The British fondness for Indian food goes back a long way: London coffee houses were serving curries as early as the the mid-eighteenth century. The first full-fledged Indian restaurant opened in 1810, owned and run by an enterprising immigrant, Dean Mahomed.
Dean Mahomed was born in India where his father was employed by the British East India Company. After his father's death he accompanied a British officer back to England where he was educated.
Adding the title of Sheikh (spelled Sake) to his name, he opened the Hindoostanee Coffee House near London's Portman Square, with Indian furnishings, hookas for smoking and serving a wide range of Indian dishes. Unfortunately he discovered that he had opened his restaurant before the market was ready, and was forced to close down after only a year of operation.
Not a man to be discouraged by failure Sake Dean Mahomed moved to the town of Brighton, then becoming popular as the first sea-side resort in the world. The rich and fashionable flocked to Brighton to spend summers at the beach and take the water-cures that were growing extremely popular.
The Prince Regent, later to become King George IV, built himself a palace there, the Brighton Pavilion, and indulging the period's fascination for Asian exotica had it designed with a fanciful Indian exterior and an equally flamboyant Chinese interior.
When Dean Mahomed arrived in this rapidly expanding town he set up steam baths in a building that still stands on the Brighton waterfront and now houses the Queens Hotel. He offered head massages, known in Hindi as "champi", and they proved an instant hit, introducing the word "shampoo" into the English language. Styling himself as a "shampooing surgeon" Dean Mahomed built steam baths in the royal palace and became a favourite of the Prince Regent. He prospered for many years in Brighton, wrote his memoirs (which made him the first Indian to publish a book in English) and is buried there.
It was over a century after Dean Mahomed's ill-fated attempt that another Indian restaurant opened in England. Since then, however, the popularity of Indian cuisine has exploded. Curry has been voted England's national dish and you can buy t-shirts in tourist shops that proclaim "Keep Curry British!".
Dean Mahomed never did open a restaurant in Brighton but you can find many good Indian eateries here these days.
Our favourite was the Curry Leaf Cafe in Brighton Lanes as well as some great takeaway places including Taj, a wonderful Asian grocery store carrying a large variety of fresh cooked biryanis, curries and kababs.
Chicken Tikka Masala is a British favourite that is said to have originated in that country. A popular legend claims it was accidentally created in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow: when a customer sent back a plate of tandoori chicken tikka for being too dry, the crafty chef promptly doused it in a sauce of spiced up creamy tomato soup and a legendary dish was born! While the origin of chicken tikka masala is still hotly debated, we were just happy to eat it on a regular basis during our visit! Try making my recipe, it is so easy and satisfying, you'll never order take out again.
Chicken Tikka Masala
For the marinade:
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
2 tbsp each: lemon juice, oil
Salt to taste
1 tsp each, ground spices, divided: coriander, cumin, garam masala, cayenne pepper, paprika, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), fennel (optional)
For the sauce:
2 tsp oil
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1/2 inch piece ginger, grated or minced
1 can (28 oz or 796 ml) whole plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), pureed in food processor
Salt to taste
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup full fat whipping or heavy cream
2 tbsp each: butter, chopped fresh coriander leaves
Cut chicken into bite sized pieces. Add to a deep mixing bowl, along with the oil, lemon juice, salt and 1/2 tsp of all the ground spices. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 15 min and up to overnight.
Preheat oven to 420F. Line a baking tray with parchment. Spread chicken evenly on tray, spooning on any remaining marinade and bake for 10 min. Chicken will not be fully cooked at this point. Reserve chicken and all its juices.
To make the sauce, warm 2 tbsp oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds. After 30 sec, add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger. Saute for 5 - 7 min until softened and lightly browned.
Add the pureed tomatoes, salt, sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp of all the ground spices. Stir to mix and cook for 5 min until tomatoes are slightly thickened.
Add 1 cup of water, reduce heat to low, cover and cook sauce for 10 min.
Mix in the cream, butter and fresh coriander, cook 1 min. Add the reserved chicken and all of the accumulated juices, mixing well into the sauce. Cover and cook again on low heat for 10 min.
Serve right away.