Chicken Tikka Masala

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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 rice and naan
Table of Contents
  1. Masala spices
  2. Add some heat
  3. Chicken selection
  4. Marinating the chicken
  5. Cooking the chicken
  6. To make the masala sauce
  7. Simmer the chicken
  8. Cream enhances the sauce
  9. Serve this with
  10. Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe

Chicken tikka masala is always my go-to choice when ordering Indian food. Thankfully, after some recipe testing, the dish is pretty 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 dish. As the meat simmers in the rich tomato sauce, the proteins soften, 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.

several spices in a bowl

Masala spices

There’s a variety of bold spices in the marinade and sauce for flavor and color. Garam masala is the base. It’s a blend of cinnamon, coriander seeds, mace, peppercorns, cumin seeds, and cardamom pods that are toasted to free their aromatics flavor compounds. 

Most grocery stores sell the ground blend as a convenient option, which I use in the recipe. However, freshly ground spices always have the best taste. For the marinade, I add turmeric, coriander, and cumin for earthy notes. I also add some extra cardamom to the sauce to enhance the sweetness.

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Add some heat

To add lingering heat to the curry that’s not overpowering, I use a combination of cayenne pepper powder (about 35,000 Scoville heat units) and chili powder that is tamer, made from a blend of red chili peppers and some added seasonings like salt.

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.

Chicken selection

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. 

If desired, you can substitute chicken breast, which is a leaner cut. However, simmer in the sauce just until the meat cooks through, or it will become very dry, about 5 minutes.

Marinating the chicken

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 for increased flavor. Marinating the chicken in a slightly acidic mixture breaks down the tough muscle fibers in the dark meat, yielding more tender bites. 

Instead of using a harsh acid like lemon juice, plain whole milk yogurt gently softens the proteins. This type of yogurt is very thick so that the marinade better clings to the meat. Add kosher salt to further season, allow the pieces to sit for at least 30 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

cooking chicken in a large pot

Cooking 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.

To make the masala sauce

For layers of flavor and dimension, first saute chopped onions, ginger, and garlic in butter and oil. These aromatic ingredients add a hint of sweetness and spice. To extract the fat-soluble flavors and compounds in the 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 an absolutely delicious curry.

Tomato paste helps to thicken the sauce, and for a smooth consistency, I use tomato puree. It has a bright fruit taste, and the flesh has already been processed. Tomato sauce is a good substitute. However, know that some products contain extra seasoning. 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.

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.

Cream enhances the sauce

Add heavy whipping cream at the very end of cooking. It’s high in fat (at least 36%) and is less prone to curdling. However, I still don’t heat it for more than a few minutes. It adds richness and a velvety texture to the sauce. I also add in more chicken stock, adjusting the amount as needed until it clings to the meat without being too clumpy.

Serve this with

spoon stirring a large pot of chicken tikka masala

Yogurt is a more gentle 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. 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 the next day.

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Chicken Tikka Masala

Why order Indian takeout when chicken tikka masala is easy to make at home! A flavorful dish best served with rice and naan.
Pin Print Review
4.75 from 16 votes
Prep Time45 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Total Time1 hr 20 mins
Servings 6 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine Indian

Ingredients

Marinade

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed, cut into 1 ½-inch 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-inch 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

Instructions 

Marinade

  • 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.

Chicken Tikka Masala

  • 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.
  • To make the sauce, clean the skillet or use a separate large skillet or dutch oven. Heat the pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and butter. Once melted, add the onions. Stir and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, fenugreek leaves, salt, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, and cardamom. Cook until fragrant, 30 seconds.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato puree, 1 cup chicken stock, and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low, occasionally stirring, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the chicken to the pan, stir to coat. Simmer uncovered, occasionally stirring to thoroughly cook the meat and thicken the sauce, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in the cream, 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.
  • Garnish the chicken with cilantro leaves and serve with basmati rice.

Notes

  • 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.
  • Storing: Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

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Nutrition Facts
Chicken Tikka Masala
Amount Per Serving
Calories 433 Calories from Fat 234
% Daily Value*
Fat 26g40%
Saturated Fat 14g70%
Trans Fat 1g
Cholesterol 193mg64%
Sodium 1074mg45%
Potassium 972mg28%
Carbohydrates 18g6%
Fiber 3g12%
Sugar 9g10%
Protein 34g68%
Vitamin A 1563IU31%
Vitamin C 13mg16%
Calcium 108mg11%
Iron 4mg22%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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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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2 Comments Leave a comment or review

  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.

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