Saturday, April 1, 2023

Chicken Tikka

Emperor Babur (born Zahir ud-Din Mohammed) established the Mughal Empire. He marched his armies from Kabul into the northern reaches of the subcontinent.  Babur conquered broad swaths of land, but just not as much as his ancestors, Timur (on his father's side) and Genghis Khan (on his mother's side). 

Yet, as the story goes, this great emperor had a fear of ... chicken. The fear was not necessarily of the bird in its live form, clucking around while pecking for food. Emperor Babur feared dead chickens. More specifically, dead chickens with bones in them. The great emperor was scared that he would choke to death on a chicken bone. That would not be a very good final chapter for an emperor. 

To avoid such an ignoble end, it is said that the emperor ordered his cooks to remove the bones from the chickens when they were prepared. The chicken was still bathed in spice-laden yogurt, threaded to skewers and placed over charcoal. The only change was that there would be no chicken bones to be found. This dish came to be known as Chicken Tikka, which is basically a boneless chicken version of Tandoori chicken. 

This recipe is a very simplified version of what is prepared by chef Vikram Sunderam, the owner and chef of Rasika. In my humble opinion, Rasika is one of the best, if not the best, Indian restaurant in the Washington, D.C. area. Chef Sunderam's original recipe calls for ingredients such as pathar ka phool (a seasoning made from bark) and deghi mirch (a Indian red chile powder). The substitutions contained in this recipe really do make it easy to have this dish as part of a regular course of meals throughout a week. 

Finally, the recipe calls for a Cilantro and Yogurt Sauce as an accompaniment to the chicken. When I clicked the link, I was taken to a Tzatziki recipe, which does not seem very Indian in nature. The link should have taken me to a Raita recipe, such as this one from the Modern Proper.


Recipe from Vikram Sunderam, available at Food & Wine

Serves 4


  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Cilantro and Yogurt Sauce, for serving


1. Prepare the chicken. In a spice grinder, pulse the mustard seeds with the five-spice powder, pepper, turmeric, cayenne, and bay leaf until fine. Transfer the spice powder to a medium bowl. Add the ginger, garlic and yogurt and season with salt. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

2. Grill the Chicken. Light a grill. Remove the chicken from the marinade and brush the pieces with the melted butter. Oil the grate and grill the chicken over high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Serve with the Cilantro and Yogurt Sauce.