The creation story of chicken tikka masala is so recent we only have to look back 50 or so years to find it. But, even though there is wide agreement among the food-loving fraternity that CTM (as it’s often known) was created within living memory, there is no consensus on exactly who first created it and where.
Two things we know for sure. The basic story, firmly lodged in folklore, is of a British patron, while dining at an Indian restaurant, complained that his chicken (curry or tandoori) was a bit dry. So, the chef proceeded to make it wet by adding a can of tomato soup, some garam masala and a dash of cream (or yoghurt, depending on the re-telling). The other indisputable fact is that CTM is Britain’s most popular dish.
In 2001, Britain’s then Foreign secretary Robin Cook went so far as to declare CTM Britain’s national dish in what has become known as the “chicken tikka masala speech”. He said: “Chicken Tikka Massala (sic) is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The Massala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.”
CTM is one of those great dishes that can hold a delicate balance of sweet and sour, spicy and rich. Though the recipe is straightforward, the more time you can give it, the deeper the flavours you can give to the finished dish. For maximum oomph, Lesley suggests making the paste to marinate the chicken and the sauce one day and allowing it all to rest overnight to take in the flavours before cooking and serving the following day.
While long-grain basmati rice is a great pal of CTM to soak up some sauce, you could also take the dish up a notch and serve it with chewy, slightly charred naan bread–see recipe from TMix+ Autumn/Winter 2016 issue.