Aslam died this week at the age of 77.
Tender chunks of chicken, swimming in a bubbling hot creamy, spiced tomato curry, chicken tikka masala is Northern India/Pakistani entrée cherished by Americans, but intrinsic to the United Kingdom, who claimed it as a true British national dish in 2001.
"The reason it’s very popular, is because it’s known all over the world," said Nishcal Bhujel, part-owner of Chola Costal Indian Cuisine on East 58th Street.
Made famous by Pakistani Chef Ali Ahmed Aslam, who passed away Monday at the age of 77, his death reviving the decade’s long-debate – did he invent Chicken Tikka Masala in Scotland back in the 1970’s?
Chola’s serves anywhere from 150-200 Chicken Tikka Masalas a day. The Nepalese owners, the Bhujel family, shared the lore behind the creamy curry, tailor-made for western taste buds, after a customer came into Aslam’s Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow, Scotland, complaining about the chicken.
"The chicken tikka was a bit dry, so he added the creamy tomato sauce," Bhujel said.
After marinating in spices and creamy tomato sauce for six hours, the chicken breast is put on a skewer and grilled for about 10 minutes. The curry, packed with fresh tomato sauce, buttered onions, and Indian spices, simmers stovetop. They say the most important aspect of chicken tikka masala is the creaminess.
Chicken tikka masala is described as soft on the palate, the juicy chicken, not too spicy, with heavy cream, cream cheese and sour cream to make it smooth and velvety.
"It’s perfect," said Chef Mateo Dominic, of Chola Costal Indian Cuisine. "That’s all you need."
Whether the fare was first made in India, invented by Chef Ali Ahmed Aslam, or created in multiple minds, simultaneously through the zeitgeist, we can all agree "it has a taste that definitely sticks in your mind. You crave it," said a patron.