Bring the Excitement of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Home with Sanaa’s Butter Chicken
There are so many exciting things happening at Disney’s Animal Kingdom right now. The park now offers various night experiences that will bring the park to life after dark, including the awakening of the Tree of Life, a Wildlife Parti in Harambe Village, nighttime safaris at Kilimanjaro Safaris, and the Discovery Island Carnivale. Tiffins, the first signature restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Nomad Lounge recently opened, and the after-dark spectacular, “The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic” is now wowing Guests nightly. If I could click my heels three times and close my eyes to make a wish, I’d be standing in the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom right now!
But sadly I cannot. Instead, I will closely follow all the news coming from the park, and to bring a bit of Disney’s Animal Kingdom home, I plan to make Sanaa’s Butter Chicken for dinner this weekend. If I can’t actually experience all the wonders of the park in person, might as well pretend I am there from home. This is a recipe I first shared on my blog last year, so what better time to revisit it than this weekend?
Sanaa itself has long been on my bucket list of places to eat. In college at the University of Notre Dame, I focused on African studies in my junior and senior year and would have had an African Studies minor had Swahili been offered as a language at the school. Everything about this restaurant is mesmerizing to me – from the ability to gaze out onto Sunset Savanna while you enjoy a meal of African and Indian fusion cuisine to the East African spice market-inspired decor, complete with handcrafted African wares. If you want to see the animals, however, it is best to reserve a table for lunch, preferably by the window, to make the most of the experience.
This dish is unbelievably delicious. I think if my husband could have bathed in the sauce he would have. My kids LOVED it, which is a lot to say for my kids. At Sanaa the dish is served with peas, carrots, and rice with shallots and cucumbers. I paired it with basmati rice, broccoli and carrots, as my daughter is allergic to peas. Next time I make this dish I am going to try to replicate Sanaa’s Indian Style Bread Service to serve with it. This is probably one of the more famous appetizers among all restaurants at Walt Disney World Resort, and it would be a nice challenge to try to make naan at home.
First, a disclaimer: This recipe calls for cumin. In 2015 there was a FDA recall of various products containing cumin or cumin powder for possible undeclared peanut protein. While the cumin I can buy at our local grocery is not on this list, because of my children’s peanut allergies I have stopped using cumin for the time being. If you have a peanut allergy, you can review the products on the FDA recall list here. Also, check the ingredients of the garam masala and tikka masala for cumin if this is a concern for you or someone in your family. Given the type of sauces these are, it is possible cumin may be an ingredient.
This dish is incredibly easy to make and I encourage anyone who wants to try an Indian dish at home to give this recipe a try. It is very approachable if you have never tried Indian food, and a good introduction to the spices and flavors in many Indian dishes. I had some boneless chicken breasts on hand so I used chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs – I think you can use either depending on whether you have a particular preference. I did not use the garam masala since I did not find any without cumin, so instead I added a small amount of cloves, cardamom, fennel and nutmeg, as those spices are in garam masala but were not already in the recipe.
If you’re not at Walt Disney World Resort celebrating all that is new at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, do the next best thing and recreate a bit of the cuisine from the park at home!
This recipe is from Kitchen Magic with Mickey by Pam Brandon and the Disney Chefs.
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
½ yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 cup of water
3 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2/3 cup tikka masala
3 tablespoon red chili paste
1 tomato, diced
1 tablespoon canola oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon finely ground cilantro
¾ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3-4 cups cooked basmati rice, for serving
Remove fat from chicken and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic, stirring frequently, 2-3 minutes, or until garlic is soft. Stir in water. Add garam masala, paprika, coriander, cumin, chile powder, and cayenne. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomato paste, tikka masala, red chili paste, and tomato. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sear it on all sides, continue to cook until meat is cooked through. Remove from heat, drain juices, and season with salt and pepper.
Add chicken to sauce over medium heat. Stir in cilantro and cream, then remaining butter (cut into cubes). Stir in lemon juice.
Serve warm over basmati rice.
NOTE: Garam masala is a blend of dry-roasted, ground spices from Northern India. There are many variations, and it can include black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, cardamom, dried chili peppers, fennel, mace, nutmeg, and other spices. Store in a cool, dry place no longer than 6 months.