Q: What is the most effort you’ve ever put into making dinner?
A: I’m actually a pretty lazy cook and I go out to eat way more than someone of my income-bracket should — but one time in college I did attempt to cook chicken tikka masala. I spent over an hour trying to buy all the ingredients, which involved trips to two separate grocery stores, since Trader Joe’s didn’t have everything I needed.
Then, because I’d never actually cooked chicken before, I had trouble figuring out what to do. Was I meant to wash it first? To cut it? Eventually, with my laptop on the counter displaying step-by-step instructions, I managed to prepare the chicken and the marinade and put it in the fridge.
I then had to prepare the masala, which was also challenging. The spices came in plastic bags with the labels stapled to the top, but when I opened them and threw out the labels, I had trouble remembering which spice was which, and had to smell them and then google-search what coriander was supposed to smell like and what cumin was supposed to smell like to differentiate them again. I also had difficulty deseeding the jalapeños and once touched my eye with my finger and had to go splash water on my face until the stinging went away.
Finally, I had it all ready, and the spices and garlic and tomato sauce were simmering nicely in the pan — but then I remembered that the chicken had to sit in the fridge for at least another hour. So I turned off the heat and just let the masala mixture sort of sit there, congealing in the pan, and I watched Battlestar Galactica on Netflix while I waited. After a few episodes, I turned the heat back on and put the marinated chicken in. I had to let it all simmer for 10 minutes or so, so I went back to watching Battlestar.Unfortunately, I lost track of time, and a whole episode passed before I realized the chicken was still cooking.
I turned it off and tasted it tentatively. It seemed fine, and not overcooked, though I wasn’t really sure what overcooked chicken tasted like. I then slowly added the cream and watched the masala turn the familiar orange color. It was now past 8:00 and I had gone out to buy the ingredients before 4:00. But there it was, sitting in the pan, a meal I’d actually cooked for myself. I’d forgot to make rice or buy naan but that was OK. I spooned some chicken tikka masala into a bowl and ate it like soup while I sat in front of my laptop and watched another episode.
Aatif Rashid’s story “The World’s Secret Heartbeat” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 2 December 2016. Subscribe to our e-mail updates so you’ll know when new stories go live.