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Butter chicken cheats

Spurred on by that article about Cooking as a game I have decided that this month I shall look at Chicken butter cream, or Butter chicken as commerce seems to call it. And Commerce is definitely involved. So I decided to begin with a cheat version made with the jar of Patak's Butter Chicken Paste that I had in my pantry. I also decided to take up that other suggestion to make something from a recipe on a jar. Here is the jar and here is the recipe.

Simplicity itself of course. Basically you do the usual Indian start by frying up some onions, garlic and ginger. Add your pre-made spice paste then the chicken and then some water and tomatoes and that's more or less it, until the very last minute when you add the butter and the cream that make it Chicken butter cream - my older son's favourite Indian restaurant dish, that he always orders and won't share. So if you want chicken butter cream then order your own.

Patak's make all manner of Indian food products now - pastes, simmer sauces, pickles, chutneys, poppadoms and so on. It's one of those rags to riches stories with a few scandals along the way that you can read all about in a long ago post I wrote on my previous website - Patak's, from Gujarat, to Kenya, to England to the world.

On their website there are a huge number of recipes using their butter chicken pastes and sauces including pies, and non-chicken recipes, plus a few from Jamie Oliver. Their picture of the finished straight butter chicken looked more or less as you would expect. Mine looked considerably darker but I have to say that it did taste pretty good. A bit too much sauce though. I should maybe have cooked it down a bit more.

Coincidentally I picked up the new Woolworths Fresh Ideas Magazine yesterday in which I found this full page ad. The young lady in the top corner is the granddaughter of the founding couple and the face of the company these days, which is run by her father as a part of the massive British Food company AB (Associated British) Foods who bought them out. I've actually seen this ad before and doubtless will again - or variations thereof. They always seem to have an ad in both the supermarket magazines.

Now I have never made a recipe from a tin, jar or packet before. Normally I would apply the paste to a recipe of my own making - most usually some meat and whatever is in the fridge. It's a good standby to have in the fridge, because I guess it just provides you with an easy option. Not that it's that difficult or time-consuming to make up your own curry paste, or one from a flash recipe. And maybe one of my future butter chicken experiments should be just that. Using the same paste but making up the rest of it.

However, I think the point of this particular phase of the experiment is to discover whether the finished dish is worth it - selling your soul to commerce I suppose - or not. And yes I think it is if you don't do it all the time. They have quite a big range of pastes but it's not that large. I found one appalling statistic in my Patak article that maintained that some 80% of Indian restaurants in England used Patak pastes in their restaurants. No wonder they all taste a bit the same after a while.

Having done this particular cheating recipe I wondered what other cheating options for butter chicken there were on offer. Well a huge number it seems. Now I only checked Coles online, but I'm guessing that Woolworths has a very similar number of options. I also wondered about the price of what I did compared to making an 'authentic' butter chicken - and yes we know that butter chicken itself is not that 'authentic'. It's a relatively modern - but Indian invention based on a traditional dish - chicken makhani. I swear I have written about this before but cannot find the article.

It seems to me that the options break down into a few categories. I haven't done a detailed cost analysis - numbers are not my thing, but I'll give some rough indications.

First we have curry pastes - and there are a number of these. That Patak jar costs $7.50 at the moment and I used a quarter of it - which was half what they suggested. Their recipe was based on 4 chicken breasts, but I only used one because they are so huge these days and ample for two people. I assumed their four were smaller. With a paste you just do as I described above, either following their recommendations or making up your own. And note - that spice paste can be used for other things than chicken - various vegetables, other meats, legumes - kebabs, tray bakes, pies, roasts or salads. Whatever you can imagine. Some are in jars, some in sachets, as this one. I noticed that Coles no longer have Sharwood's but maybe it's just them. They vary in price, but then we all buy different products for different reasons, taste, price, what the item looks like, reputation, just what you like the look of. And as you can see, these days there's a lot of talking about no artificial ingredients, etc.

Curry simmer sauces, which I have never tried, but I'm guessing are the paste combined with sauce so that all you do is throw it into the pot after you have fried off your other ingredients. These seem to mostly cost around the $1.00 to $1.50 mark for 100g.

Then there are powders and kits or combinations of things. You can get powders, packaged with a sauce, such as Patak's Curry kit which is a combination of whole spices, paste and sauce, Master Foods has a recipe base, Maggi has a dry recipe base and so on - you just need to add your chicken, etc. All of these are relatively cheap, relatively quick and relatively easy, so yes, I reckon they are OK every now and then. Just check the ingredients list.

Then you get into the frozen and other kinds of pre-made meals. There were a few that I was not quite sure where you found them - in the chill section, on the shelf, in the freezer? I think I would be marginally worried about products like this, which comes from Thailand and includes shredded

chicken. It only costs $4.50 for one portion but if it's not frozen how fresh is it?

I'm also not sure about the products below. Are they frozen or just chilled, or not even that? The high protein version will cost you $10.00, and the Coles Kitchen $7.50. Very easy - just put them in the microwave - but would you?

Frozen might be marginally better, but also more expensive - $12.50 for the chicken kiyvs but then it is for 2. Although also more varied - these are some of the slightly different ones - even a version for your very small children.

And somewhere in the store you can buy these 2 pies from Tasmania for $8.00.

I have to say that for myself for all of these ready-made things, whether chilled, frozen or just on the shelf, I'm really not tempted. They might look good on the cover but I'm pretty sure they are not at all the same inside.

Of course, if you are feeling really, really lazy you can get a takeaway from your local Indian restaurant or dine in. I checked my local Indian restaurants whose websites were somewhat unhelpful I have to say. However at one of them if you ordered through Uber it would cost you $27 for just one portion - no rice I'm assuming. Make your own or pay more. And you would have to say that this is a big price hike. I think the others were around the $20.00 mark. Well I suppose you are paying for an actual chef to make it although you would have to hope they weren't just using Patak's butter chicken paste.

Top of the tree? Well go into town to Tonka, which I think is the current trendy top Indian restaurant. Now that will cost you $49.00 - and then some for your companions, the drinks, the rice, the accompaniments, the petrol to get there ... It would be fun though wouldn't it?

Actually in a way I am a little bit heartened by this experiment. Our Patak's butter chicken was entirely eatable, even very tasty and there didn't seem to be very many suspicious ingredients on the list, so if you are not a confident cook - unconfident in the sense that you don't want to mix your own spice paste - then go for it. Or find a recipe and follow that. Which is what I shall do for the other parts of this experiment.


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