Before I got engaged to the woman who is now my wife, she and her family took me to an Indian restaurant. My mother-in-law (who is far too nice a person to deserve the moniker) spent some time in India and shared her love of its cuisine with her daughter, who all but required me to like it before she would agree to marry me. To my surprise and delight, I found the unfamiliar food incredibly delicious and began exploring it with gusto. After we got married, I made it my mission to learn how to make Indian food at home, since finding good Indian restaraunts can be tricky. Chicken Makhani--also known as "Butter Chicken" on many menus--is a mild dish that is incredibly easy to make and perfect for people unfamiliar with Indian food. Even people who are familiar with it erroneously believe that good Indian food is difficult or complicated. In truth, the hardest part is building your spice cabinet, but even with a sparse collection, you can improvise dozens of simple Indian dishes that can be delicious, flavorful, and exotic. My favorite part of cooking Indian food is that the recipes are not strict in any way--true Indian cooks will never make the same thing the same way twice--and so I urge anybody who hasn't cooked it before to relax and know that it's nearly impossible to screw up.
Sprinkle salt and pepper over the chicken and set aside. Put the onion and shallot in a food processor and pulse until it forms a wet paste.
Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the peanut oil, bay leaf, and garlic. Stir for 30 seconds, until the garlic becomes fragrant.
Add the onion puree and stir. Let cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add butter.
Stir until the butter is fully melted. Add chicken and spices and stir to combine. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is mostly done.
Stir in coconut milk, tomato sauce, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce is too thick, add some water or chicken broth. If the sauce is too thin, let simmer for longer. Remove the bay leaf and salt to taste. Serve with rice, with naan or toast on the side.
-e. magill 10/28/2010
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