“Chicken Tikka Masala is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The Masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.”
Robin Cook, British Foreign Secretary,1997-2001 (This speech, given at the Centre for Open Society in London, came to be known as the “chicken tikka masala” speech.)
“With my plastic basket hanging from the crook of my arm, I stared through blurry eyes at the array of prepared foods. Instead of Lancashire hotpot and chicken tikka masala, I saw the weeks spreading out before me in an endless row of fruitless research and dinners for one. Same old library, same old dinners, same old rainy gray sky.”
Lauren Willig, The Deception of the Emerald Ring
Chicken tikka masala—British, you say? Oh indeed, although controversy abounds over its origins. In an oft-repeated story, an Indian chef in 1970s Glasgow first whipped it up for a patron who complained that his chicken tikka was too dry. The chef, Ahmed Aslam Ali, added yogurt, cream and spices to make the dish more palatable, and voila—chicken tikka masala. So accepted is this version of events that a group of Scottish Members of Parliament (MPs) applied to the European Union for “Protected Designation of Origin” status for the dish. That would have put it on a par with Italian parmesan and French champagne. Unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful.
It must be said that chefs in India take issue with the Glasgow back story, claiming that chicken has been cooked this way for generations in the homeland. Some point to family recipes handed down through the ages, while others say that the dish dates back to the royal kitchens of the Mughal emperors.
Regardless of its birthplace, there can be no doubt that CTM (as it is known to enthusiasts), has forever sealed its place in British cuisine. A staple of pub menus, it is ubiquitous throughout the British Isles. The dish consists of pieces of boneless chicken, marinated in a mixture of spices, then grilled. You then add the grilled chicken to a sauce of tomatoes, cream, garlic, onion and aromatic spices and serve with basmati rice. Although it contains chilies, this is a mild to medium dish, making it accessible to most palates. It is comfort food at its best: piping hot, creamy and piquant, with a complex flavor profile. Do enjoy!