We reached out to Indian-American chef Preeti Mistry to be our Kitchen Coach after CHOW’s Tracy Kaplan came clean about her more or less lifelong desire to master the Anglo-Indian dish chicken tikka masala. Preeti talked about the history of the dish, took us shopping for spices to make garam masala, and passed along her recipe. Along the way, she gave Tracy (and us) a few tips.
TIP #1: MARINATING IS MORE THAN FLAVOR
In Preeti’s chicken tikka masala recipe, there are two separate marinating steps for the chicken: first with lemon juice and salt, and next with yogurt, oil, and spices. “That happens a lot in Indian cuisine,” Preeti says about the double marinating. “You want to give the chicken flavor, but mostly you want to change the texture, letting the fibers relax and get supertender.”
Tracy’s tip: Make the yogurt marinade, then scrape it into a large zip-top bag (pictured below) before adding the chicken. “There’s one less bowl to clean,” Tracy says, “but also you can turn the chicken over halfway through the marinating process so everything stays even.”
TIP #2: EXPERIMENT WITH CUTS
At her restaurant, Juhu Beach Club, Preeti’s chicken tikka masala is on the kids’ menu, one reason she makes it with chicken breasts. If you’re cooking for more adventurous eaters, try another part of the chicken with more flavor: legs. “If I were cooking this for grownups,” Preeti says, “I’d probably use chicken thighs and leave them whole.”
TIP #3: KEEP IT FRESH
You can make the yogurt marinade and the sauce a day or two ahead, but don’t even think of taking any shortcuts with the fresh ginger and garlic for either—peel and chop them right before using. “Garlic really loses its joy once it’s been chopped or blitzed in the food processor,” Preeti says.
TIP #4: JUST CHILL
Whole spices should be lightly toasted before grinding—the heat brings out the spices' natural oils, making all the flavors fragrant and bright. You can toast spices lightly in a dry skillet or spread out on a baking sheet in the oven, just keep a careful eye on them so they don’t brown or even scorch (they start to taste bitter when that happens). To cool the spices down immediately once they’re at the right degree of toasty, Preeti keeps a cool metal bowl nearby; then she grinds them in her spice mill.
TIP #5: YEE-HAW!
Preeti’s overall advice for Tracy: Dude, just have fun—and don’t be afraid to get messy. “The main reason I like Indian cooking is that I’m kind of a cowboy in the kitchen,” Preeti says. “I’m just one of those weird people who just needs to feel everything I’m doing in the kitchen.”
Find out where Preeti gets Indian food inspiration, then tell us where you like to go!
Photos by Chris Rochelle