Silken Chicken

Silken Chicken
Excerpted from Madhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking (Chronicle Books, 2007). Text copyright 1996 by Madhur Jaffrey. Used with permission of Chronicle Books LLC.

Serves 2 to 4

The texture of the chicken here is really soft and silken. As this dish takes just 15 minutes to cook and is best eaten fresh out of the oven, I leave it in its marinade until exactly 15 minutes before we sit down to eat. (It can stay in the marinade, covered and refrigerated, for several hours, even overnight, if you like.) Sprinkle the extra spices on just before the chicken goes into the oven.

These chicken breasts may be served Indian-style with rice and vegetables, or Western-style with boiled potatoes and either steamed vegetables or a salad. Both would make for light meals. Leftovers, if there are any, can be covered and refrigerated. The chicken is excellent sliced and put into sandwiches or salads.

For Marinating the Chicken:
4 boned, skinned chicken breast halves (about 1-1/4 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon homemade garam masala (recipe follows)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a pulp
1/2 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger

For Sprinkling Over the Chicken:
Salt as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
A little homemade garam masala
A little ground roasted cumin seed
A little cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried mint flakes
Generous squeezes of fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to its highest temperature and arrange a shelf in the top third of the oven.

2. Cut 3 diagonal slits across the top of each piece of chicken breast, being careful not to cut all the way through and also not to go to the edge. Prick the chicken pieces with the sharp point of a small knife. Put them in a single layer in a large baking dish and rub both sides with the salt and lemon juice. Leave for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the cream with the garam masala, cayenne, cumin seeds, paprika, garlic, and ginger in a bowl. Stir this mixture well and pour it over the chicken. Rub it into the meat and leave for 10 minutes.

3. Lift the chicken pieces up (most of the marinade will cling to them) and place them down in a single layer in a shallow baking pan lined with aluminum foil. On top of each, sprinkle a little salt, black pepper, garam masala, ground roasted cumin seed, cayenne, dried mint, and lemon juice. Put into the top third of the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the chicken is just white all the way through. Serve immediately, minted side up.

Garam Masala

My own recipe for this spice mixture requires 1 tablespoon cardamom seeds, a 2-inch cinnamon stick, one-third of a nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon each black peppercorns, black cumin seeds, and whole cloves, all thrown into a clean coffee or spice grinder and ground to a powder. However, to make matters easier, I have mostly suggested the use of store-bought garam masala. All Indian grocers sell it. When a recipe calls for the store-bought version, do not use my recipe, even if you have some on hand. The tastes are quite different.


Garam Masala is now found in many supermarkets, but it is so easy to make yourself, and it will taste so much fresher, try doing a batch. Untraditional uses are rubbed over spare ribs before roasting, blended into tomato sauces destined to flavor rice, and sautéed into pan sauces for fish or poultry or lamb.

To roast cumin seeds, place them in a small dry skillet set over medium heat. Stir the seeds as they roast until they are fragrant and become a bit darker in color. They develop a toasty, musky aroma that makes them not just good in Indian dishes. I coarsely crush them and sprinkle them over carrots, baked potatoes, potato salad, cauliflower and rice.

Indian grocery stores are fascinating places to browse. If you have one in your community take some time to go in and look around. Ask questions about products that are unfamiliar to you then take a few home and experiment, especially with the wonderful spices available.

Some online sources for Indian foods and spices are <a href=""></a>, <a href=""></a>, and <a href=""></a>. The latter is the site for the Spices Board of India. It has lots of interesting information about the vast array of spices used in Indian cuisine. Take a look.