Murgh Tikka – Spiced Skewered Chicken

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Chicken Tikka

Murgh Tikka (मुर्ग टिक्का) or Chicken Tikka (चिकन टिक्का) is another of those phenomenal Indian dishes pretty well known all over the world. The Tikkas have made a special place not only in every Indian restaurant but also in the hearts of many non-Indian food lovers. These are the famous tiny bites of meat, (mostly with an orange glow) which are marinated in a blend of fragrant spice mix and yogurt and then broiled in the Tandoor until tender and succulent.

Murgh is Chicken and Tikkas are the little morsels or bites; having originated in the northern regions of  India these are immensely popular as an appetizer and are relatively easy to make. The kebabs and grilled meat in India have strong influences of the Persians and the Mughals, and the Murgh/Chicken Tikka is no exception. The little bites are tender and beautifully flavored.  The succulent bites of chicken are usually served on a bed of sliced onions, with wedges of lemon juice and a sprinkle of Chaat Masala.

Ingredients:

  1. 2.5 lbs  skinless boneless chicken breasts – about 4 small-medium breast pieces or tenderloins in the same weight



Marination:

first marinade:

  1. 1.5 tablespoons lime juice
  2. salt
  3. 1/2 tablespoon red chili powder (use Kashmiri Red Chili powder or paprika for less heat)
  4. 1/2 tablespoon ginger paste
  5. 1 tablespoon grated onion
  6. 1/4 tablespoon garlic paste

second marinade:

  1. 1 teaspoon ajwain/carom seeds + 1 teaspoon ajwain/carom seeds, crushed with a rolling pin/mortar pestle
  2. 1/2 tablespoon oil
  3. 1/4 scant cup chickpea flour/Besan
  4. 5 tablespoon thick, drained plain yogurt
  5. 1.5 tablespoon ginger paste
  6. 1 .5 tablespoon garlic paste
  7. salt
  8. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  9. 2 teaspoons red chili powder (or to taste)
  10. 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  11. a pinch of saffron + 1 tablespoon milk
  12. 2 tablespoons virgin pure mustard oil
  13. 1 teaspoon garam masala (homemade or store-bought)
  14. 1 teaspoon kasuri methi/dried fenugreek leaves – available in Indian groceries. (optional)
  15. red or orange food color (optional)

Others:

  1. Skewers
  2. more oil to baste
  3. thinly sliced onions and lemon/lime slices to serve
  4. Chaat Masala (Indian Spice mix to sprinkle on salads, starters etc – available in Indian groceries) – Optional

Preparation:

If you are using bamboo skewers, you will need to soak them in water for about 20-30 minutes.

Use chicken without bones and skin. Cube the chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes. Wash and pat dry. Place chicken cubes in a large nonreactive bowl.

Add all the ingredients of the first marinade and rub them well into the chicken pieces; let it sit for about half an hour.

Heat the 1 tablespoon milk and add the saffron to it. Stir and let it sit. The saffron will release the color and aroma in the warm milk.

Heat the half tablespoon of oil in a pan, but not smoking hot. Crush 1 teaspoon ajwain/carom seeds gently by rubbing them with the finger in the palm of your hands and tip them in the oil. Add the chickpea flour, and constantly stir it with a wooden spoon at low heat, until it turns a shade darker and you smell that nutty flavor. It might look like the flour is lumping up, but it is okay and keep stirring. I love the nutty taste and flavor of this toasted flour.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the yogurt. Add the ginger paste, garlic paste, garam masala, 1 teaspoon crushed ajwain/carom seeds, kasuri methi, turmeric, black pepper,  red chili powder, salt and the food color you are using. Add the saffron milk. Removed the toasted chickpea flour from the pan and add to this mixing bowl. Whisk everything together until you get a smooth lump-free mix. This is your final marinade.

Spoon this out into the bowl with chicken and toss really well so every cube of chicken is coated with the marinade. Let it sit for at least 4 hours; overnight is great.

When you are ready to cook the chicken:

Rub the skewers with some of the marinade so they kind of coat the skewers. Skewer the chicken cubes in the sticks – about 6-8 in each stick.

Oven Method:

Preheat oven to about 400 – 420 F (every oven is different, so you might need to adjust/try out the right temperature. I had the temperature at 410F in my convection oven).

Place the skewers side by side on a lightly greased tray.  Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until they are done and white inside, but still soft and tender. During this cooking time, make sure that you baste them generously with some ghee/oil on both sides and turn them over at least twice. If you want the charred feel and look, broil the chicken for another 3-5 minutes.

If you are using a grill:

Cook the skewered meat on the grill; cover for about 5-8 minutes. Uncover, cook until almost done; baste generously with ghee/oil, and turn them over and cook until done.

On the stove top:

Lightly grease a skillet or even better a stove top cast iron grill pan. Place the skewered chicken on the skillet/grill pan and cook for about 5-8 minutes at medium heat. Turn them over and baste them generously with ghee/ oil a couple of times and cook all sides for another 5 minutes or until the meat is cooked through and tender. If you want it charred and brown bits, increase the heat at the end of the cooking and cook at high heat turning them around for a few more minutes

NOTE: Overcooking the meat will toughen it and the pieces will dry out. So do not cook for too long. The meat needs to be just cooked through, soft and succulent.

Serve them hot with sliced red onions; drizzle chicken and onions with lemon/lime juice and Chat Masala if you are using. (I use the red onions, but soak them in water for a while to get rid of the heat). They are usually accompanied by the Mint-Cilantro Chutney.

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