A lot of medicine is governed by algorithms: diagnosis pathways, management algorithms, treatment guidelines, etc. They help provide a framework to guide clinical decision making and uphold a standard of care for all our patients. While their utility cannot be argued against, the individual patient or disease condition may or may not respond accordingly to whatever treatment is initiated. It is in these variations that I find the most excitement and intellectual stimulation.
That same kind of stimulation that draws me to cooking. I fully admit that I when I cook, I rarely follow specific recipes. I hardly ever measure anything. I get an overall gestalt for a dish and improvise from there. From the times I’ve cooked with my mom, I’ve learned to stop asking how much of something gets added because the answer tends to be “as much as you need.” This method seems like a far cry from most Western-style cooking where everything is carefully measured out. I feel like this video of Gordon Ramsay’s introduction to the concept of “aga aga” in Malaysia highlights that point.
“Aga aga” described as “up to you” or “any amount” might seem daunting at first but is a lot of fun. When Sarah and I were at Johnson and Wales for culinary school, we found ourselves constantly tasting and seasoning dishes as we went. I feel like cooking this way really helps develop an understanding for spices, flavors, and ingredients. So for this next recipe, I’m not providing any measurement because curry tends to change in India from region to region, street to street, and household to household. Aga aga to your heart’s delight and find the variation that works for you.
- Chicken thighs* (optional)
- Plain yogurt
- Tomato puree (start with canned tomatoes and run them in the food processor)
- Heavy cream
If using chicken, combine cardamom, coriander, tumeric, cumin, salt, and a little bit of cayenne with the juice of half a lemon and some plain yogurt. Mix it well in a bowl and marinate your chicken thighs in the mixture and let sit in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours. Run your ginger, garlic, and onion in a food processor until you get to the consistency you want. In a large pan with a lid, add butter and turn to high heat. Take your marinated chicken thighs and sear them in the butter until they have a nice golden brown coating and set aside. Add a bit more butter and cardamom, coriander, tumeric, cumin and toast the spices for a few minutes before adding in the onion, ginger, and garlic mixture.Your kitchen should be smelling exquisite by this point. Saute the onion, ginger, and garlic with the spices until nicely caramelized and stir in the tomato puree, making sure you incorporate all the aromatics nicely. Add the chicken thighs to the pan and put the lid on. Let simmer at medium-low heat for 30-45 minutes.Stir in a bit of heavy cream to achieve the final classic orange color of the tikka masala. Serve on basmati rice and garnish with some chopped cilantro.
*Your other option is to skip the chicken completely and add chickpeas instead (no need to marinate) if you want to keep it vegetarian-friendly.