This Week: Murg Makhani from India Oven (1315 S. Gilbert Rd., Mesa)
The Basics: Murg makhani (aka butter chicken) is the authentic north Indian interpretation of the wildly popular tikka masala. Yes, that's right, chicken tikka masala is generally considered more British than Indian. It's as traditionally Indian as chow mein is traditionally Chinese.
Murg makhani starts with a smooth and vibrantly spicy tomato sauce enhanced with a bit of cream and brightened with lemon juice. Moist shreds of yogurt-marinated tandoori chicken are mixed in near the end of the cooking process to prevent the flavors from homogenizing.
It tastes like someone put flavorful, juicy pieces of chicken into a spicy version of the brightest, tastiest tomato soup you've ever had. Both parts of this dish would be great on their own but taken together they just work.
So... how is this different than chicken tikka masala?
India Oven's Murg Makhani:India Oven's owners, Daisy and Sarabjit Singh, have been cooking Indian food in the Valley for decades. The said that their version of butter chicken hews closely to its traditional roots, the Punjab region of northern India.
"This is what you'll find if you go back home," Daisy says.
Punjab has been called "The Bread Basket of India" and the food reflects that, being hearty and flavorful. Murg makhani's hearty combination of chicken and tomato sauce is a perfect compliment to a chunk of naan or parantha.
Daisy says there are a couple key differences between murg makhani and the better known chicken tikka masala. First, the meat. Chicken tikka masala typically uses white meat cut into large chunks. Murg makhani uses moister dark meat and aims for a texture closer to pulled pork. Secondly, murg makhani uses less cream than tikka masala. This help prevent the flavor of the tomatoes or the tang of the chicken from being completely drowned in a heavy cream sauce.
Daisy prefers her murg makhani with garlic naan or chili parantha if she's looking for more spice.