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden and beginning to caramelize, 8–10 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until very fragrant and ginger starts to turn golden, 2–3 minutes. Add garam masala, fenugreek, paprika, and turmeric and cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, breaking up into pieces with a spoon, and cook until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until sauce is the consistency of a thick ragù, 40–50 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the sauce to to cool. Discard cinnamon stick and the bay leaf, but allow the whole clove to remain.

Transfer the sauce to a blender and purée until smooth. Cut remaining the 4 tablespoons of butter into pieces. Add butter and cream to blender and purée until creamy; season with salt. Return sauce to the pot and bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, prepare a wire rack set inside a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.

After marinating, remove the chicken from the marinade and arrange the chicken in a single layer on the baking sheet. Broil until chicken starts to brown in spots , 7–8 minutes per side. Add chicken to simmering sauce, cover, and cook until chicken is cooked through, 8–10 minutes.

For the Spinach:
Heat  1 tablespoon butter in a large pan over medium heat. When butter is just melted, add shallot and ginger and cook until shallot is soft, about 3 minutes. Add spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 3 minutes more. Season with  salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, transfer the chicken and sautéed spinach to serving bowls, spooning over remaining sauce and garnish with cilantro. Tear naan into pieces and serve alongside with rice.

Cook’s Note:
Butter chicken can be made three days ahead of time.

Sources:
Gujral, Monish. (2013).  The Moti Mahal Cookbook. India: Penguin Books , Publisher.

Pal, Sanchari (2016). “The Better India (TBI) Food Secrets: The Humble Origins of the Hugely Popular Butter Chicken”. Retrieved 21 April 2018. https://www.thebetterindia.com/75100/butter-chicken-history-kundan-lal-gujral/

Retrieved 21 April 2018. https://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2011/12/22/moti-mahal-delhis-gastronomic-pearl/

Vohra, Pankaj (2015).”Partition brought Moti Mahal, a landmark in India’s culinary history, to central Delhi”. The Sunday Guardian.New Dehli. Retrieved 21 April 2018.http://www.sunday-guardian.com/investigation/partition-brought-moti-mahal-a-landmark-in-indias-culinary-history-to-central-delhi

All photographs and content, excepted where noted, are copyright protected. Please do not use these photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this photograph and all other contents, then we kindly ask that you link back to this site. We are eternally grateful and we appreciate your support of this blog.

Thank you so much!

 

 

Protected by Copyscape

Advertisements