Stuff white people like: Murgh makhani (butter chicken)

Murgh makhani (butter chicken)

Lucy and I were at an Indian festival a few years ago when we ran into an Indian fried from uni. When I mentioned that we were about to get something to eat, she looked at us and said, "Oh, you should get butter chicken. White people love butter chicken!" I felt vaguely offended at the stereotype, but when you think about it, white people kinda do love butter chicken. It's on the menu of every western Indian restaurant, and its close cousin tikka masala has been called England's national dish. If you ask me, the stereotype is accurate. I can say that, too — some of my best friends are white!

With such a popular dish, everyone has an opinion on how it's meant to be made. This recipe belongs to Alfred Prasad, the head chef of Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Tamarind (that's how you know it's good). I first saw him teach a chef how to make it on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, and a bit of googling turned up the recipe and an instructional video online. I find those videojug recipes dreadfully slow to watch, so I've reprinted the (slightly modified) recipe here and broken it down into its separate stages. Give it a go, you'll have white people falling to your feet in no time.

Spices for murgh makhani (butter chicken)

Murgh makhani (butter chicken)

The chicken

Ingredients:

  • 500g boneless chicken, cut into pieces
  • 50g ginger & garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup plain yoghurt
  • 1/2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tbsp peanut/canola/vegetable oil

1. Mix all of the ingredients except the chicken together, then add the chicken and mix well to ensure it's completely coated with marinade. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
2. Fire up your tandoor, or much more likely your oven grill/broiler. Spread out the chicken in one layer on a baking tray, and cook under the grill for 5-10 minutes until the outside is well browned (a bit blackened in parts is fine, encouraged even). Set the chicken aside for the final stage.

The sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp peanut/canola/vegetable oil
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 cardamon pods
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 15 g/1-inch piece of ginger, peeled & sliced finely
  • 5 whole green chilies
  • 400 g canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (optional, add to taste or not at all)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves), ground1
  • 50 g cashew nuts, ground in a blender/food processor with a little water to make a thick paste
  • Salt, to taste

1. Heat the oil to medium heat then add the cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, and bay leaves and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and chillies and cook for another minute.
2. Add the tomatoes, chili powder (if using), honey, and tomato paste, 1/3 cup of water and cook for about 20 minutes, until the tomatoes break down and thicken. Remove and discard the cardamon, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks and blend what's left until smooth.
3. Return the blended sauce to the pan and add the kasoori methi and cashew paste. Salt to taste and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Bringing it all together

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • The chicken made above
  • 25 g cashew nuts
  • The sauce made above
  • 1/4 cup of cream
  • 50 g butter

1. Melt the butter in a hot pan, then add the chicken and cashews and fry for 3 minutes. Cover with the sauce, the cream, and simmer together for 3 minutes.

Chicken and cashews for murgh makhani

2. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter which should melt into the sauce. Decorate with a drizzle of cream and serve.

(1) The easiest way to do this is in a mortar and pestle with some coarse salt. However it should be fine to add them whole.

Bottle-O

It would be nice, wouldn't it, if there was a place in the world where you could live in a city that was blessed with a lovely climate, endless kilometres of sunny beach 20 minutes drive from your house, and approximately four hundred wineries within an hour of the city.

Oh, hang on, there is: Adelaide.

Apricots

But since you poor sods aren't here, you'll have to buy your wine from the trusty bottle-o instead of the cellar doors themselves. And that means you'll need someone on the inside. What else are you going to do? Go to some stranger on the internet for advice?

To overcome this problem, I've got some great advice after the jump.

Quick, no-knead pasta dough (that doesn't suck)

Fresh pasta

Cooking's a great hobby to have. Everyone's gotta eat, which means dedicating time and money to preparing food whether you like it or not. Enjoying cooking is like some kind of tax exemption from domestic drudgery — dinner doesn't get in the way of a relaxing evening, it's part of it. If only I could get into ironing in the same way.

Fresh pasta would be one of those recipes that would have most people saying, "Sorry Tim, I've got work at 8 am tomorrow and I'm not spending my entire Tuesday evening making a bowl of fettucini". Well I'm not going to do that either, but necessity is the mother of invention. And for me, it is absolutely necessary to eat the best food without wasting time or expense.

Now, this doesn't mean cutting corners. Here's what's going on in pasta dough (simplistically): flour and egg are combined, and kneaded to develop gluten. The traditional method has worked for centuries, but it's only one way. I use a food processor, adding half the flour at first to get a sticky dough that stretches, developing the gluten in the same way that kneading does. There comes a point where the dough becomes so dry that the processor stops stretching and just chops it up, but I've tried both ways and any difference is imperceptible. Try both ways yourself, if you don't believe me.

Fresh pasta dough, two ways

Ingredients (per person for a main course. It scales up well.):

  • 1 egg
  • 100 g plain flour

No-knead

Pasta

1. Crack the egg(s) into a food processor, and add roughly half the flour. Process for about 15 seconds until the mixture becomes a gummy, sticky mess, then process for another 30 seconds.
2. Add the remaining flour 1/4 at a time, processing for 20 seconds each time to fully incorporate. Once all of the flour is added it should take on the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs.
3. Turn the mixture out onto a board and push it all together to form a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and stand for 30 minutes before using.

The regular way
1. Pile the flour onto a large board or benchtop, and make a well in the middle. Crack the egg(s) into the well, and whisk the egg briefly to combine yolk and white.
2. Using a spoon or your finger, gradually incorporate flour from the edge of the well into the egg mixture. Once half of the flour is incorporated, mix the rest of the flour in and form into one dough.
3. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until it becomes smooth but elastic (it will be quite a firm dough, but it should spring back if you poke it with your finger). Wrap in plastic wrap and stand for 30 minutes before using.

Fresh pasta with bolognese sauce

Risotto, abridged

Mixed mushroom risotto

I'll never forget my first risotto. Unfortunately. It was a first in more than one way — I'd never cooked a risotto before, but I'd also never eaten one. It showed, too — it was two years before I was ready to cook it again, and before Lucy was ready to eat it.

My problem was thinking of risotto as just another recipe. There are surely plenty of great recipes infinitely more reliable that the lemon I tried, but to make great risotto all you need is to get your head around three things: good rice, good stock, and good technique. With the basics down, you can easily improvise with whatever additions you like. The idea of a risotto recipe will become as ridiculous as a recipe for making a sandwich.

Good rice
Almost everyone says to use arborio. While I hate to get sanctimonious about these sorts of things, almost everyone is wrong. Objectively wrong. Especially autumn from the carbonara comments. Seriously though, arborio is a fine choice. You want a thick, starchy variety of rice and from that category you won't have any trouble finding arborio. Most risottos are made with it, and if you have good technique you'll make a good risotto.

But carnaroli is better. Let me put it another way: in the bizarro world where food eats people, in Bizarro Pirates of the Caribbean arborio fills Orlando Bloom's shoes while Captain Jack Sparrow is played by carnaroli. Arborio is inoffensive with mass appeal, but for totally badass risotto that everyone is going to remember, carnaroli is the rice you're after. The texture is better and it's much more forgiving and consistent. It's harder to find, but worth the search — try specialty shops and Italian delis, or order it online.

On the topic of rice, vialone nano is another well-regarded variety that I've never actually tried. I've heard it's best for seafood risotto, but if you've got more information leave a comment.

Good stock
If rice is the texture base, then stock is the flavour base. There are two things to consider with your choice of stock: does it taste good, and is it appropriate?

The taste part is easy: Homemade stock is better than bought, and if buying stock get a salt-free or salt-reduced version. The salt thing has nothing to do with snobbery or health, by the way. By simmering the stock until absorbed you will concentrate its saltiness and your risotto will be unbearably salty before even adding the cheese.

Appropriateness. A good rule is to match the stock with the additions/main course eaten with the risotto. For example, chicken and asparagus risotto? Chicken stock. Braised oxtail risotto? Beef or veal stock. Of course this isn't always possible — how likely are you to make rabbit stock for a rabbit risotto? In these cases a white chicken, veal, or vegetable stock are adaptable. Avoid using seafood stock in a non-seafood risotto unless you have some master plan for how it's going to not taste odd. These are guidelines rather than rules — try mixing it up a bit. In the mushroom risotto above I used duck stock because it goes well with mushrooms, and added the liquid that the dried porcinis soaked in for extra mushroominess.

Technique tips and a few recipes are after the jump.

How to be a wine bluff

There are the serious wine buffs. These guys know what baume is, know why wine bottles have that little thing on the bottom, and know the best vintages from Chateau de le Nousseau Francais le Pois ooh la la (roughly translates to: Chateau of the something french the something ooh la la).

Then there are the rest of us. The wine bluffs. We know which wines are red (hint: look at the colour), which ones are cheap (hint: look at the price), and which ones are liquid (hint: all of them). This isn't a guide to being a wine buff, just a way to seem a bit buffer. Think about it as the vinified equivalent of stuffing balloons in your shirt to make your biceps look bigger. One note before we begin though- this isn't because there's anything wrong with being a wine bluff, but because it's hilarious to pretend to be fancy. By no account should these 'Bluff to Buff in Fourteen Days!' tips be used to be the kind of whiney winey wanker who thinks that saying something about the nose of a wine makes him special. That's just not on. You must only use your powers for good.

Enough about that. Let's get down to business.

There is a basic equation for all Winespeak:

nose + palate + finish = Bufftastic!

What this means is that you just need to say something about the nose (you can also call these the 'aromas' or 'bouquet':
Fruit, citrus, honey, oaky, butter, and floral are good for most whites, and the reds tend to align with earth, fruit, undergrowth, smoke, liquorice and chocolate. So, your first sentence will be something like "this opens with a lovely bouquet of honey and oak". The more outrageous your descriptors are, the more buff you seem. Kerosene (for riesling), pencil shavings, and barnyard have all been used to describe a wine's nose.

After you've waxed lyrical about the aromas, it's time to get to the tasty side of things. Many of the same terms can be used here (fruity and earthy and so forth), but now it's time to add some texture:
Chewy, silky, powerful, delicate, subtle, rich, vivid, bright, zesty, and smooth are all reasonable things to add here. Czech it out: "the grenache begins with a earthy nose which is followed by a subtle touch of chocolate on the palate". See how I put the nose and the mouth together? Oh yeah.

Time to rock this baby home. Let's get to the finish. This is what the wine leaves you with right at the end, and it's generally bigger with reds than whites. Here you can describe the length of the finish (sustained, lingering, etc) as well as the flavour. Again, many of the same terms can be used, but words like tannic and astringent are particular to the wine's finish. Hence: "this year's cabernet merlot announces itself with vivid aromas of cherries and stone fruits, which are delicately balanced by smooth tones of oak and plum on the palate. A lingering touch of smokey, tannic richness adds a welcome layer of complexity to this fine blend".

If you want to get ultra fancy, you can describe the acidity (crisp, sweet, or dry), the 'fullness' (full-, medium-, or light-bodied), and the complexity (well structured, balanced, nuanced, etc). And there you have it. Instant wine buff, just add water.

See how easy that was?*

*So, ah, even though this is easy, all the times I write about wine here it's, er, totally different. Not easy at all. I'd exlpain how it's different, but, well, it's so special and complex that you fools wouldn't understand. Yeah.

Things not to attempt hungover: Pizza with tomato & pesto

Pizza with tomato & pesto

It took a while to get lunch out today. I woke up at 10:30 with a dry mouth and the punishment for a night of excess throbbing in my head. It was another hour before I was mobile enough to fetch 2 paracetamol for breakfast, which hit the spot but were frankly a touch bitter and powdery for my palate.

There was focaccia dough in the fridge (a new recipe), but it stuck to the bowl when I tried to remove it for shaping which was dispiriting enough to quash that idea — I made pizza instead. It was quite good really, but not the best I've made. Part of the problem was lazily not allowing it to rise enough, but the dough itself unsurprisingly would be better suited to focaccia. Keeping in mind that every step placed successfully ahead of the previous one was a small victory this afternoon, I'd still call this a moderate success.

Pizza

Ingredients:

  • 140 ml water
  • 5 g active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 215 g strong flour
  • 4.5 g salt

1. Mix together the warm water, yeast, and olive oil and let stand for ten minutes. Meanwhile combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.
2. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and stir together with a sturdy wooden spoon. Turn out onto a lightly floured bench and knead for 10 minutes, or knead in an electric mixer until the dough is smooth1.
3. Rest the dough in a warm place for 1.5 hours then knead for 2 minutes, shape into a ball, lightly oil the dough and place it in the fridge, covered, for 24-36 hours.
4. Bring the dough to room temperature for 1.5 hours while preheating the oven and pizza stone as hot as you oven will go.
5. Gently pull the dough ball to about 3/4 cm thickness2. Top with whatever you like3 and bake on a pizza stone until the crust is golden brown and crispy (about 10 minutes).

(1) This dough is quite wet and a little challenging to knead by hand. If you have an electric mixer I suggest using it.
(2) Don't roll it with a rolling pin! This will get rid of all the bubbles you've spent 24 hours creating.
(3) I topped mine with a simple tomato sauce made from blending uncooked canned tomatoes with salt. On top was some terribly inauthentic supermarket cheddar (which I added 5 minutes into cooking to prevent it burning), and pesto added after the pizza was cooked.

Submitted to YeastSpotting

100% infallibly authentic spaghetti carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara

As you already know, I'm obsessed with authenticity — most of all in Italian cooking. There is of course only one correct way to make a given Italian dish, and any deviation from that is utterly unacceptable. Don't even think about giving me that "but it tastes good and I like it" bullshit, either.

For those of you unaccustomed to sarcasm, the truth probably lies somewhere in between the extremes of culinary dogmatism and liberalism. If the meatiness of a bolognese sauce can be enhanced with star anise, surely this addition is true to the 'spirit' of ragu alla bolognese. When it comes to a dish such as spaghetti carbonara, the spirit of the dish is simplicity. Add onions, garlic, mushrooms, parsley, chili, spinach, whatever you like, but when it stops being about simple flavours it stops being a carbonara (as much as you might enjoy it).

'Traditional' spaghetti carbonara is made from pasta, eggs, guanciale (cured pork cheek; pancetta or bacon are okay), hard Italian cheese, and pepper. To my tastes, you really don't need any more ingredients. The addition of cream dilutes the sauce's delicate egg flavour, and in terms of texture it simply isn't necessary for a creamy, full-bodied sauce. Use the best quality ingredients you can find. Try it with guanciale at least once, and for the cheese use parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, or a mixture of the two.

When bringing pasta and sauce together, the books say that adding the hot pasta to the egg mixture is enough to cook the sauce. In my experience this isn't enough, so add the pasta to the uncooked sauce in a pan and toss over heat. Make sure you keep it moving in the pan once it gets hot to stop areas from overcooking &mdash the better you get at this, the quicker and hotter you'll be able to do it. This recipe serves 2, but it scales easily (making more than 5 servings at a time could get challenging). For a main meal, use 100 g pasta and one egg per person.

Spaghetti carbonara

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • 200 g spaghetti
  • 70 g guanciale/pancetta/bacon, chopped into pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of hard italian cheese (parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, or a mixture)
  • Plenty of freshly cracked black pepper

1. Cook the spaghetti until almost al dente in boiling, salted water while you make the sauce.
2. Sauté the guanciale in a medium-hot pan until it is crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. Remove from the heat and add a tablespoon of cold water to bring the pan temperature down (this will evaporate, and if it doesn't it won't matter).
3. Add the eggs and cheese to the cooled pan and lightly whisk the egg mixture.
4. When the spaghetti is almost al dente, drain quickly (or just pull it out with tongs) and add to the egg mixture. Toss this over heat until the egg mixture thickens and coats the spaghetti. Add a generous amount of black pepper, toss to combine, and serve.