The term curry in English has become a generic term to describe dishes from Southern and Southeastern Asia. However, the origin of the term, curry, means sauce. The term garnered its modern, Western, connotation in the 17th century when members of the British East India Company came across the dishes and spice blends while trading along the Southeastern Indian coast. What Americans think of as curry, typically, is a blend of spices labeled curry powder, which includes coriander, cumin, fenugreek, red pepper and turmeric (which is what gives it its trademark golden yellow color). Another pre-mixed blend of Indian spices sold in the U.S. is garam masala. Garam means hot, and masala means a mixture of spices. This spice blend usually includes pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and cardamom.
The sauce of the following dish is a curry, however, it will not be golden-hued as it is made with garam masala, not curry powder.
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup plain yogurt
3-4 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
10 cloves garlic finely minced
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 serrano chili peppers, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 teaspoons paprika
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1-2 cups water
½ cup heavy cream
Minced fresh cilantro, for garnish
Mix together the chicken, yogurt, 1 tablespoon of the ginger, 3 cloves of the garlic and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Make sure the chicken is evenly coated with the yogurt mixture, cover and refrigerate for at least a half hour.
Place a deep skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil and butter. When the butter has melted, add the rest of the ginger and garlic and serrano peppers. Sauté until it is lightly browned around the edges. Add the tomato paste and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the garam masala and the paprika and sauté for about 1 minute to draw out their flavors.
Add the tomatoes, the rest of the salt and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 20 minutes. You may need more water as the sauce reduces, it depends on how much liquid the tomatoes give off.
While the sauce in simmering, cook the meat. You can use a grill pan or a large regular pan. Coat the pan with canola and place the chicken on the hot surface, shaking off some of the excess marinade. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, it’s OK if it gets a little charred, it adds to the flavor. The chicken will still be a little uncooked, but it will finish cooking in the sauce.
Use a blender, food processor or immersion blender to blend the sauce until it’s smooth. Then bring the sauce back up to a boil and add the chicken. Turn the heat back down to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the cream and stir through. Garnish with minced fresh cilantro, and serve with basmati rice and naan.