21 September 2009

Chicken Tikka Masala & Southampton Altbier

A British dish, influenced by India, paired with an American beer, influenced by Germany. It's like a complicated wedding right on the table.

Like anyone else that's been to an Indian restaurant in the United States or Great Britain, I've enjoyed the big plate of chicken tikka masala from time to time. It's pretty well known by now that this is not an authentic Indian recipe; although its precise origins are unclear, it was developed in the UK as an attempt to adapt Indian food for the British palate.

I looked at several dozen recipes online, and none of them matched up. I'm not talking about a difference of a certain spice or cut of chicken. The only consistent part of any chicken tikka masala recipe is... chicken. For instance, the red color can come from food coloring or tomatoes. (And it doesn't have to be red; varieties from yellow to deep crimson exist.) For the tomatoes, the quantity required for a recipe serving four varied from a tablespoon of tomato paste to a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes. Adding a creamy texture? Optional, but cream, milk, yogurt, or coconut milk are used, all of which behave differently when cooked.

I decided to ditch the recipes and just freestyle it. Half a stick of butter, an onion, a bell pepper, all sautéed. Add in some garam masala and a healthy dose of cayenne pepper. Throw in a big can of crushed tomatoes. Blend, allow to simmer. Add yogurt. Mix in leftover chicken and let simmer for a while.

The result wasn't perfect, but it was definitely edible. Not quite like what I've had in restaurants, but it worked OK. I made some basmati rice and picked up some naan from the grocery store. (Yes, it is easy enough to make naan, but I was using up leftovers and trying to keep things simple.)

When it comes to Indian food, I prefer beer to wine, though you could probably crack open a Gewürtztraminer. I picked up a sixer of a beer I'd never seen before, the Southampton Publick House Altbier brewed on Long Island in New York. It pours a dark amber color with a head that disappears quickly. It's lightly hopped and has a bittersweet quality to it--well balanced. Slight roasted quality, but what I love most about this beer is that it's got a great malt flavor, something I haven't had in a beer in a while. In fact, this Düsseldorf-style beer is similar to the Germantown Alt I cut my teeth on at the dearly departed Bosco's in Saddle Creek. Don't get me wrong, I love the beers at the Midtown location, but I miss having a brewpub on this side of town.


Samantha Dugan said...

I too prefer beer with Indian food but have found that a fairly fruity Beaujolais Villages is a really nice pairing. A lot of people do the Gewurtz and Indian thing but I find it just too oppressive for my palate. Heavly spice food and a big spicy wine tends to leave my palate throwing in the towel and begging for water.

Benito said...


I'll have to give the Bojo-V a try in the future. I know sparkling wine, Riesling, and Gewürtztraminer get thrown around a lot as the wines to pair with otherwise unmatchable dishes, but that gets boring after a while. It also leads to jerk sentiments like "You must pair Turkish food with Müller-Thurgau, otherwise you might as well be rooting around in the dumpster behind McDonald's and drinking from the rain gutters."

Honestly the best beverage pairing I ever had with Indian food was when my friend Aman's parents were visiting from Gujurat. His mother made some phenomenal dinners, and she served this spiced lemonade. No alcohol, but it was seasoned with cardamom, cloves, and all sorts of other amazing and aromatic spices.

Since that is a little hard to come by, I'll settle for a cool brewski with my spicy food.