Operation: Skinless Chicken

COOKING ADVENTURE #17: Slow-Cooker Chicken Tikka Marsala

And I thought that the Midnight Frittata Train was going to be the nastiest cooking adventure for April… Boy was I wrong! I suppose it really pays to make sure that you write down absolutely every requirement for all of the recipe’s ingredients when you go shopping. For instance, write down 15 oz of crushed tomatoes in a can so that when you get to the canned vegetable aisle and browse the tomatoes, you don’t have a seizure when you see how many freaking kinds there are to pick from. Also, especially with meat people, write down “boneless, skinless chicken thighs” because when you get to the chicken section of the grocery store and you don’t know what to get, you might as well just lay down and give in. They’ve got absolutely every single part of the chicken for sale there with your choice of boneless, skinless, tasteless… Well, it all comes down to this, folks. I wasn’t specific enough in my chicken selection. And it cost me…

I’ve used my crockpot once before this excursion. It was to cook white rice and chicken. In short, I burned both because I didn’t add enough water and I set it on the wrong temperature. I was determined not to let that happen this time. The recipe for Chicken Tikka Marsala came out of a Real Simple magazine, so I was pretty confident that the recipe would work fine. I’ve been toying with the idea of using my crockpot more often because summer is going to be very hectic. I’m probably not going to have Thursdays off from work like I used to, so I’m going to have to think of some more creative ways to pull off my cooking adventures. That won’t be for a few weeks though, so I’ve still got some time to figure it out.

The recipe has me start off by pulling out my crockpot. It’s still in the box, guys. I washed it out, removing all of the little Styrofoam pieces before setting it on the counter top. Then, I took my 15 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (oh yeah, I bought the right ones) and dumped the contents in. Then, I added 2 cloves of garlic which I chopped up on my kumquat sized cutting board with my dull santoku knife. The recipe also calls for a whole onion.

*Deeply sighing*. Oh, the onion. I’ve had such bad luck with onions in the past that I decided to cut out the onion from the recipe all together. And you know what? I’m glad I did. The onion wasn’t necessary. And I’m sure if I had added a whole onion, the dish would have tasted just awful. I did add some dried onion slivers to the mix for a hint of flavor though. Next, 2 tbsp. tomato paste. I bought a can from the grocery store. The label wouldn’t stay stuck to the can and it promptly tore off within seconds of me picking it up off the shelf. Figures.

Next, the grand daddy of spicy spices: garam masala. What exactly is garam masala? Imagine you’ve picked the hottest spices known to man and thrown them into a bowl together, then you mixed them and ground them together until the fumes made your eyes burn and water furiously, your nose completely stuff up, and your lungs feel like your breathing fire. That is garam masala. It’s a collection of spices used mostly in Indian cooking. I’d bought a bottle of it some years ago for a different chicken recipe and… still had some. I was to add 2 teaspoons of this stuff to the tomato mixture. You might think 2 tsp. isn’t that much but honestly? Unless you’ve smelled this stuff, you have no idea! I added it gingerly to the crockpot and prayed that I wouldn’t regret it. Lastly, I added some salt and black pepper to taste and stirred everything together.

Then came the important part: the chicken. I had purchased a package of chicken thighs at the store. As I ripped open the package and dipped the four thighs into the tomato mixture, I puzzled at the original recipe. It said to include 8 thighs. There was NO way that 8 would fit in that crockpot. And then, I made the discovery. That I was supposed to have bought boneless skinless chicken thighs. I realized what I’d have to do. I’d have to skin the chicken. And in a fit of extreme displeasure and disgust, I attempted to do so with my bare hands. You’ve been warned.

I’m convinced that chicken skin is like chainmail. It doesn’t tear very easily and it guards the chicken thigh quite well from insane chef-wannabes like myself. I spent a good three minutes trying to get the skin off of one of these chicken thighs. When I had finally done so, my hands were covered in slime and I’d already convinced myself that I wasn’t going to bother with the other three. I was very lazy. So I stuck the remaining thighs in the crockpot and then placed the pot in the fridge for the night.

This morning, bright and early, I took it back out of the fridge and set it up to cook. You are supposed to cook the whole thing on the lowest setting for 7 to 8 hours. My problem was that I would be out of the house for at least 9. I was also worried that my crockpot was going to ignite in flames and burn down the apartment, something I certainly didn’t want to happen. I ended up returning to the apartment on my lunch break to check everything over and make sure that it was cooking well. By the time I got home this evening, the apartment smelled like warm spices and chicken. I turned off the crockpot and unplugged it.

Next, I made up some rice. The recipe wants you to use long-grain white rice (preferably jasmine). Unfortunately, I discovered that I was quite low on this. I subsequently added brown rice to it. You can guess how interesting a texture that turned out to be once it had finished boiling… sticky but chewy. Not that great.

While the rice cooked, I turned to the garnish portion of the recipe. They want you to cut up a whole cucumber into thin quarter slices, add a tbsp of lemon juice, and a hunk of cilantro together. I used only half a cucumber. Now, the cilantro mystery. I know for a fact that I’ve seen cilantro for sale at my local grocery store. I know they usually have it. And yet when I went there last Monday to collect my ingredients, it was absent from the herb section. What was there? A strange little tube containing a goopy green concoction with the logo “Cilantro Herb Blend”. I had no other choice. I had to buy it. And into the bowl it went like vegetarian toothpaste. I swirled the cucumber, lemon juice, and cilantro together, unleashing a wonderfully fresh scent into the kitchen air.

Before I could serve the chicken tikka marsala, however, I had to add the final ingredient to it: heavy cream. The words bode terrible results… always. As I removed the crockpot lid, I discovered with some dismay that not removing the rest of the chicken skins had proved a bad decision. A nice layer of oil covered the top of the red sea of tomato and chicken. Frantically, I tried to skim it off the top with a spoon but wasn’t able to get all of it. I added the heavy cream. The thick white pooled onto the oil. I tried to mix it and it eventually did so, albeit reluctantly.

The next thing I realized was that the chicken had practically come right off the bone… and now said bones littered the marsala as well as the globs of skin. I spent a good ten minutes sifting through everything removing pieces of suspicious material. Finally when all looked better, I prepared a plate for myself. The marsala was quite good. It wasn’t too spicy and there was enough chicken mixed with the sauce that it balanced out nicely. I was happily surprised with the cilantro and cucumber garnish. That was very good with the chicken. Of course the rice was kind of lumpy and the texture strange, but the recipe was quite good overall.

Next week, I’ll be attempting a delectable Meditteranean cake! Flourless lemon almond cake is next week’s Cooking Adventure!

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4 thoughts on “Operation: Skinless Chicken

  1. yes, I love your cooking adventures (and misadventures)! Keep ’em coming. Any chance you could link to the recipe you’re using? This one sounds yummy. Actually, most of what you cook sounds pretty darn good.

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