I’ve made this wonderfully easy dish several times over the years and it is always a crowd-pleaser! It can easily be doubled or tripled to serve a small or large group, and it can be prepared a day in advance, then baked just before you plan to serve it.
The flavors in this dish are so extraordinary that it is best served with a simple rice dish, such as Turmeric Rice, and a green vegetable, such as Green Beans with Garlic and Black Mustard Seed. These side dishes will not compete with the chicken flavors, and the colors on the plate are stunning together.
The recipe originally comes from “Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking.” Jaffrey’s recipe called for four chicken breasts weighing a total of 1¼ pounds, but I can’t recall the last time I saw breasts that small in a grocery store. Breasts are gigantic these days, in case you haven’t noticed. I have modified the recipe to call for 1½ pounds of chicken breast, which is cut into portion-size pieces before cooking.
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. salt
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1½ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into portion-size pieces
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
One 2-inch stick cinnamon
6 cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
1 small onion (about 5 oz.), sliced vertically
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 to 2 fresh, hot green chiles, cut into thin strips, seeds removed for less heat (I used one serrano chile weighing one-half ounce and left the seeds in)
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ tsp. black or brown mustard seeds
1 plum tomato (about 5 to 6 oz.), chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (unless you are preparing the dish a day in advance of serving).
To prepare the sauce, scoop the tomato paste into a small bowl along with 2 tablespoons of water; stir to dissolve the paste. Stir in the mustard, cumin, garam masala, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper. Add the heavy cream in small doses stirring after each addition until everything is smooth. The sauce will be quite thick at this point. Set aside.
To prepare the chicken, lightly season both sides of the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into a frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cinnamon, cardamom pods, and cloves. As soon as the spices start to sizzle, put in the chicken pieces and brown them lightly on both sides. The goal is to just brown the chicken, not completely cook it. Remove the chicken pieces as they brown and place them in a baking dish. (Be sure to remove any smaller pieces before larger ones so they do not become overdone in the oven.)
Once all the chicken pieces are removed, add the onion, ginger, and green chile to the frying pan; there will be some oil remaining in the pan. Stir-fry the onion, ginger, and chile until they are light brown in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and scrape the contents of the pan over the chicken in the baking dish.
Pour the remaining tablespoon of oil into the same frying pan and add the garlic. When the garlic takes on just a bit of color, sprinkle in the mustard seeds. As soon as the seeds start to pop, stir in the tomato — that will stop the seeds from jumping out of the pan. Stir for one minute until the tomato starts to break down, then add the cream sauce you’ve already prepared and heat until it starts to bubble.
If you are preparing this dish a day in advance of serving it, once the sauce starts to bubble, remove it from the heat and let it cool, then pour the sauce over the chicken. When the contents of the baking dish are completely cooled, place in the refrigerator until one half hour before you follow the baking instructions below.
If you are serving the dish the same day that you prepare it, do not let the sauce cool after it starts bubbling; instead, immediately pour the sauce over the chicken.
Place the baking dish in the pre-heated oven, uncovered, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The sauce should be gently bubbling at the edges. If the dish has been in the refrigerator overnight, baking time may be at the high end of this range.
Before serving, try to fish out the whole spices, or just warn your guests to look out for whole cloves and cardamom in their food!
Notes and Instructions
Recipe contribution from Linda McElroy, adapted from “Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking”
Photo credit: Linda McElroy