Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spicy Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Tikka Masala Sauce and Cardamom Rice

Following my recent spice-rub related epiphany, I decided to dig out the little bundle of spices I was given during my last work trip to Pakistan. My trip mostly involved zipping around various markets in Punjab, talking to traders about what they sell and how much for. They were a hospitable bunch, these market traders and most of them gave me a cup of tea and a freebie of some sort. I ended each day with bananas, oranges, pistachios and other random goodies in my handbag. One of my gifts came from the market stall below where I could have quite happily sat for hours:

Cuppa and a chat in the grocery shop

I sat amongst huge sacks of spices which smelled like a cross between the inside of Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house and my favourite Indian restaurant in London. Here’s the little bundle which he gave me to take away:

My Pakistani garam masala : cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, cloves, pepper corns, coriander seeds.

This was months ago. I’d tucked the bundle into my spice box forgotten about it. But now that I know the joys of grinding my own spices, I decided to dig it out to make my own garam masala, though for this recipe you can just as easily use the ready mixed stuff.

This recipe is a modern twist on the classic tikka masala. Stuffing the breasts with spices and vegetables adds colour and texture and transforms it from a humble curry into elegant dinner party fare. The sauce is so rich and packed with flavour. You can blend it if you want it completely smooth, but I like my curries a little rough round the edges.

Time: 1 hour 15 mins
Rating: A bit tricky – the stuffing is a little fiddly and the sauce requires a little love but it’s so worth it!
Serves: 2

For the chicken:
2 large chicken breasts
50g spinach
100g mushrooms (use a variety if you can, otherwise choose a variety like chestnut mushrooms)
2cm knob ginger (about 2 tsp when chopped)
2 cloves garlic
1 medium sized hot green chilli
1.5 tsp garam masala
Small bunch fresh coriander

For the tikka masala sauce:
1cm piece ginger
1 clove garlic
30g ground almonds
½ tsp chilli powder
½ tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala
¼ tsp cinnamon
200g chopped tomatoes (half a tin)
¼ onion
1 tbsp butter
Small bunch fresh coriander
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp single cream

For the rice:
4 cardamom pods
1 cup basmati rice
1 knob butter
1 cup water

    1. Pre-heat your oven to 180°C.
    2. Firstly prepare the stuffing for the chicken breasts. Very finely chop the garlic, ginger and chilli (seeds as well, but make sure you chop these up too) and set aside. Cook the spinach in a small pan over a medium heat. Allow to cool, squeeze out the moisture and coarsely chop. Chop the mushrooms very finely (removing the stalks first).
    3. Heat a little oil in a pan and add the ginger, garlic and chilli and fry for a minute. Add the garam masala and cook for another minute. Add the mushrooms and spinach and cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. until the mushrooms are cooked. Take the mixture off the heat and allow to cool.
    4. Next prepare the ingredients for your sauce. Very finely grate or pound in a mortar and pestle the garlic and ginger. Add the ground almonds, paprika, chilli powder, garam masala and cinnamon. Set aside until later. Very finely chop the onion and set this aside separately.
    5. Next prepare the chicken. On a chopping board slit each chicken breast in half horizontally, keeping it attached along one length. Open it up like a book and cover with a piece of cling film or parchment paper. Beat with a rolling pin, flattening the breasts evenly. 
    6. Lay the stuffing out length-ways in the middle of one half of each chicken breast and fold the other half over the top. Use cocktail sticks or wooden skewers to seal the chicken and keep the stuffing in place.
    7. Sear the stuffed chicken breast in a hot pan with a little vegetable oil, turning regularly but very gently to ensure that all sides of the breast are browned but the stuffing is still intact.
    8. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 15 minutes.
    9. As soon as the chicken goes into the oven, get the rice on:  heat a large knob of butter a saucepan. Add the cardamom pods and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour in the rice, add a large pinch of salt and cook for another minute, still stirring. Add 2 cups of water using the same cup to measure as for the rice. Bring to the boil, turn down to a gentle simmer and put on the lid. Cook for 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed.
    10. Once the rice is simmering, prepare the sauce. Melt the butter, add the onions and fry for about 1 minute. Then add the prepared sauce ingredients and fry with the onions, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes with the water and stir well. Reduce the heat and cover with a lid. After five minutes, remove the lid, stir well and add the fresh coriander (coarsely chopped). Return the lid and continue to cook for another five minutes. Add the cream and stir well. Turn the heat down very low to keep the sauce warm until you’re ready to serve.
    11. After 15 minutes of cooking, remove the chicken from the oven, transfer it to a chopping board and allow it to rest for a couple of minutes.
    12. Using a fork, fluff up the rice and place a portion on each plate.
    13. Spoon out a generous serving of the sauce alongside the rice
    14. Remove the cocktail sticks from the chicken and slice the breasts horizontally into evenly sized pieces. Lay these out carefully over the sauce and serve. Don’t pour the sauce over the chicken because you’ll drown the nice colours in the centre.
    Cooking ahead? You can prepare the stuffing up to a day in advance and kept in the fridge, as well as the sauce which can be reheated. The chicken breasts can also be stuffed several hours in advance.


    1. Love the combination of ingredients. If you like indian food, you need the patience to prepare it. This is worth trying.

      1. You're so right, all about patience...but Indian food is worth the wait I think :-)

    2. This sounds great. It would be perfect for a dinner party as you can make so much in advance!