January 6, 2021Comments are off for this post.

Oven Braised Chicken Tikka Masala

I first had chicken tikka masala at home, complete with lime pickle, naan, the most perfect basmati rice and raita. The lime pickle is a very different flavor that just has to be tried to understand. Earthy and spicy yet a strong tart note that cuts through the richness of the curry. The balance of all flavors together sticks with you for ages. I've done the simple raita presented to me over and over, always tweaking it a little to see what improvements I could make to have balance. With the new year I'm doing intermittent fasting and Rebecca is on a meal plan so we're finding ways to make dinner plans that not only help us reach our goals but taste good. Being food photographers we're constantly handed really gorgeous food to shoot and encouraged to try nearly everything we photograph when on location at a restaurant so don't worry, we'll still get plenty of cheat meals in. One of the best ways to tame our carb intake in a meal like curry is to omit the rice and naan. It also allows a few more calories to spend on things like chicken. Normally I chop the chicken up and stew the pieces in the sauce but I was wanting to try a different process because that's just fun. I put my four chicken thighs (we had leftovers) in a jar of simmer sauce, cleaned out with some water to rinse the extra sauce out of it to make sure the thick sauce didn't over reduce while braising.

Most tikka sauces come ready for tomatoes as well so I added some fresh vine tomatoes I had on the counter, a whole onion and popped it in the oven to braise at 375 degrees. After my chicken hit 175 degrees, I pulled them out of the sauce with about 1/4 of the onion, tossed it into cast iron for a few minutes under the broiler, set to low. The skin crisped up a bit and I pulled the thighs out to rest while I threw the sauce and the 3/4 of onion into my vitamix to puree.

check out that crispy skin after the broiler did it's thing!
simmering down the sauce after pureeing the onion into the sauce

Once I had a perfectly smooth sauce, it needed a bit of reducing to thicken up so it was tossed in a sauce pan to simmer while I deboned chicken and made cauliflower rice. The first time I made cauliflower rice I tossed it into my food processor all willy nilly with the standard dual blade and it was TERRIBLE. This time I utilized the shredding wheel that leaves space for the veg to fall below and it's perfection. I sauteed garlic in a bit of olive oil, tossed in the whole shredded cauliflower and cooked it until some of it started to brown, added tumeric and smoked paprika finished with salt and cilantro.

The final step with the chicken was to cut it off the bone, cube it and get a hot sear in the cast iron. I let the meat stick just a touch and tossed in the onion I set aside along with the bit of liquid around them to deglaze the pan. As this was all resting I assembled my Raita. Since I didn't have any lime pickle I figured a bit of lemon rind peeled off (with no white) and sliced very small would give the notes needed to get that bit of pungent citrus note that I love so much. That added with a 1/4 english cucumber and 1/4 cup of greek yogurt, a pinch of salt, 1/2 bunch of rough chopped cilantro into my vitamix and gave it a slight spin to break up the cucumber and add some liquid into the yogurt. Next time I'll set half the cucumber to the side in chunks and just puree the cucumber with the yogurt and maybe add in some cumin as well.

the final dish!

In the end this wasn't a traditional preparation but I feel like it's very close to the essence of what makes tikka masala so good. Rich sauce, tender chicken, balanced by yogurt and fresh cilantro. Next time I'm taking the heat levels up a notch, using more tomato and fixing my raita but I hope you enjoyed my process.


4 chicken thighs

1 cauliflower head

1 sweet onion

1 bunch cilantro

1 jar tikka masala simmer sauce

4-6 fresh tomatoes or a can of tomato

2 garlic cloves

kosher salt

1/4 cup yogurt

1/4 english cucumber, peeled


smoked paprika

February 4, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder with rub

In my experience of learning about BBQ, what first drew me in was pork shoulder. There are so many ways to use it and many cultures use various parts of pigs to great ends and the ethos of using the whole animal the shoulder is typically slow cooked into pulled pork, smoked into BBQ sandwiches, chopped up for stew, made into sausages and so on. The rear legs are typically turned into hams while the front shoulders are cooked in different ways considering the high percentage of connective tissue present.

When considering how to cook a piece of meat you have to look at how it's made up. How much marbling of fat or connective tissue are your starting points. Lean cuts can be cooked quickly, like a loin but the shoulders are totally a different type of cut. Over time, what would be a tough gristly piece of meat falls apart because the fat renders out and the connective tissue breaks down and basically disappears. A good average I've found for cooking the front shoulder of any four legged animal is to give myself an hour for each pound of meat. What that ends up meaning is that when I want to cook a pork shoulder it becomes an all day process. So either I will cook it in advance and freeze it for later use, or what I've recently realized is maybe a better approach.

Pork shoulder in 1lb pieces in my favorite vintage cast iron skillet, ready for the oven

I've started breaking down the shoulder, following the white lines of connective tissue in the meat and cutting out the bone present. I make what are approximately 1 pound chunks, put them on a rack to season, toss into a cast iron for 45 minutes at 450 degrees F, and then cover and drop the temp down to 280-300 and let them cook for another hour covered. A six lb shoulder turns into soft perfectly cooked meat in less than half the time, you get more of that precious outer bark seasoning layer and can eat sooner. This time I'm cooking a bunch in advance but I could have frozen some of the pieces for future use.

adding water to a pork bone with a fatty shoulder section to be simmered for 8 hours

Another passion of mine is Ramen, which requires bone broth. So I'll take the shoulder bone and a fatty section of pork and add some water to slowly simmer on low for 8 hours. The pork and bone are later removed and I'll add a miso paste to taste and that stock is either used right away or refrigerated/frozen for later use. I have a hard time finding ramen in eastern Iowa where I live that's really up to snuff so I've resorted to just making it from scratch. I'd highly recommend making your own bone broth and using it as a starter for whatever soup or stew you're making. I've added it to chili, stews and so on and it's magnificent. There are apparently tons of beneficial healing qualities to the nutrients found in bone broth that you could research endlessly online so I won't bore you with that here. I'm just here to encourage you to look for more ways to get more deliciousness and nutrition out of your meals. Meat requires the life of an animal and we should not only strive to source humanely farmed or hunted animals but also honor them with beautiful rituals like an amazing meal. Not wasting or overlooking any part of an animal is about respect, for me.

Having been vegetarian for quite some time in my early twenties and in general wanting to just eat more ethically I've searched for the best diet for myself. I've reduced my consumption of factory farmed meats by finding good local providers of quality product that do so in a way that doesn't pollute as much and am quickly moving towards trying to actually hunt as much of my meat as possible if I'm going to continue to consume meat. That maybe sounds brutal to some people but personally I find that being a part of the process at every stage to be very sobering and essential to a respectful death for another living being. Also there are absurd amounts of certain kinds of meat that are actually invasive species due to the way that we as humans have taken over North America. Wild hogs are a big problem in the south and do a lot of damage to habitat that other animals need. Deer need culling to stay at healthy numbers. Without other predators to keep them in check, our wild lands would be quickly eroded into completely different habitats. So I'm dedicating time and funds into this adventure this coming year. Not just because of my lust for meat but also knowing that my direct action can restore a small bit of balance to the ecosytem and also that the funds I put into the activity through taxes on hunting and fishing gear and the licenses I purchase will DIRECTLY go to habitat and wildlife preservation.