We make our own garam masala at home. You don’t have to but we find that control over the heat is much better when you know exactly what goes into the spice mix. If you want to try making garam masala, see the linked recipe below.
Another crucial spice in this dish is black pepper. Ground pepper from the grocery won’t give the dish the flavor that it deserves. For best results, use a pepper mill or a mortar and pestle (the Japanese suribachi is especially good) to grind whole peppercorns.
And then, there’s the cooking liquid. While it may seem that a quarter cup of yogurt is too little liquid to cook bone-in chicken thighs in, and the temptation to add water or broth is strong, please resist.
Chicken from the grocery is injected with water (it’s an industry practice worldwide) and that water will be expelled by the chicken during cooking. The combination of water, marinade and the quarter cup of yogurt are quite enough to cook the chicken to perfection.
Start by marinating chicken in yogurt, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, garlic and ginger. Keep the chicken in the fridge for 24 hours then drain. Reserve the marinade because that will form part of the cooking liquid later.
The actual cooking starts by lightly frying cardamom, cloves and cinnamon in a mixture of oil and butter. The purpose of cooking the spices is to allow the oils to absorb their flavors.
In that highly flavorful and aromatic mixture of oil and butter, the drained chicken pieces are browned on both sides.
The reserved marinade is poured in and slices of chilies are added. In that meagre liquid, the chicken cooks over low heat until the mixture is quite dry.
Yogurt is stirred in, garam masala and black pepper are sprinkled over the chicken and the cooking continues for another 10 minutes to allow the last batch of spices to permeate the chicken.
Chicken and marinade
To cook the chicken
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 green cardamom pods lightly pounded
- 3 to 4 cloves
- 1 one-inch piece cinnamon
- 2 finger chilies sliced thickly
- ¼ cup plain yogurt
- ½ teaspoon freshly milled black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- fresh cilantro (leaves only)
- Mix the chicken with all the ingredients for the marinade. Keep in the fridge for 24 hours.
- Drain the chicken well; reserve the marinade.
- Heat the cooking oil and butter in a thick-bottomed frying pan.
- Add the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon; cook gently for a minute to flavor the oil.
- Lay the chicken thighs in the hot oil, skin side down and in a single layer.
- Cook over medium heat for two to three minutes or until the skins are lightly browned.
- Flip the chicken thighs over and cook to brown the opposite sides.
- Pour the reserved marinade into the pan, and add the sliced chilies.
- Set the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes or until the marinade has been soaked up by the chicken thighs.
- Stir in the yogurt.
- Sprinkle the garam masala and another half teaspoon of black pepper on the chicken.
- Cover the pan and continue cooking over low heat, flipping the chicken thighs occasionally, for another 10 minutes.