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Saag Chicken - any advice?

t
thegirlwholovestoeat Jan 7, 2010 04:16 AM

Last time I tried to make an "indian" inspired dinner it turned out kind of blah, definitely not the rich spices and flavors that I am used to having in restaurants. I have decided to give it another go and want to make saag chicken. I am on the SB Diet right now so no carbs, bad fats, sugar, etc. I found a few recipes online and have no idea which one will be best. Here is the one I am thinking of using, any advice or anything I should change about this recipe? I would obviously have to leave out the butter, use EVOO instead of veg oil and use light milk. Thanks!

3 pounds chicken pieces, skinned
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 large onions, minced
2 large tomatoes, crushed
1-inch piece ginger, minced
4 tbsp milk
4 bunches spinach, washed and chopped
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 large cardamom pods
2 cloves
7 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp salt

* Fry the chicken lightly in 4 tablespoon of oil for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned and set aside.
* Put the spinach into a deep pan; add 1/4 cup water. Bring to boil and remove from heat. When cool, grind in blender and set aside.
* Heat the remaining oil and add ginger, garlic and onions; sauté until lightly brown. Add tomatoes, salt, cayenne, coriander powder, turmeric, cloves, and cardamom.
* Sprinkle with one tablespoon water. Cook for 10 minutes over low heat. Add chicken and milk. Simmer until the chicken is tender.
* Add spinach and garam masala. Cook until spinach starts sticking to pan. Remove from heat. Add butter to chicken saag and cover until ready to serve.

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  1. alkapal RE: thegirlwholovestoeat Jan 7, 2010 04:48 AM

    i'd use some canned organic muir glen tomato puree instead of the tomatoes, because unless you're in florida, you're not going to find any good tomatoes this time of year.

    you can use a little butter, no? it'll really help!

    to reduce the fat, you *could* poach the chicken in low-sodium chicken broth.

    i wouldn't use evoo as it will taint the flavor. what's wrong with veg oil?

    don't use lowfat milk. use some evaporated milk -- it has a thicker mouth feel. lowfat milk will be bad in this application.

    1. s
      susan1353 RE: thegirlwholovestoeat Jan 7, 2010 08:43 AM

      How about lite coconut milk instead?

      1. g
        gordeaux RE: thegirlwholovestoeat Jan 7, 2010 09:01 AM

        1/2 tsp of cayenne powder sounds pretty blah

        I'd be looking to add several different kinds of fresh chiles, and dried chilies as well. Cayenne powder is pretty low on my list of flavorful chiles.

        5 Replies
        1. re: gordeaux
          t
          thegirlwholovestoeat RE: gordeaux Jan 7, 2010 09:32 AM

          any suggestions on specific dried or fresh chilies that would work well here?

          1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat
            r
            Rasam RE: thegirlwholovestoeat Jan 7, 2010 09:54 AM

            Many Indian recipes of the kind OP described use 'red chili powder' (not the same as American Chili Powder). The Indian chili powder is red chilies (various local varieties) dried and powdered. Cayenne powder is used in the US as a substitute and works OK.

            It's not strictly necessary to add several kinds of chillies to the dish, unless the recipe specifically calls for it. Plain chili powder, increased to the amount that suits you, works just fine in the kind of recipe you describe.

            However, since you have saag (greens) in the dish, and are using butter (which dampens the spices), you could add 1-2 green chillies to the saag and blend with the mixie. Keep in mind that grinding the green chillies will increase their potency. Thai bird chillies, or the small green chillies from the Indian store would work.

            Keep in mind that when you add butter, it dampens down all the spices, so you will need to add more.

            A general principle with this type of dish is: if it seems 'blah' to you, you can add spices.
            But you want to maintain the basic balance, so keep tasting with each addition until it reaches what you like.

            Is the salt OK?

            Then, add some more garam masala for a start.

            Still seems like something is missing? . Through experience, I've found that increasing the amount of basic cumin+coriander powder (I don't see cumin in your dish) definitely punches up the flavour in this kind of dish, without making it too salty or too spicy-hot.

            If still not OK, then add some more cayenne powder.

            Two spices I would have added (but don't see in your recipe):
            1. 1 tsp cumin seeds (toasted and powdered) added with the coriander powder.
            2. A stick of cinnamon (added with the cardamom).

            Two cloves for 3 lbs of chicken? Purely symbolic value :) Add a few more perhaps.

            Good luck.

            1. re: Rasam
              t
              thegirlwholovestoeat RE: Rasam Jan 7, 2010 10:52 AM

              Thanks so much! I will take your advice and add the cumin and cinnamon as well as green chilies.

              1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat
                r
                Rasam RE: thegirlwholovestoeat Jan 7, 2010 01:47 PM

                You're welcome.

                I should have clarified further:

                Your original recipe is a basic North Indian / Punjabi style Chicken Masala, gussied up with saag. So, my suggestions to bump up the spices stayed within the parameters of that recipe and genre and region.

                If you want to branch out with coconut milk etc. that would make the flavour profile more Southern, and you might want to change the proportions of other spices and tweak to use more Southern spices (e.g. increase coriander seed, use dry red chillies ground up with the coriander seed, use curry leaves and mustard seeds in the tarka, etc.)

                Other regions, modify accordingly.

                HTH

                1. re: Rasam
                  z
                  zamorski RE: Rasam Jan 9, 2010 02:41 PM

                  Another idea: 1/2 tsp if salt is pretty stingy. I can guarantee that the tasty Indian food you have while eating out has a lot more salt in it than that!

                  1/2 tsp of salt is about 3000 gm, and I am guessing that your recipe should yield 8 to 12 portions, so that is still only 250 - 375 mg of sodium/serving above the very minimal sodium content of the raw ingredients. Perfectly safe even on sodium-restricted diet.

                  If additional sodium is not an option for you, you could try adding some lemon juice, which would work nicely with this dish (even if it is not traditional).

        2. a
          ajcraig RE: thegirlwholovestoeat Jan 9, 2010 03:20 PM

          In addition to all of the other great ideas, my suggestion...use the best quality and freshest spices you can. The difference between generic garam masala and the stuff from an Indian grocery or The Spice House can be huge.

          1. t
            thegirlwholovestoeat RE: thegirlwholovestoeat Jan 15, 2010 04:32 AM

            Thanks everyone for the great suggestions, I stuck with my alterations to make it diet approved and it turned out really great! The flavors were very rich - much better than my last forray into making an Indian dish.

            Here is what I ended up doing -
            I didn’t buy cloves or cardamom pods because they were super spendy, but feel free to add 2 pieces of each (ground) if you’d like more depth of flavor.

            1 pound chicken breast tenders
            3 cloves garlic, minced
            1 large onion, minced
            1 can tomatoes, crushed
            1-inch piece ginger, grated
            4 tbsp non-fat evaporated milk
            1 bag spinach, washed and chopped
            1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
            1/2 tsp cinnamon
            1/2 tsp turmeric
            7 tbsp EVOO
            1 tsp garam masala
            1/2 tsp salt
            2 green chillies, seeded and chopped

            # Fry the chicken lightly in 4 tablespoon of oil for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned and set aside.
            # Put the spinach into a deep pan; add 1/4 cup water. Bring to boil and remove from heat. When cool, grind in blender and set aside.
            # Heat the remaining oil and add ginger, garlic and onions; sauté until lightly brown. Add tomatoes, salt, cayenne, coriander powder, turmeric, cinnamon, and chillies.
            # Sprinkle with one tablespoon water. Cook for 10 minutes over low heat. Add chicken and milk. Simmer until the chicken is tender.
            # Add spinach and garam masala. Cook until spinach starts sticking to pan. Remove from heat. Serve hot!

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