Cheese & Onion Naan with Butter Chicken
I seldom cook Indian cuisine at home because many of its dishes call for a wide array of spices, some less common and more exotic than others. It doesn’t quite make sense to procure a whole bottle no matter how small it might be when the recipe calls for only a pinch. Seemingly insignificant but often too much to miss as the concoction build on these small components that results in the complex bouquet of flavours and aromas we get in the final dish. But most of it goes to waste when left unused as it would be eons when the mood calls for these spices to be used again, of which they would have gone pass their prime or even expired. But there are a few dishes which are reasonably simple enough to whip up at home without the hassle of having to hoard a large variety of spices. Butter chicken is most certainly one of them and nothing goes better with butter chicken then a couple of freshly made naans which are fluffy and soft inside while being crisp and crusty outside.
Butter chicken, also known as “Murgh Makhani” in Hindi is probably the simplest curry dish one would conjure in one’s home kitchen. The dish is fairly straightforward to prepare, first a marinade for the chicken and then the actual cooking process. It is rich from the use of cream in its cooking yet the acidity from the yoghurt and tomato puree used cuts through any cloying sensations and creates a tangy profile which makes the dish very moreish. One can also substitute the cream with the paste of some nuts like walnut, cashew and even almond.
Like butter chicken, naans are yeasted flatbreads which are originally cooked in deep clay ovens called “tandoor”. Though naans can also can be made in a convection oven, they can also be easily replicated over the stove. I personally prefer the latter in fact, as the naans produced are a lot softer and tender while those from the oven tend to be drier. There is lot of versatility can go into the filling of the naans . My favorite is the cheese and onion combination with a generous amount of chopped coriander thrown in as well. One can also do pesto with garlic and a range of different herbs like basil and mint with ghee or olive oil into a coarse paste. I like to apply a thin layer of melted butter over the surface of the freshly cooked naans as well but that is entirely optional.
The use of yoghurt perpetuates both dishes as in many others from North Indian cuisine. Traditionally curds are used but sharp Greek yogurt is equally good. Buttermilk will work too for naan but might be a bit too thin for the butter chicken.
I combined a mixture of plain (all purpose) flour with some semolina in the making of the naan. The naans produced are slightly more chewy and has more bite. It is proofed only once. Active dry yeast is used as the primary leavening agent but if you have sourdough starters or levain at home, they would work well too with some modifications made in the proofing time so do feel free to experiment
If a filling is used, care needs to be taken to ensure that it is well encapsulated within the balls of dough, especially when cheese is used. The dough shouldn’t be rolled out too thinly as well. As such, the recipe would only make 6 naans with filling.
Murgh Makhani aka Butter Chicken recipe
1 kg of chicken cut into chunks (I used drumlettes)
1 tbsp garam masala powder
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1-2 tbsp chili powder, depending on one’s preference for heat
1 tbsp freshly grated old ginger
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed to release juices
400g Greek or plain yoghurt
1 tsp salt
Mix all the above ingredients in a large bowl and set aside to marinate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
250g full/double cream
250g canned tomato puree or passata for pizza/pasta making
1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tbsp chicken powder
Salt to taste
To a heated deep saucepan, add 2 tbsp of cooking oil and pour the chicken and marinade.
Cook for a couple of minutes until the chicken pieces firm up.
Add cream, tomato puree and chicken powder. Mix well to ensure that all the chicken pieces are well coated. Turn up the flame to bring to a boil before turning down to simmer. Cook for 30-40 min stirring periodically until cooked. When the chicken pieces are nicely softened, turn up the flame slightly to reduce the sauce for 3-5 min until desired consistency.
Serve with basmati rice or naan.
Cheese and Onion Naan Recipe (makes 8 plain naans and 6 naans with cheese and onion filling)
Basic Naan Ingredients
300g plain (all purpose) flour
100g durum wheat semolina (I used San Remo)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp Greek or plain yoghurt
Extra flour for dusting and dough adjustment
melted butter for brushing at the end (optional)
One large Bombay onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 sprigs of fresh coriander leaves, coarsely chopped
4 pieces of cheddar cheese, or any soft variety that melts easily, like mozzarella or raclette
In a mixing bowl, mix sugar, water and yeast until sugar dissolves. Set aside for the yeast to activate.
Once the sugar and yeast mixture turns frothy, add salt, flour, semolina, yoghurt and mix well until a wet dough is formed. Adjust the texture of the mixture with more flour as needed but the mixture will remain soft and moist. It is not a dry and pliable dough which one can turn out onto a work counter. Cover with cling film and set aside for the dough to ferment and rise until twice of its initial size. It took me 35 minutes or so under the tropical sunny weather we have here in Singapore.
Punch out the air pockets to deflate the dough. Use a dough scraper to turn the dough onto a well dusted workstation.
Use the pastry scraper to divide the pillowy soft dough into 6 to 8 portions (depending on whether the naans are to be filled or not). Gather the portioned dough pieces and tuck each of them with the sealed side facing downwards. Shaping and tightening of the dough is not necessary.
Depress a piece of dough ball with the ball of the palm. Continue to flatten each piece of dough disc with a rolling pin, stretching it slightly around the edges. If one doesn’t have a rolling pin, one can also use the palm to continue to flatten the dough. This is for making plain naans.
To fill the naan, simply place half a piece of cheddar (or any cheese of your choice), handful of onion slices and chopped coriander leaves in the middle of a piece of flattened dough.
Gather the edges, close and pinch to enclose. Make sure that there are not trapped air pockets. Turn the wrapped dough over on a dusted workstation and very gently flatten with either the palm or a rolling pin, taking great care not to puncture the dough or burst the filling. Likewise, elongate near the edges.
To cook the naan, heat up a flat skillet or frying pan over medium high heat. No oil or butter is required. Gently place the flattened dough on the surface and cook for 1-2 min until the surface begins to bubble up slightly.
Carefully flip the dough and turn down the heat to medium-low.
Cook for another couple of minutes until the surfaces are lightly brown and the surface is dry and crisp to touch. Do not press down the dough during the cooking at any point or the naans will not be fluffy inside when cooked. If one desires the surface to appear charred, simply give each side another 1-2 minutes or so.
To make butter naans, simply brush the surface generously with melted salted butter or ghee after the naans are cooked.
Repeat until all the flatted naan dough are used up. Serve immediately with butter chicken or an assortment of north indian dishes like butter chicken or tikka masala etc.