Chicken Tikka Masala

4.92 from 24 votes
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This chicken tikka masala recipe delivers a burst of bold spices. The meat marinates in a spiced yogurt sauce, then sears and simmers in a creamy tomato curry. I love to serve this with basmati rice and naan for a complete meal.

Chicken tikka masala served with steamed white rice and garlic naan.

Recipe Science

  • Cut the meat into large chunks before marinating to increase surface area for quicker tenderization and enhanced flavor.
  • Marinate chicken in a slightly acidic yogurt spice mixture to break down tough muscle fibers for tender bites for at least 30 minutes.
  • To intensify curry flavors, briefly cook dried spices, fenugreek, and chilies in hot oil. This blooming process enhances taste and heat.

Why It Works

Chicken tikka masala is one of my favorite dishes to order at an Indian restaurant. Thankfully, after some recipe testing, the dish is easy to make at home. The key is to marinate the chicken for incredibly tender pieces. I use various robust spices, but cooking them in oil elevates their taste further.

Briefly searing the chicken adds a lightly charred taste and provides depth to the Indian dish. As the meat simmers in the rich tomato sauce, the proteins soften, and flavors meld together. The vibrant curry sauce coats each piece, and there’s plenty left over to soak up with steamed rice and homemade naan bread.

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Chicken: Boneless, skinless chicken thighs contain just enough fat to keep the meat moist and flavorful during the cooking process. Make sure to trim off any excess fat so that the dish doesn’t get too greasy. Cut them into larger pieces, about 1 ½-inches. This size makes it easier to sear and factors in shrinkage during cooking. 
  • Marinade: A mixture of plain yogurt, minced garlic, ginger, paprika, cayenne, cumin, coriander, garam masala, salt, and turmeric.
  • Masala Sauce: A rich blend of heavy whipping cream, tomato paste and puree, chicken stock, sugar, oil, butter, sauteed onions, garlic, ginger and spices like garam masala, fenugreek leaves, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, and cardamom.

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

This easy chicken tikka masala recipe can be customized to your liking! Try these delicious options:

  • Using White Meat: If desired, you can substitute boneless skinless chicken breasts, which is a leaner cut. However, simmer in the sauce just until the meat cooks through, or it will become very dry for about 5 minutes.
  • Spices: Most grocery stores sell the ground blend of garam masala as a convenient option, which I use in the recipe. However, freshly ground spices always have the best and most intense flavor and aroma.
  • Making it Spicy: Traditionally, Kashmiri chili powder is used for its mild heat and bright red color. It’s not always easy to find, so I add some additional paprika for an intense reddish-orange hue. For a hotter kick, add more cayenne, chipotle, fresh hot peppers, or Sriracha.
  • Tomato Swap: Tomato sauce is a good substitute for puree. However, know that some products contain extra seasoning.
  • Make it Dairy-Free: Use canned full-fat coconut milk instead of heavy cream. Use margarine or coconut oil instead of butter.
  • Fenugreek Substitutes: Try adding chopped mustard greens, Chinese celery leaves, dijon mustard, fennel seeds, curry powder, or mustard seeds. Add a small amount and increase to taste. The ingredient can be omitted but will lack the bitter, sweet, and herbaceous note.

How to Make Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken, spices, and yogurt in a bowl.

Step 1: Marinate the Chicken 

The marinade features bold Indian spices for flavor and color. The base is garam masala, a blend of cinnamon, coriander, mace, peppercorns, cumin, and cardamom to enhance the sweetness. Turmeric, coriander, and paprika add earthy notes to the marinade.

Chicken thighs marinating in a bowl.

Marinating the chicken in a slightly acidic yogurt spice mixture breaks down the tough muscle fibers in the dark meat, yielding more tender bites. Allow the pieces to sit for at least 30 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Pro Tip: Often, whole pieces of meat are marinated, usually for several hours or overnight, for proper tenderization. To speed up the process, I cut them into large chunks. This technique allows more exposure to the marinade on all sides, which increases flavor.

Ingredient Chemistry: Instead of using a harsh acid like lemon juice, plain whole milk yogurt gently softens the proteins. This type of yogurt is thick, so the marinade better clings to the meat.

Cooking chunks of chicken thighs in a large pot.

Step 2: Cook the Chicken 

Sear the marinated chicken pieces in a hot skillet before simmering. This process will lightly brown the surface for more contrast in flavor and texture. Make sure to reserve the cooked marinade and add it to the curry, as there’s tons of flavor left in the pan after searing.

Step 3: Saute the Onions 

To develop a flavorful tikka masala curry sauce, first, saute the chopped onions in butter and oil for layers of flavor and dimension. Cooking enhances the alliums’ natural sweetness.

Diced onions and spices cooking in oil.

Step 4: Bloom the Spices

To extract the fat-soluble flavors and compounds in ginger, garlic, ground spices, dried fenugreek, and chilies, briefly cook them in hot oil. This process is called blooming, and it helps to intensify the taste and heat, making for a delicious curry.

Tomato puree and sugar in a large pan.

Step 5: Make the Sauce

Tomato paste helps to thicken the sauce. I also use tomato puree; it has a bright fruit taste, and the flesh has already been processed.

Pouring a measuring cup of chicken stock into the pan with tomato paste.

Chicken stock thins the sauce to a pourable consistency while not diluting the flavor. A little bit of sugar balances the savory and spicy notes.

Chicken thighs in a large pan.

Step 6: Simmer the Chicken

Add the seared chicken and marinade to the masala sauce to simmer. This process will further cook the meat and soften any tough connective tissues. The sauce further reduces, concentrating the tomato flavor and extracting the water-soluble flavors from the spices into the curry.

Pouring heavy whipping cream into the pan of chicken and sauce.

Step 7: Add the Cream 

Add heavy whipping cream at the very end of cooking. It’s high in fat (at least 36%) and is less prone to curdling.

Spoon serving chicken tikka masala from a large pan.

The cream adds richness and a velvety texture to the sauce. I also add more chicken stock, adjusting the amount as needed until it clings to the meat without being too clumpy.

Spoon stirring a large pot of chicken tikka masala.

Step 8: Ready to Serve

Right before serving, garnish with fresh cilantro. I always pair this delicious Indian food with white rice and naan bread. They are perfect for soaking up the incredible creamy sauce!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is chicken tikka masala?

Chicken tikka masala features a creamy tomato-based curry sauce. The richness comes from using heavy cream, yogurt, or cashews. It’s blended with traditional Indian spices like garam masala, ginger, turmeric, chili powder, coriander, cardamom, cumin, and dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi). This combination creates its signature red-orange hue and delivers an earthy taste and slightly sweet flavor.

Why do you add yogurt to the chicken marinade?

Acids help to weaken the surface proteins of meat, making the texture softer and tender. However, strong acids like lemon juice can make it mushy. Plain, unstrained, or Greek Yogurt is often used in Indian cuisine for flavor but also to tenderize. The natural organic and lactic acids created by the living cultures of bacteria when fermenting the dairy product can more gently marinate the meat. This is good news if you want to prep the chicken in advance to cook it the next day.

What is the difference between butter chicken and tikka masala?

Butter chicken (murgh makhani) features a creamy, buttery tomato sauce with a mild, slightly sweet flavor, while chicken tikka masala has a spicier, tomato-based sauce with a blend of traditional Indian spices like garam masala and cumin. Both dishes are creamy, but tikka masala’s sauce is thicker and more robust.

Is chicken tikka masala healthy?

Chicken tikka masala can be a healthy option with the right ingredient choices. It’s a great source of protein, but the creamy sauce can be calorie-dense due to heavy cream. To lighten it up, use half and half or light coconut milk and lean chicken breasts. Added vegetables like peas, spinach, kale, or carrots can increase the fiber in the dish.

Serve This With

If you tried this Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below!

Chicken Tikka Masala

I love making chicken tikka masala because of its incredible combination of tender, marinated chicken in a rich and creamy tomato sauce with fragrant Indian spices.
4.92 from 24 votes
Prep Time45 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time1 hour 20 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine Indian



  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed, cut into 1 ½" pieces
  • ¾ cup plain whole fat yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoon paprika, sweet or smoked
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric

Chicken Tikka Masala

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter or ghee
  • 1 cup diced white onion, ¼" dice
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves, kasuri methi
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom, optional
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 ½ cups tomato puree, or sauce
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken stock, plus more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped


  • Marinate the Chicken – In a medium bowl, combine yogurt, garlic, ginger, paprika, cayenne, cumin, coriander, garam masala, salt, and turmeric. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
  • Cook the Chicken – Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil. Once hot, add the chicken in a single layer and cook until lightly seared, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer chicken and any marinade left in the pan to a bowl.
  • Saute the Onions – Clean the skillet or use a separate large skillet or Dutch oven. Heat the pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and butter. Once melted, add the onions. Stir and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes.
  • Bloom the Spices – Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, fenugreek leaves, salt, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, and cardamom. Cook until fragrant, 30 seconds.
  • Make the Sauce – Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato puree, 1 cup of chicken stock, and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low, occasionally stirring for about 10 minutes.
  • Simmer the Chicken – Add the chicken to the pan, and stir to coat. Simmer uncovered, occasionally stirring to thoroughly cook the meat and thicken the sauce, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the Cream – Stir in the cream, and simmer until the sauce is hot, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For a thinner consistency, gradually add more chicken stock, a ¼ cup at a time.
  • To Serve – Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with basmati rice.

Recipe Video

YouTube video


  • Using Chicken Breast: Once added to the pan to simmer in the sauce, only cook until the chicken is warm and reaches 165ºF (74ºC), about 5 minutes. The chicken is very lean and can dry out if cooked too long.
  • Make it Dairy-Free: Use canned full-fat coconut milk for cream. Use margarine or coconut oil instead of butter.
  • Storing: Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 6 servings
Calories 433kcal (22%)Carbohydrates 18g (6%)Protein 34g (68%)Fat 26g (40%)Saturated Fat 14g (70%)Trans Fat 1gCholesterol 193mg (64%)Sodium 1074mg (45%)Potassium 972mg (28%)Fiber 3g (12%)Sugar 9g (10%)Vitamin A 1563IU (31%)Vitamin C 13mg (16%)Calcium 108mg (11%)Iron 4mg (22%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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4.92 from 24 votes (22 ratings without comment)

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6 Comments Leave a comment or review

    • Jessica Gavin says

      You can definitely use a non-dairy yogurt. The type will impact the flavor, however, there are a lot of spices so the taste won’t be significantly different compared to dairy yogurt.

  1. Mairead says

    Chicken Tikka Masala is one of my favorite meals. Your sauce and spice blend look wonderful. Thank you for a great recipe.