Tikka chilli balti

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Indian food is a staple on the British takeaway menu, though the Indian food many Brits know and love is quite different from its origins on the subcontinent, with many common dishes being creations specifically for the British palate.

Given the labour intensive process of creating each dish from scratch and the large variety on most menus, Indian restaurants in Britain will usually create a 'gravy' which serves as the base for most dishes. This gravy can then easily be adapted to create a wide range of dishes from the creamy Korma right through the face-melting Vindaloo. My favourite Indian restaurant agreed to give me their base gravy recipe so that I could recreate my favourite dishes when I was away for extended periods of time. You'll notice that the amount of servings that this recipe produces is pretty large, but bear in mind restaurants will be creating even larger batches on their busier days. I tried to keep the size up to reduce the amount of variables that might alter the taste.

This recipe will be one of my favourites from the menu - a tikka chilli balti. Once the gravy is finished, you store batches of it in the freezer to make variations on this recipe at a later date, so don't be put off by the amount of gravy this produces! Try using lamb, fresh chillies and tomatoes to make a Rogan Josh, etc.


For approximately 16 servings:

  • 12 large brown onions
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 cabbage (type isn't important
  • 3 bell peppers
  • 2 carrots
  • Ghee
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes
  • Garlic paste/puree
  • Ginger paste/puree
  • Garam masala
  • Turmeric
  • Fenugreek
  • Cumin
  • Smoked paprika
  • Ground coriander
  • 2.4kg chicken thighs


Chicken preparation[edit]

For this particular recipe, take the chicken thighs and roughly dice them, removing any leftover cartilage and sinew. In a large bowl, combine garam masala, cumin, smoked paprika and chilli powder. Dredge the diced chicken in the spice mix and place in a large ziplock bag. Ensure the bag is airtight either using a vacuum sealer or submerging in a basin of water whilst sealing. Leave to marinate overnight.

Once marinated, place the chicken in a slow cooker on HIGH setting for 4 hours.

For the gravy[edit]

  • Finely slice 9 onions and add to a large pot with 2 tbsp of ghee (5L+ recommended) on a medium heat. Allow the onions to gently sweat down until they're soft and translucent over the course of 30 minutes. Make sure to stir regularly to avoid browning the onions.

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  • Whilst the onions are cooking, peel and finely slice 2 carrots, the bell peppers and roughly 3/4s of the cabbage. Once the onions have fully sweated down, add the carrots, peppers and cabbage and continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes until all the vegetables have started to soften.

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  • Once all the vegetables have started to soften, add the chopped tomatoes and 2tbsp each of the garlic puree, ginger puree, garam masala, fenugreek, cumin, ground coriander and smoked paprika. Do not at the turmeric at this stage. Ensure that there is enough liquid in the pot to just about cover the vegetables by topping up with water. Once done, stir in and allow the mixture to simmer gently for a further 30 minutes.

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  • After 30 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool a little. To get the consistency of an authentic restaurant curry sauce, the gravy must be blended until it is smooth. You can use an upright blender and will probably get better results, but I found that even a cheap, unbranded stick blender worked fine albeit taking longer than a pricier model would. For reference, blending the gravy took me a good 15-20 minutes before I was really satisfied with the consistency and there was no gritty texture. As I said earlier, if you're using any halfway decent equipment it'll probably take you less than half of that time.

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  • Now that you've got the right texture for your gravy, it's time to add the final spice. In a frying pan, heat up 2 tbsp of ghee until melted. To this add 2tbsp turmeric and fry until it starts to brown. This will likely take only 10 or 20 seconds, so be ready to get the pan off the heat so as not to burn the spice. Once browned, add the ghee and turmeric mixture to your gravy, return the pot to a low simmer and stir for a final 30 minutes.
  • Once done, roughly chop the remaining 3 onions into 1/8ths and chop your tomatoes into quarters and add to the gravy for a little extra texture. Now you're ready to add the cooked meat to your gravy and chow down!

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