deconstruct (v): reduce (something) to its constituent parts in order to reinterpret it.
Take a dish prepared by a well-known culinary expert. Blindfold a Bon Appetit magazine test kitchen chef and allow them to smell, taste and touch the dish. Then give them two days to figure out how to replicate the dish so that it tastes as good as the expert’s. That’s the culinary premise of the show Reverse Engineering on Hulu and YouTube.
We watched the first episode where super taster Chris Morocco is blindfolded and given the challenge of Madhur Jaffrey’s Chicken Tikka Masala.
It was fascinating to see how the mind of a top chef works. Morocco zooms in on the flavor profile of ginger and smoked paprika—he feels that warmer spices dominate. He can taste the onion. He examines the sauce with his fingers to see if he can find a cardamon pod or other traditional seasonings. A final blindfolded tasting on the last day reveals a piece of cilantro. With each attempt, he refines his approach, nixing a puree of onion and water for pan sauteed onions, cutting the grilled chicken into smaller pieces so more of the surface area is coated by the amazing sauce.
I was inspired by the episode—as well as by my wife’s pleas for a “restaurant meal” after 82 days(?) of pandemic cooking—to try my hand at recreating the dish. The result received smiles and a thumbs up from the spouse, so below is my recipe for your enjoyment.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Total prep and cooking time: 1.5 hours
Clean up rating: Someone’s going to end up washing a lot of pots and pans tonight.
3lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
Extra Light Olive Oil
2 cups yogurt (plain and NOT Greek)
1 white onion
2 whole cloves of garlic
1 jar of Tomato Sauce (plain)
6 ears of corn
1 bunch of Cilantro
•In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, 2 tsps of turmeric, 1 tsp of ginger, 2 tbsps of lemon juice, and 1 tbsp of minced garlic. Coat the chicken with the marinade and then refrigerate for one to two hours.
•Preheat oven to 250F.
•Heat up a grill pan to medium high and grill two chicken thighs at a time, five minutes on each side.
•When the thighs are done, cut them into bite size pieces. Transfer to a plate and keep them warm in the oven.
•Bring a pot of water to boiling, add ears of corn, cover, and turn off the heat.
•In a large pan on medium heat, add oil to coat the surface.
•Add 2tsp each of the ginger, turmeric, coriander and smoked paprika.
•Slice up the onion into thin half moons and sautee in the pan, breaking up the onion with your cooking utensil.
•Add in 2tbsp of lemon juice and the two cloves of garlic and cook for two minutes.
•Add in some tomato sauce, cook it down, repeat. When you’ve used ¾ of the jar, add in the grilled chicken, cover the pan with a lid, and cook the dish for an additional ten minutes.
•Chop up the cilantro with a rough cut—you should still see some intact leaves.
•Toss the cilantro over the completed dish.
Serve with the ears of corn and a green salad.