Lamb Tikka Masala

by Gwen on February 8, 2011 · 5 comments

So here it is, my first foray into Indian cooking.  Chicken Tikka Masala was my gateway dish into Indian cuisine, despite the fact that there’s a debate over whether this dish is even Indian in origin.  Many people believe it first appeared on a menu in London.  But no matter how it came about, I’m sure glad it did.  Grilled, yogurt-marinated meat submerged in a vibrant orange tomato-cream sauce with a noticeable yet subdued hit of spices make this a dish more in tune with western palates.  I’ve had this dish several times in restaurants, but controlling the quality of ingredients at home makes such a noticeable difference in the final product.  So let’s get to it, shall we?

The real power of this dish comes from the homemade, toasted then ground spice blend, garam masala.  I picked up a spice grinder for this adventure (just a basic coffee grinder that hasn’t been used for coffee yet) which will be necessary.   If you haven’t cooked Indian food before, you’ll probably be lacking in the whole spices required for this, and it will take a little investment to gather all these ingredients.  You can find pre-ground garam masala on the spice rack, but common, we’re foodies.  This takes some commitment.

Garam Masala
(Alton Brown’s recipe)

2 tbsp cardamom seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp brown mustard seeds
2 tbsp black peppercorns
20 cloves
1 dried arbol chili, stemmed, seeded and crumbled
1 cinnamon stick (about 2.5″) broken in peices
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Combine all the spices except the nutmeg in a dry skillet.  Take a moment to smell these spices.  You should find that the sweeter, more desserty spices are more prevalent: the cardamom, the cinnamon, and the clove.  Place the skillet over medium-high heat and cook, moving the pan constantly, until you start to smell the cumin as the prevailing spice, about 3-4 minutes.    About the same time I really started to smell the cumin, my coriander seeds starting popping and jumping about the pan.  That’s a good marker that things are done.  Here’s a shot of the spices pre-toasting.

Pour spices onto a plate and allow to cool for 5-7 minutes.  Once cooled, mix with the nutmeg, pour into a spice grinder and blend for 1 minute, until evenly pulverized into a fine powder.  Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

For this recipe you’ll also need an additional teaspoon of cumin and coriander, so go ahead to repeat the process with those guys now and get it out of the way.

Lamb Tikka Masala
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Chicken Tikka Masala recipe
Serves 5

For the Lamb Tikka:
1-3/4 lb boneless lamb leg, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp coriander, toasted and ground
1 tsp cumin, toasted and ground
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt

For the Masala Sauce:
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, small dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 serrano chile, seeded, ribbed and finely minced.  ( I went for 1/2 a pepper for heat-sensitive guests and felt like there was zero heat.   I like a kick and would go with 2 peppers, seeded and minced next time, or plan on making a spicy condiment to up the heat on a per-plate basis)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp garam masala
1 28oz can crushed san marzano tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro

In a large ziplock bag, combine garam masala, coriander, cumin, salt, and pepper.  Drop in the lamb and shake to combine, making sure it’s all thoroughly coated in spice mix.  Pour in the yogurt, and again, shake the bag to combine.  Tuck this into your fridge for at the very least 1 hour, but I recommend overnight.

30 minutes before grilling, pull your lamb out of the fridge and skewer them like kabobs, leaving a 1/4 inch space in between each piece.  If they were in the fridge overnight, you’ll want to let the skewers sit at room temp for about 20 minutes to take some of the chill off before grilling.    Right before these guys head to the grill, season both sides with a healthy pinch of kosher salt.

Lets get to that sauce.  Place a dutch oven over medium-high heat and pour in the vegetable oil.  Saute the onion until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala, cooking until fragrant and slightly caramelized on the bottom, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, sugar and salt.  Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium low, pop the lid on, and let it cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Now’s a good time to get that lamb grilled.    On a preheated super hot gas grill, give those skewers 3-4 minutes per side to get a nice char and still retain a tiny bit of pink on the inside.

Back to that sauce. Add the cream and stir for a minute or so until warmed through.  Then add in the lamb (pulled off the skewers, please) and top with the handful of cilantro (which I neglected to do in my rush to the table.  But do it.  Seriously.)  We served it up with some steamed basmati rice, peas, a delicious cucumber raita, and some toasted naan bread from Trader Joes.  Kim’s hands celebrated the meal!  Hurraaaay!

Sorry, no time for better pictures.  Must eat.

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