Not truly Indian, but rich and tempting all the same, chicken tikka masala is infused with familiar Indian spices and has a sauce that makes anything taste good (if you go vegetarian or vegan).
Chicken Tikka Masala

Indianish

Chicken tikka masala is one of my favorite curries. Yes, I know that it is supposed to have been created somewhere in the British Isles, where no one seems to know. It is more flavorful than that other great favorite, butter chicken (murgh makhani). Chicken tikka masala is a delicious, mild, curry of marinated bite-sized pieces of chicken, traditionally cooked in the incendiary heat of a tandoori oven. The flavorful sauce is made from tomatoes, caramelized onions, ginger, garlic, and spices.

Tikka vs. Butter

Here is what I know: both butter chicken and chicken tikka masala are irresistible. They both can be made ahead, and even frozen and defrosted as the need arises. They also have a huge overlap in ingredients. In general, chicken tikka masala is made with more spices and is not quite as rich. It gets its creaminess from ground cashews and yogurt rather than cream and butter. My recipe has a little of all three. Plus, there are exceptions to these differences seemingly in every cookbook. So don’t fret.

Cooking Chicken Tikka Masala

This ingredient list may look daunting but you won’t have to hunt for any hard to find ingredients. It just becomes a small matter of measuring out your spices. I wish I could tell you that this can be a weeknight meal, start to finish. But it is so much better if the meat spends one night in a spiced yogurt bath. But, if you perform the quick marination prep on Night One, and then do the final cook on Night Two, we can still call it “weeknight cooking” after all, and have a glorious curry (masala) at the end.

Make a Double Recipe!

Do make a double recipe that will feed eight people. So if you aren’t feeding that many, you get to put half in the freezer and pull it out as a centerpiece for another meal. Serve with some rice and your favorite vegetable to round out the offering.

I love Samin Nosrat, author of the book “Salt, Fat, Acid Heat,” her Netflix special, and her cooking. The New York Times published her turkey tikka masala to use up leftover holiday turkey. It is interesting that even though she is using cooked meat, she still marinates it for 4 hours, or overnight.

Happy Cooking!

~ Alonna

 

See the notes below before you cook.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

Not truly Indian, but rich and tempting all the same, chicken tikka masala is infused with familiar Indian spices and has a sauce that makes anything taste good (if you go vegetarian or vegan).
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Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indianish
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Marinade 4 to 24 hours: 4 hours
Total Time: 5 hours 5 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients

Marinade

  • 1.5 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs ~ Cut into quarters; see Notes below for substitutes
  • 1/2 cup full-fat plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste ~ Make, buy or substitute
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala ~ Make or buy
  • 1 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Substitutions
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika ~ Or 1 teaspoon of regular paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or other substitutions
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Curry Sauce (Masala)

  • 2 tablespoons ghee or oil ~ Make or buy ghee
  • 1 1/2 cups onions ~ Finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Substitutions
  • 1 small green chili ~ Minced finely (about 1/2 teaspoon); substitutions
  • 3 tablespoons ginger garlic paste ~ Make or buy
  • 1 tablespoon paprika ~ Not smoked
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala ~ Make or buy
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Substitutions
  • 1 14.5 ounce can tomato puree ~ Substitutions
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) ~ Optional
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream ~ Or 12 cashews blended with water into a paste
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar ~ Or to taste, optional
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pinch garam masala ~ Optional

Instructions

Marinade

  • Gather all your ingredients.
    Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Combine all ingredients for the marinade EXCEPT the chicken in a bowl and mix well. Add the chicken and coat thoroughly.
    Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Cover the bowl and marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

Curry Sauce (Masala)

  • Gather all your masala ingredients.
    Chicken Tikka Masala
  • In a large dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat add ghee, onions, and salt. Cook until the onions have gone from translucent to light golden; this will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Add a tablespoon or two of water, if the onions are sticking to the bottom of the pan.
    Chicken Tikka Masala
  • If using your oven to cook the chicken preheat your grill, or your oven broiler to high with a rack placed 6 inches below the elements, or turn your oven on to 450°F (230°C). Prepare a baking sheet by covering it with aluminum foil, and brush generously with oil.
  • Add the green chili, if using, and cook another minute. Stir in the ginger garlic paste, cook stirring constantly until the paste no longer smells raw. This will take 2 to 4 minutes.
  • Reduce the heat to medium. Add the paprika, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the curry sauce spices, and cook a further 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
    Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Stir in the tomato puree bring to a simmer, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. You are looking for the sauce to thicken and turn a darker shade of red-brown.
    Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Meanwhile, start browning the chicken. Even bits of char is good, but there is no need to cook it through; it will be simmered in the sauce before serving. Cooking the chicken can be done on a grill, under a broiler 6 inches away from the elements, in the oven at 450°F (230°C), or in a large frying pan. If cooking on the stovetop, add 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat and sauté in 2 batches so as not to crowd the pan, and brown the chicken well on both sides.
    Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Back to the masala: if using kasoori methi, crush between your fingers and stir in. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 more minutes.
  • If you want a silky smooth sauce, blend with a stick of regular butter, until smooth. (See Note 3)
  • If you used a blender, return sauce to pan. Add the cream or ground cashews, sugar, and butter. Stir to melt the butter.
    Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Add the chicken and yogurt. Simmer for a few minutes until the chicken is cooked through. If you have time, turn the heat to low, and allow spices to mix and mingle for 10 minutes or so. If the sauce is too thick at this point for your taste, add 1 to 4 tablespoons of water.
  • Optional: Sprinkle with a pinch of extra garam masala at the end.
  • Taste for final seasonings and serve over rice, sprinkled with coriander/cilantro if desired. Try this homemade naan to go with your masterpiece!
    Chicken Tikka Masala

Notes

  • I strongly advise that you use chicken thighs here; they are much less likely to dry out.
  • Shortcuts: marinate the chicken for 4 hours rather than overnight. You can also skip the browning step on the grill, broiler or stovetop, and cook the chicken in the sauce. AND if you are really short of time, use a rotisserie chicken or even leftover turkey, marinate as written if you have the time, and proceed with the recipe.
  • If you prefer a smooth, more finished sauce, feel free to blend it before adding the chicken. Since I am inherently lazy, I chop the onions very finely and use tomato puree. Both of these choices make for a smooth enough sauce for my taste.
  • As usual, add both more fresh chilis and ground chili to your taste. I am often cooking this masala for guests and want to be careful about the heat level.
  • Certainly, salt to your taste, but I find heavily spiced curries tend to need a healthy amount of salt.
  • Feel free to swap out the cream for coconut milk, if you need to make a dairy-free chicken tikka masala. And coconut yogurt can used instead of cow's milk yogurt.