Cook Chicken Tikka Masala Like a Pro! Part 1: Meet your Indian Kitchen Coach, Preeti Mistry

In Our New Series, Learn to Cook Chicken Tikka Masala Like a Pro!

Part 1: Meet your Indian Kitchen Coach, Preeti Mistry

By John Birdsall | Photos by Chris Rochelle

What’s your cooking Achilles heel? You can be a great home chef, but there’s that one dish you haven’t been able to master, the thing you’ve tried and given up on, the dish you’d love to add to your repertoire, if only the right expert—smart, experienced, and unintimidating—could walk you through it.

Welcome to Kitchen Coach, our new five-part series to help you conquer your cooking fears. We take a dish you’ve been dying to master, then find the ideal expert to break it down for you, step-by-step, without making you feel like a klutz: what to buy, how to cook it perfectly, and where to go get further inspiration. For you high achievers, we’ll also assign an extra-credit project to help you go deep.

For CHOW’s Tracy Kaplan, the dish she’s eager to get under her belt is chicken tikka masala, a.k.a. butter chicken, the quintessential Anglo-Indian comfort dish. (What is chicken tikka masala, and where did it come from? We probe its mysteries here.) “Chicken tikka masala has been my Indian restaurant go-to for years,” Tracy says. “It’s time to start making it myself.”

The main things that make Indian intimidating are the spicing and saucing. If Tracy can figure out how to navigate the complex and seemingly esoteric spice mixtures, and make a sauce that doesn’t take a whole day and yield a sinkful of dirty utensils, she’ll have it nailed.

THE COACH: CHEF PREETI MISTRY OF JUHU BEACH CLUB

To help Tracy get the confidence to nail chicken tikka masala, we reached out to Indian-American chef Preeti Mistry. At Juhu Beach Club, Preeti’s restaurant in Oakland, California, she cooks modern Indian food that’s equal parts simple, gutsy, and refined. Preeti was born in the U.K., grew up in the Midwest, appeared on Season 6 of Top Chef, and now lives and cooks at her restaurant in Oakland, the Bay Area’s capital of individual, deeply personal food startups. She named her cool, Indian-mod, and pink paisley–papered restaurant to honor the street food from stalls at Juhu Beach near Mumbai. Standouts on the menu include pavs, slider-like sandwiches filled with things like shredded beef short ribs.

THE DISH: CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA

Its origins might be murky, but Preeti is clear on one crucial point: It’s a dish that's easy to master. She begins by marinating boneless, skinless chicken breasts in lemon juice and yogurt, before grilling and briefly simmering the bite-size pieces in a rich sauce of cream and tomato with Indian spices. (In fact, butter chicken is so easy to love it’s the centerpiece of the kids’ meal at Juhu Beach Club, served in a colorful tiffin set.) “It’s traditional curry-house fare,” Preeti says. “It hits that comfort-food spot.” In other words, the perfect threshold dish for home cooks like Tracy, seeking to spice up the weeknight dinner rotation.

THE RECIPE: Click here for Preeti's chicken tikka masala recipe

PART 2: GO SHOPPING WITH PREETI

Preeti takes us shopping, both in person and in the online marketplace, and we offer tips on making substitutions for those hard-to-source ingredients.

PART 3
Preeti shares tips for not falling on your face!

PART 4
Preeti's extra-credit recipe for making garam masala from scratch!

PART 5
Find out where Preeti gets Indian food inspiration, then tell us where you like to go!

Photos by Chris Rochelle / Chow.com

John Birdsall is senior editor at CHOW. You can follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.