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In Britain, Favorite Dish Is Chicken Tikka Masala

The Hartford Courant

May 02, 2001

Goodbye, fish and chips?

Britain's most popular national dish is now chicken tikka masala, an entrée of oven-roasted chicken in a creamy tomato sauce widely served in Indian restaurants, the British foreign secretary proclaimed in a speech in April. Critics immediately blasted the speech, which celebrated multiculturalism in Britain, as a blatant attempt by the secretary, Robin Cook, to curry favor for his Labour Party with immigrant voters in upcoming national elections.

But his remarks also provided official recognition of an extraordinary shift in Western eating habits. Once limited to notoriously basic dishes of beef, mutton and fish, the British are now major consumers of Indian food. The Times of India recently counted 8,500 Indian restaurants in Britain. "While in America you almost have a Chinese restaurant on every corner, in England it's an Indian restaurant," says John Jago-Ford, owner of the British Shoppe in Madison, which sells tea and British food, including curry mixes.

Underlying the trend was the massive wave of South Asian immigration to the United Kingdom after World War II. But Indian food has wide appeal there. British retailer Marks & Spencer has long sold prepackaged chicken tikka masala sandwiches. On April 11, McDonald's in Britain kicked off a two-month campaign that puts "a host of Indian-inspired products" on the menu, such as lamb rogan josh and vegetable samosas. Even Queen Elizabeth reportedly has a favorite place for munching curry - the upscale Veeraswamy Restaurant on London's Regents Street.

On this side of the Atlantic, chicken tikka masala seems to be a crowd pleaser as well.

Arun Pereira says the dish is the one most ordered by customers at his Bombay Raj Mahal restaurant in Manchester. The sauce, which isn't as hot as many spicier curried items on the menu, is the reason for the popularity among people who aren't veterans of South Asian dining. "It's very tasty but doesn't burn your tongue. That's the way they like it," says Pereira, who established the business in 1986.

Unlike lots of other Indian sauces that have an onion base, chicken tikka masala has a tomato base, making the taste a little more familiar to people used to eating Italian and other European cuisine. The dish "has more in common with what the whole world eats" than some other offerings, says Shekhar Naik, owner of Glastonbury's Ambassador of India restaurant, which opened in 1995. Chicken tikka masala is the hands-down favorite there, too, he says.

By some accounts, chicken tikka masala was specifically invented by South Asian chefs for Western customers who, when presented with chicken roasted in a tandoori oven, demanded the meat be served in some kind of gravy. But Naik said the dish arose as a variant of chicken makhani, which has a thick butter sauce, at a restaurant in the Indian capital of New Delhi.

However popular the dish may be, to be sure, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding aren't likely to disappear as sentimental favorites in Britain and elsewhere anytime soon. These are foods "made by mother at home," Jago-Ford says, and they have a special place in the British culinary pantheon.

Penny Gerstein, owner of the Penny Ha'Penny store in Wilton, says that while Indian food may dominate the take-out market, "I'm not sure whether people cook it as much at home."

Although she sells some Indian spices, the most popular food in her store for fellow British expatriates is baked beans manufactured by Heinz's British division. For other Indian recipes like the one below, go to www.cuisinecuisine.com.

Chicken Tikka Masala

4 whole boneless chicken breasts, skin removed and cut into strips or cubes
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2-inch piece of fresh gingerroot, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 to 2 teaspoons curry powder
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons oil
1-inch piece gingerroot, peeled and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt to taste
1/4 cup sour cream

To make marinade: Combine all marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Marinate for 20 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat a gas grill. Thread the chicken on skewers, and grill, turning, until chicken is cooked. Remove from heat.

To make gravy: Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the ginger and garlic, and sauté until golden but not browned. Add the onions, and sauté until soft and golden brown. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin, coriander and salt, and cook briefly.

Add the cooked chicken pieces, and cook until heated through. Slowly stir in sour cream, and cook until heated. Serve over rice with chopped cilantro and lime wedges. Serves 6.

©2001 MyWay Corp.
Portions ©2001 ctnow.com
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