Some of the best experiences revolve around food; weddings, holidays, and gatherings of all types include food. For me, the greatest experience was always the making of that food. There are so many variables and varieties; the theoretical database of recipes would be a mindboggling experience to behold. Despite this sundry of recipes, I have my favourites. I’ve twisted and contorted meals until I’ve created the perfect dish. My most recent, and difficult accomplishment was my Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken). It took me three years to get here, to this magical and savoury land of sauce and chicken.
My path to this magical land was riddled with horrors and all the bridges were haunted by trolls out to stop me. Acquiring the vast amount of colourful spices needed was expensive, so I paid off my first troll and crossed the bridge, buying in bulk in hopes of defeating the dragon I now call Lauren’s epic Murgh Makhani. My first encounter with attempting this dish was a fiasco. I knew little about butter chicken other than that I loved it, so I used the first recipe that had a delicious looking picture. We’ve all done it, don’t judge. Needless to say, following a recipe blindly with a romanticized dream of how it should turn out, did not work. The chicken was dry and overcooked, with little flavour. The sauce tasted like a slightly spiced, watered-down, tomato cream sauce, which is not at all appealing.
I paid off many more trolls in the months to come, trying new recipes and combining old ones until I started to understand what this dish was really about. The key is to get the perfect mixture of all the ingredients. This isn’t a salad where you can enjoy a fresh tomato in one bite and a crisp lettuce in the next. This is a dance of every flavour put in there. It needs to become one ingredient rather than 20. In order to do that, I needed to make a lot of mistakes and discoveries.
Slowly, my sauce thickened and my chicken moistened and the day came where I was ready to show the world. Well, it was a couple of my boyfriend’s family members, but to me, it’s the same thing. All of my trolls had been fought or bought and today was the big day.
I woke up early that morning, unable to sleep and decided to throw a fabulously excited puppy at my sleeping boyfriend. While his squeals of alarm and random giggles pierced the air I ran into my long, mirror-covered hallway. Those mirrors made me realize that it was impossible to hide in a funhouse, and I accepted my punishment of having to take that fabulous puppy outside. Upon our return from the triumphant adventure, I showered and went to work on what was to become the perfect creation.
I whipped around my kitchen collecting all the utensils, tools, ingredients and other odds and ends that I would need. It’s a small enough kitchen that I can basically stand in the middle and reach all my cupboards and appliances, but I’ve got my music on and I dance to each cupboard instead. I have to remind myself to close all of those white cupboard doors as my boyfriend foolishly walks into one, scolding me for once again leaving them open. I mock him instead and set him to cut the onions. They need to be small as I like to blend them and have a shitty, broken hand-held one that threatens to break and fly into the air at any moment. What can I say, I’m a daredevil. While the onions are being massacred, I pull out the marinated chicken and light the grill. The chicken is stained pink from the chilli and tandoori; the two spices mask the bright yellow of the turmeric, something that I ALWAYS get EVERYWHERE and end up yellow for a while. The grill is heating up and I’m mulling around my tiny kitchen preparing the many other ingredients because it’s time to make the sauce
Making the sauce is my favourite part because you get to experience every step of the meal through your sense of smell. Even the butter heating up in the pan, browning, gives off the smell of hazelnuts and almonds. Its delicately sweet smell becomes almost spicy-sweet as the dry spices are added, heated up until that smell breaks free, mixing beautifully with the butter. Slowly the other ingredients are added in segments. The ginger-garlic paste, the onions, the tomatoes, all add their own voice until a glorious song of flavours is made.
The sauce is made and simmering, which means it is time to add the chicken that has been grilling on the BBQ. First I need to chase my all too white dog around the house so I can clean his turmeric stained face… again. Even now, I can see a small yellow fingerprint on his cheek as he ponders my laptop. With the crisis averted, I add the grilled meat, blackened around the edges, into the orangey-red butter sauce. The simmering stops with the temperature change and I take the opportunity to taste test my concoction. Like a witch, I cackle at its magnificence. It feels as if I could fell Rome with this one delicious dish. I pace as the dish reaches its simmering potential once again and wait for the right time to add the cream, the final ingredient. I stand over the pan and pour the thick cream into it, watching the stark contrast of the fall coloured sauce with the white of the cream. I grab my spoon to destroy that contrast and bring rise to the final product.
The family arrives now, so I put on the rice. Basmati with a bit of saffron and a stick of cinnamon for that extra pizazz I love so much. The fluffy white rice is yet again contrasted by the colour of the sauce as I pour it over the rice, adding a splash of cream to the top of the dish for presentation. I hear the “oohs” and “awes” from the members who have already been served. I move more quickly as I wait to serve myself and join my family so that for once, I can have one of those great experiences that revolve around food.