In Italy, we have autogrills. In the United States, when traveling on a long stretch of highway, we are forced to exit and look for trucker stops or fast food joints if hunger (or pee) strikes. In South Africa they have farm stalls.
It is at such a farm stall that Sue, Mark and I stopped on our way from Cape Town to McGregor. Dogs needed to pee, humans needed to eat. Farm stalls, built at the edge of farms, sell everything from overstock produce, more or less tasteful gift items, local products such as honey and rusks, and basic fare, mostly in the form of beef or chicken pies, sausages and the like. In the one we chanced upon we spotted a crock pot behind the counter and the lady manning the business recommended her butter chicken. On a chilly Winter day it sounded perfect. She gave us portions that kept us fed for two days straight and, sitting in the car, balancing the containers on our knees, we couldn’t have been happier: it tasted ridiculously delicious, the meat shredded in the rich curry sauce.
I have made butter chicken before but never in a crock pot, one of those kitchen utensils I forget I even own.
Butter chicken was invented in the 1950s in a Delhi restaurant as a way to use up leftover meat. Traditionally, the chicken is marinated in cream, yogurt and spices, then cooked in a tandoor oven and added to a tomato curry sauce that includes a lot of butter.
This cheat version I found in the New York Times is not my original recipe but, as I wanted to use the slow cooker, and I was looking for a lighter version that wouldn’t include butter or cream, I gave this a try and I must admit that the taste is very, very close to the butter chicken I enjoyed on the side of the road in S. Africa. And if you want to add a large knob of butter, it will certainly not hurt.
3 T vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 T grated ginger
1 T garam masala
1 can tomato paste (6 oz or 170 g)
1 ts salt
3 # skinless and boneless chicken, cut into cubes (1.5 kg)
1 T lemon juice
1 ts lemon zest
1 C coconut milk (light is fine)
1/2 C chicken stock
- Saute the onion until softened, then add ginger, garam masala, tomato paste, garlic and salt. Cook for a couple of minutes.
- Put the chicken in the crock pot, add the tomato and onion mixture, the coconut milk and chicken stock. Set the cooker on low and let cook for about 5 hours, until the meat is really tender and the sauce has thickened.
- Serve with rice and/or naan bread.