Global Foods, Butter Chicken; or, taking a break to cook

So, you know, Global Foods Market in Kirkwood, MO is such an interesting and useful grocery store. Someone asked me recently if it was really all that different from Schnucks or whatever, and the answer is: Yes. Not that we have a Schnucks within fifty miles anyway, and it’s certainly worth stopping there if you’re going that way, but Global Foods is totally different. That’s why I took the last day of Christmas break and ran up for a nice foodie shopping trip.

I mean, if you want baby bok choi? Global Foods has beautiful baby bok choi. But if you’re bored with bok choi, they also have shang hai mieu, which has a much flatter, paler-green leaf and thinner stalks. I never got it before, but I made a chicken soup last night: chicken breast, chicken broth, shang hai mieu, fresh julienned ginger, snow peas, and beech mushrooms. A dash of soy sauce, and a drizzle of sesame oil to finish the soup. It was quite good. The shang hai mieu has a mild flavor and holds a nice bite after about 10 minutes of cooking. I may get it again — I do try to get some interesting produce when I’m up there. They certainly have lots to choose from. Fresh lychees, sometimes. Lemon grass. True yams, yucca, purple potatoes, whatever. Plantains, obviously, but you can actually get those at the local WalMart, amazingly enough.

I got a package of five-spice tofu, though. You sure can’t get that at WalMart. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. I’ll need to look through my Chinese and Japanese cookbooks for inspiration.

Global Foods does not have lots of the normal things. I don’t think they have dried cranberries, for example. But they have dried cornelian cherries. Cornelian cherries are the fruit of Cornus mas, a type of shrubby dogwood. I planted a couple several years ago, but only one has flowered so they haven’t set fruit. I picked up a packet of dried cornelian cherries to get a preview of what the fruit tastes like. They also have dried goji berries. I just planted a goji berry vine, but who knows when it will set fruit?

I really like making dosas and tamarind potatoes. I have made dosa batter from scratch before, but I have to say, the dosa mix at Global Foods is significantly easier. I picked up two boxes. Now I’m kind of regretting not picking up half a dozen. For the potatoes, I can use tamarind paste, tamarind concentrate, or if I’m feeling wild and crazy, fresh tamarind pods — all of which are available at Global Foods. The concentrate is the easiest to use, though.

I get corn husks for tamales at Global Foods, and lots of kinds of dried chiles. Pomegranate molasses. Halva. I am always tempted by their many, many kinds of imported sausages and cheeses, but most are pretty expensive. I got goat meat, once. Canned octopus, once. This time I was tempted by canned eel, but didn’t quite feel brave enough. Every kind of lentil, dal, pea, and bean. I found these great beluga black lentils this time, which I never saw before ever. I always get dhura dun basmati rice there, which is by far my favorite rice. I like their mochi — I like the kind with custard inside best.

So, yeah, even if we did have a real grocery store here, I would still hit Global Foods a couple times of year. I always try to get something new to me. This time it was manioc (cassava) flour and those interesting beluga lentils.

But! Even if you don’t have a great international grocery store handy, you can still make really excellent food. We don’t have an Indian restaurant anywhere nearby, but I have made several different versions of Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhanwala) over the past few months, but I made this version tonight and it was the best version I’ve made yet. And you can make it with ingredients you can probably pick up locally in almost any grocery store.

Butter Chicken (Saveur Dec 2010)

1/2 C Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp canola oil
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 3-inch piece ginger, thinly sliced
Salt to taste, about 1/2 tsp kosher salt

8 pieces skinless chicken pieces, or four skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cucumber, seeded and grated
1/2 carrot, grated
1/2 tomato, diced small
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 C Greek yogurt
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 green cardamom pods, cracked
2 whole cloves, crushed
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 3-inch piece ginger, grated
1/3 C heavy cream
4 Tbsp butter, in pieces
1 tsp garam masala
4 fresh or frozen curry leaves (the only item you can’t find at a normal store, and really nice to have. There aren’t any substitutes, so if you don’t have any, just leave them out, don’t add basil or bay leaves or whatever.)
Salt to taste

Basmati rice or naan or whatever you like to accompany the chicken

Okay, now, here is how to do this so the dish is as easy and quick to prepare as possible:

The day before you want to cook this, make the marinade in the morning before you go to work. Put all the marinade ingredients in your handy Preethi spice grinder (or a blender or food processor) and zap it into a smooth marinade. Spoon or pour into a zip lock bag. Add the chicken. Squish the marinade around to coat the chicken. Put the bag in a large bowl, place in the fridge, and go on with your day.

That evening, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. It is a terrible thing to preheat the oven all the way to 500 degrees and then not do something with it, so this would be a great time to make a pizza. If you are organized enough to do that, good for you! Whether or not you are prepared to make pizza, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the chicken and all the marinade on the baking sheet. Bake the chicken for 20 minutes. It does not need to be done all the way through; you will finish cooking it in the sauce. Chill, covered, until you are ready to finish the dish.

Make the sauce — either a day or two ahead, or the morning before, or right when you are prepared to finish the dish, whichever is most convenient:

Combine the chili flakes, garlic, cardamom, cloves, crushed tomatoes, and ginger in a saucepan. Simmer for 25 minutes. Use a blender or immersion blender to puree the sauce. (This is a great reason to get an immersion blender if you don’t have one.) You can now chill the sauce and wait till you want to finish the dish, or of course you can go on and finish it now.

Either way, before you go on, make the raita. You could do that while the sauce is simmering, for example.

You could probably make this raita further ahead of time as long as you use Greek yogurt so it won’t get so thin on standing. I doubled this recipe to be able to use the whole cucumber, tomato, and carrot, because who wants half of everything left over? Anyway, seed and grate the cucumber and grate the carrot (I use a food processor with the shredding blade). Dice the tomato. Put all the vegetables in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Let set 10 minutes. While waiting, combine the other raita ingredients. The Saveur recipe suggests plain yogurt but I strongly prefer Greek for this raita, especially if it is going to rest overnight. Anyway, squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the vegetables (don’t go nuts about this, but squeeze firmly) and add to the raita. Let set at room temp while you finish the chicken.

When you are ready to finish the dish: Start the rice. If you are using dhura dun basmati, I find that 12 minutes on low heat plus 12 minutes off the heat is perfect. Anyway, once the rice has been started, place the sauce in a skillet and add the chicken. Heat and then simmer gently for 10 minutes. This will finish cooking the chicken. Lift the chicken out of the sauce and add the butter, cream, and curry leaves. Stir until combined. Add the chicken back to the sauce and turn gently to coat. Simmer very gently five minutes. Turn the heat way down and keep warm, if necessary, while the rice finishes cooking.

Serve over rice or with naan, with the raita and, if you happen to have some, mango chutney. I would say this is about as good as any Butter Chicken I have ever made, or ever had in a restaurant. 100 percent of spaniels also approve of this recipe.

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5 thoughts on “Global Foods, Butter Chicken; or, taking a break to cook”

  1. Rachel, butter chicken is one of my greatest weaknesses. Thanks for the recipe! I was looking for something special to make this weekend for dinner- this may be it! An Indian grocery just opened up not far away. Time to make a grocery list!

  2. Hi, Margaret — let me know what you think of this recipe, if you do make it. I hope you agree that it’s a really good version. Plus, it’s really not at all difficult. I wish *I* had an Indian grocery closer than Global Foods, but on the other hand, a road trip can be kind of fun — plus I wanted to go by my friend Deb’s anyway, so I could get a look at her litter of five-week-old Cavalier puppies. They’re just getting really cute!

  3. I love butter chicken, and also sometimes make butter pork (when the assembled family starts making noises about beginning to grow feathers due to eating so much chicken). We’ve got several small Indian markets around here, so I can go buy garam masala – tried to make it once, before they opened, and had trouble finding all the ingredients – SOOO much easier to buy pre-made. I will have to make your recipe. The local Trader Joes & Sprouts (Whole Foods competition) carry bottles of ‘butter chicken sauce’ which aren’t awful, but made from scratch is always better. Made with cream is much better. Although I once discovered my cream was bad and substituted the kefir left over from bread baking and that was good, too.

  4. I do make my own garam masala, but purchased blends are perfectly suitable for an Anglo-Indian dish like Butter Chicken. And yes, I’ve tried the prepared sauces, and they are . . . okay, I guess. But this recipe is much, much better.

    Butter Pork sounds good, and I’ve had fish in a very similar sauce at Indian restaurants, too.

  5. Believe me, the garam masala premix from the Indian market is not bland. Yet with the fire it has flavor.

    I’m printing out your recipe and will probably make it tomorrow (with pork), after we finish the chili tonight.

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