I know one thing about Indian food — I love it. I don’t claim any real expertise in that particular cuisine (although I do have an Indian cookbook stashed away around here somewhere), but one of my favorite nice things to do for myself used to be to go up to an Indian restaurant in the neighborhood and hit the buffet — then invariably, I’d waddle home and take a nap.
Well, when I first started exploring Trader Joe’s, I noticed that they had a series of “simmer sauces,” one of which is a Masala Simmer Sauce. I’d tried their Chicken Tikka Masala frozen entrée and was suitably impressed, so I thought I’d try the simmer sauce.
The recommendation is for chicken (or fish or vegetables or legumes — read “chickpeas”), but I’ve found it works just as well with pork, not so well with lamb. The directions instruct you to cut up raw chicken and simmer it in the sauce plus a cup of water for fifteen minutes or so. I prefer to cook the meat first — cooked chicken is a lot easier to bone and cut up — but the rest is the same (although I’ve been known to throw in some extra garlic and onions). The result is a pleasure.
The flavor is like the Chicken Tikka Masala entrée, rich with a bit of a bite (although those who enjoy spicy food would call it “mild”). The base is tomatoes, and the spices blend in very nicely — probably because the cream in the sauce smooths everything out. It’s really fairly subtle and hard to describe — nothing really sticks out as dominating the flavor. Even the tomatoes take on a different character.
Gilding the Lily: Food prepared in this sauce lends itself to a lot of different treatments. I tend to keep it simple: I serve it over basmati rice, with a side of sliced or shredded cucumbers (which seem to make the perfect accompaniment). Other possibilities include serving it with lentils or chickpeas, or with chapatis or naan (Indian flat breads). Or all of the above. (By the way, potatoes are very popular in India.)
One of the nice things about this sauce is that you can serve a family or make up a batch and freeze portions (for those of us who are usually cooking for one). In keeping with old habits, I’ll make up a batch and refrigerate or freeze portions in containers with rice, so I can just dump it into an oven-proof dish and have a nice supper in ten to fifteen minutes.
Masala simmer sauce has become a staple in my kitchen — it’s versatile, simple to prepare, lends itself to freezing, and tastes good. What more can you ask?