Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: New York II - "Murgh" is the word!

The New York Metropolitan Area has the nation's largest South Asian American population, comprised of over 550,000 persons of Indian ancestry.  It goes without saying that New York City is a center of South Asian cuisines in New York State.  I've had some excellent Indian food at the acclaimed Jackson Diner in Queens, for example.  The Jackson Diner is just one of many in a long tradition of Indian restaurants in New York, which was (likely) home to the country's very first.

Official Name: State of New York
State Nicknames: The Empire State
Admission to the US: July 26, 1788 (#11)
Capital: Albany (6th largest)
Other Important Cities: New York City (largest in the state, largest in the nation!), Buffalo (2nd largest), Rochester (3rd largest), Syracuse (5th largest) 
 Northeast, Mid-Atlantic; Mid-Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT NationsMaple SyrupWild RiceClambake
Bordered by: Québec (Canada) (north), Lake Ontario (northwest), Ontario (Canada) & Lake Erie (west), Pennsylvania (south and southwest), New Jersey (south), Connecticut & Long Island Sound (southeast), Massachusetts & Vermont (east)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: apple (fruit), milk (beverage), sugar maple (tree - for the maple syrup), rose (flower - they are edible, you know), trout (fish), apple muffin (muffin), bay scallop (shell), beaver (mammal, though outside of "Bizarre Foods" you won't see many people eating these)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: In New York City, anything and everything - it is one of the most multicultural and diverse cities in the United States, and is a culinary capital of the nation; typical NYC foods include: Waldorf salad, bagels & bialys, corned beef and pastrami, chocolate egg creams, hot dogs, New York pizza, General Tso's chicken, Baked Alaska (invented in New York City), and so on; New York cheesecake; "garbage plate" (Rochester only); Buffalo wings (Buffalo of course); apples and maple syrup, and of course, more apples

Immigration from South Asia was a trickle before 1924, when the Johnson-Reed Act reduced immigration from the Indian Subcontinent (not to be righted until the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act).  But even before 1924, there were Indians in the largest metropolises of America, and a very small number of restaurants.  Both Chicago and New York City lay claim to some of the earliest Indian restaurants in the United States.  As Anita Mannur notes in the South Asian American Digital Archive, one of the first Indian restaurants in the United States was Manhattan's Taj Mahal Hindu Restaurant.
An advertisement for the restaurant appears in the pages of the February 1920 issue of Young India dating the restaurant to a few years earlier, while a search through the archives of the New York Times leads [historian] Vivek Bald to note that near boarding houses which were home to South Asian laborers—dock workers, restaurant workers, factory workers—that were located on Eight Avenue were a smattering of South Asian restaurants. Bald notes that only four blocks to the west of the Eight Avenue Boarding house were, “two of the first Indian restaurants in the city, which were four blocks south: the Ceylon Restaurant (est. 1913) on Eighth Avenue at Forty-Third Street and the Taj Mahal Hindu Restaurant (est. 1918) on Forty-Third Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, as well as to the Ceylon India Inn, an expansion of the Eighth Avenue Ceylon which was opened in 1923 nearby on West Forty-Ninth Street” (67). [Mannur 2011]
From there Indian cuisine (and South Asian cuisine in general) have become more and more a part of the American food landscape, as have Chinese, Italian, Jewish, Mexican and Japanese before it.  Today famous Indian-American chefs like Manhattan-based chef and actress Madhur Jaffrey and Brooklyn-based chef and cooking school proprietor Julie Sahni are influencing home cooks all across the country.  Jaffrey's cookbooks are famous, and my sister has one or two of hers on her kitchen cookbook shelf.  I have a well-worn copy of Julie Sahni's Moghul Microwave, a cookbook in which the author utilizes the microwave as a handy tool for making Indian food today.  Just from Sahni's microwave cookbook I've attempted everything from basmati rice (don't let it boil over) to potato and peas vindaloo to ready made ghee in just seven minutes (also useful for making the Ethiopian spiced ghee known as nitter kibbeh, as I noted in a past State-by-State post on the District of Columbia).  I was going to make yet another helping of potato and peas vindaloo, but two things stopped me: one, I have already written about that (a few years ago, but still), and two, I want to try something different.  This time, I sought out Sahni's now classic cookbook Classic Indian Cooking to attempt one of my all-time favorite Indian dishes, murgh makhani (or makhani murghi) - that is, butter chicken.  As she notes.
This chicken preparation is a classic example of the true flair and skill of Indian cooks.  In this dish, Mahkani (meaning "buttered," or "in butter") and Murgh (meaning chicken, and referring in this context to the leftover day-old tandoori chicken pieces) are combined.  They are simmered in cumin scented butter and a creamy rich tomato sauce and become a delicacy craved far more than tandoori chicken. [Sahni 1980:225-226]
She also points out that if you don't have any tandoori chicken just lying around, you will need to take the extra step of making tandoori chicken.  So guess what I did?  Yup - in order to make makhani murghi, I first had to make tandoori chicken.  Yes, this is going to take a while.

The Recipe: Makhani Murghi (Butter Chicken)

First, the tandoori chicken, the recipe for which is in Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking pages 221-225.  I halved her recipe.

The Recipe: Tandoori Chicken

* chicken (Sahni calls for 3 whole chickens, about 2 lbs each, cut into pieces.  I cheated and bought 3 lbs of chicken drumsticks and thighs.  I thought about buying Cornish game hens, but the chicken parts were cheaper.  I bought it for about I got it on sale for about $1.99 per lb at Wegman's)
* lemon (had a few)
* meat tenderizer (I had none of this on hand, and didn't know it would be so pricey.  A few ounces will run between $3.50 and $4.50)

For the marinade you will need:

* yogurt (I forgot to put this in the photo, but had it on hand.  I used a small container of plain Greek yogurt, bought for 85¢ at Wegman's)
* ginger (bought a few ounces for about $1 at the 7 Mile Market while shopping for matzah meal for the previous post)
* garlic (had it)
* paprika (had it too but I'm running out.  Oh, need to stock up on smoked paprika while I'm at it)
* cardamom (I had it on hand.  Still fragrant but it's getting old.  Will need to replenish it soon).
* red pepper and cumin (had both)

And finally,

ghee (for brushing on the marinated chicken before cooking.  Had none on hand, but no problem here!  Just follow Julie Sahni's recipe for quick microwave ghee - a stick of butter, uncovered in the microwave for 90 seconds, then covered, oh for the love of God covered! for 5 minutes or until the sputtering stops, and then strained into a fine cheesecloth to get rid of the burned bits.  Yields about 1/4 cup.  Smells awesome.)

Strip the skin off the chicken pieces.  Here's a Heloise-ish hint: using a paper towel to pull it off makes it come off much more easily.

Prick the chicken with a fork all over, and cut gashes into the flesh about an inch apart.

Throw the chicken into a bowl, and cover it with the meat tenderizer and lemon juice.  Rub this into the gashes in the chicken flesh.

Now you're ready for the marinade.

Throw the components into a blender or food processor.

After a minute or so you get this.  It's not terribly easy to get out of the blender.  I hate that.

Dump the marinade over the chicken, and work it all around until the chicken is completely covered.

Put the chicken in a large Ziploc bag and let marinate, either on the counter (!) for four hours or in the fridge overnight.  Sahni strongly suggests you marinate it for no more than two days, lest the meat tenderizer cause the chicken to become "soft and doughy".  Ick.

Prep the oven.  In retrospect, I didn't need to cover the bottom rack with aluminum foil.  The chicken drippings all drips into a dish after all.

Sahni gives three options for the home cook that doesn't have a tandoor conveniently located on their property: grilling, broiling and cooking in the oven.  The last option seemed the easiest - no constant basting, and it will stay moist.  Turn your oven up to around 500 to 550° - as hot as you can get it without actually turning on the broiler (a tandoor regularly gets up to about 800 to 900°.  You can see why that's not going to happen).

And yes, I need to wipe down the outside of my oven,.  Shut up.

Here is the dish I mentioned earlier.  Preferably you will put the tandoori chicken on a rack, but not all of mine would fit on top.

Brush the raw chicken with ghee.  I was worried I would have too much.  I had just enough.

Put the chicken in the oven and roast for half an hour.

Since I didn't use food coloring or tandoori coloring, my chicken didn't turn out red.  Fine with me since it'll be covered in a delicious orange sauce very soon.

By itself, the tandoori chicken is perhaps the softest, juiciest tandoori chicken I have had in ages.  Like spaghetti, I've become tired of the tandoori chicken I find locally, opting for other dishes.  I could get used to tandoori chicken again with this recipe.

Now you have some tandoori chicken.  It's time to makhani-ize it.

The recipe: The Actual Butter Chicken

In addition to the tandoori chicken, most of which made it into this recipe (I was hungry, alright?), you will need a few more things (recipe follows the tandoori chicken recipe in Sahni's book, pages 225-227.  I did the whole recipe, and plan to save the leftover sauce for the next time I make this)

Before I list the rest of the ingredients, I need to point out one thing I forgot to put in the photo: cilantro.  You need a lot of this, firmly packed and chopped.  The fresh cilantro is part of what makes the makhani murghi taste the way it does.  Make sure you buy some. Also note: I put garlic in the photo, but you won't need any in this recipe.  My bad!

* canned tomatoes (I bought Cento brand for $3.70.  You can go ahead and splurge on San Marzanos, but please note: most brands of canned tomato that I found are flavored with basil.  Search for one that is basil-free.  This can of Italian-style tomatoes were, in fact, free of basil.  Don't get me wrong: I love basil, but not when I'm making butter chicken).
* heavy cream (more than I bought - get yourself a pint for the full recipe of sauce.  You'll need most of it)
* butter (about a stick and a quarter)
* ginger (fresh)
* chile peppers (a few that I grew, from the freezer)
* salt, cumin and paprika (have them all)
* And you will need the following to make garam masala, which will probably taste better than the store-bought premade version: whole black pepper, cloves, cumin (not a few teaspoons either - about 1/4 cup for half a recipe.  You will need A LOT), coriander (same thing: you need about a quarter cup of this.  Again, A LOT), cinnamon and cardamom.  Exact amounts in Sahni's cookbook, page 38.  She says you can halve the recipe, but I probably should have quartered it.  I need more cumin now.)

Make your garam masala if you don't already have any.


Put your tomatoes, ginger and chiles into your blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

Next, melt a stick of sweet butter in a large pan (my 12" cast iron skillet in this case.  Coat the bottom.

Sear the tandoori chicken for a few minutes in the hot butter.

About 2 minutes total.

Take out the chicken and set aside, and quickly stir in some ground cumin and paprika for a few seconds.

Pour in your tomato mixture slowly.

Note, it will splatter even when you pour it slowly.  So the slower the better.

Stir the mixture for about 5 mintues.

Pour in and stir your cream

And next, put in the chicken.

This from the pan in which I made the tandoori chicken.  It's tandoori schmaltz!  Yes, I had my fork out.

Add the rest of the butter and a few teaspoons of garam masala.

Cook for about half an hour, uncovered.

Before serving, stir in your chopped cilantro.

I've eaten a lot of butter chicken over the past few years.  I love the stuff.  This is as satisfying as any I've had in a sit-down restaurant, but with the sheer satisfaction of making this deliciousness myself.  It's so buttery and silky, with the strong cilantro taste at the very end.  Serve this with basmati rice and maybe some fried onions and naan (note: pick up some naan).  Now if only Julie Sahni had a microwave recipe for this...


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