Chicken tikka masala is all about succulent grilled chicken in a creamy, spicy tomato sauce. You can easily make this ever-popular Indian dish at home with restaurant quality.
What Is Chicken Tikka Masala?
The easiest way to describe chicken tikka masala is that it’s pre-marinated grilled chicken pieces cooked in spicy yogurt masala sauce.
Any Indian foodie would know what this chicken dish is about. As it’s growing popular globally, you can find it on the menu in almost any Indian restaurant.
When trying it, it’s easy to see why people love this dish. You can taste the complex process of cooking this chicken from the flavor of every chicken bite.
The dish combines two essential cooking elements in Indian cuisine: the chicken tikka and the masala.
Chicken tikka is grilled chicken that has been pre-marinated in spices and cream. The masala refers to the spices and tomato base sauce. The masala occasionally uses yogurt in addition, like this chicken tikka masala recipe.
Where Is Chicken Tikka Masala From?
No clear evidence can track the origin of chicken tikka masala. However, it seems that Indian restauranteurs in Britain likely developed this famous chicken curry back in the 1960s.
Legend has it that this dish was created when the British found the chicken tikka pieces were too dry to enjoy with naan bread. Hence, the chef quickly made creamy masala sauce and put the chicken pieces in.
The dish was a creative response to a customer’s complaint about the chicken tikka. Although the authentic chicken tikka was served with naan bread, it was not palatable for everybody that masala sauce had to exist.
The dish has grown in popularity and become a favorite Indian restaurant menu you can find in almost any Indian restaurant and beyond.
Chicken Tikka Masala vs. Butter Chicken
According to Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible, chicken tikka masala is very much like the Indian tandoori chicken in butter tomato sauce, which is now better known as butter chicken.
Both consist of pre-grilled chicken that is then cooked in masala sauce.
However, we can point out some differences between them:
- Chicken tikka masala uses boneless chicken; the marinated poultry is usually skewered before cooking it on a grill.
- The tikka’s tomato-based sauce uses plain yogurt to add creaminess.
- For butter chicken, you can use bone-in or boneless chicken. Like any tandoor grilled meat, the butter chicken marinade uses Kashmiri red chili powder to add a vibrant red color to the chicken.
- Butter chicken’s masala sauce also has chopped tomatoes as a base. It also has cashew nuts and heavy cream.
- When it comes to spices, these chicken dishes use the same Indian spices. But butter chicken is more complex as it uses a greater variety of spices and herbs, i.e., fenugreek leaves (methi), cardamom pods, etc.
Why You Should Make Chicken Tikka Masala at Home
- Culinary Adventure: Making chicken tikka masala at home gives you a culinary experience of Indian cooking by experimenting with spices mix, marination, and cooking techniques. So you’ll understand the importance of every step of the cooking process.
- Customized Flavor: You have complete control over every ingredient and adjust the spiciness, creaminess, and saltiness levels. You can ensure total personal preference for the result.
- Quality Ingredients: The quality of every element used will be according to your liking. You can choose organic chicken and tomatoes, freshly ground spices, and quality herbs. With all these carefully selected ingredients, you can create a superior dish in taste and nutrition compared to some restaurants’ versions.
- Cost Effective: Cooking at home is considerably cheaper than dining out. Especially when you want to make restaurant-style dishes. You can cook in larger portions and save the leftovers for later use, which makes it more budget-friendly.
- Portion Control: Homecooked food gives you control of portion sizes. Even if you cook in bulk, you adjust the amount you eat and leave the rest for later use. This way, you can reduce food waste and promote mindful eating.
- Quality Time With Loved Ones: Cooking and eating together with family and friends brings a sense of togetherness and a way of bonding with them.
- Allergen Awareness: Making this chicken tikka masala at home will give you the advantage of knowing exactly what you put in your food. You will be rest assured that the dish will be safe from any allergens.
- Impress Guests: If you like hosting dinner gatherings, you can impress your guests with this homemade delicious chicken tikka masala and showcase your culinary skills.
- Sense of Achievement: Creating a delicious and authentic dish from scratch will give you a sense of achievement when it turns out well.
How To Make Chicken Tikka Masala
Prepare The Chicken Tikka
To make four servings, cut two boneless chicken breasts or three boneless chicken thighs into 1-inch pieces and place them in a mixing bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and three tablespoons of lemon juice to the chicken pieces. Use a fork to prick the poultry and rub the seasonings. Leave it to marinate for at least 20 minutes.
Then add to the chicken one tablespoon of minced ginger, one tablespoon of garlic pulp, one teaspoon of ground cumin, one teaspoon of paprika powder, ½ -1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, ⅓ cup of heavy cream, and ½ teaspoon of garam masala. Stir well until all chicken pieces are covered with the spices mixture. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 6 hours or longer.
When it’s time to cook the chicken, preheat the grill. Put the meat on the skewers, brush with oil, and arrange the skewers on a shallow baking tray. Place the tray approximately 5 inches from the grill heat and cook for about 6 minutes on each side until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and lightly charred.
You can also grill this tikka in an oven, air fryer, or instant pot.
Make Masala Sauce
Heat 4 tablespoons of cooking oil on a lidded large pan at medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, put slices of 1 brown onion, and fry until golden brown. Add one tablespoon of grated ginger and two tablespoons of garlic pulp. Stir and fry for about a minute until they release aroma.
Add one tablespoon of coriander powder, ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric, ¾ teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and two teaspoons of paprika powder.
Stir fry for about 15 seconds before adding one tablespoon of plain yogurt. Stir fry again until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process three times by adding one tablespoon of yogurt at a time.
Chop two medium tomatoes and put them into the spices mixture. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the tomatoes turn soft and pulpy. Try mashing them with the back of a wooden spoon.
Then add 1 ⅓ cup of chicken stock and ¼ teaspoon of salt to the mixture. Continue cooking at low heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the sauce is thick. Stir in ¼ teaspoon of garam masala and check the flavors. Add more salt if needed.
Combine The Two
When chicken tikkas are cooked, reheat the sauce, stir in the chicken, and let it simmer for a minute or two. Serve immediately, and garnish with chopped cilantro/ coriander leaves at serving.
Pro Tips To Make This Recipe
- Fresh Ingredients: Make sure you choose fresh, high-quality produce for every ingredient.
- Marinating Time: Marinate the chicken pieces for at least a few hours, ideally overnight. This allows the spices to penetrate inside the meat, developing full flavor and making the meat tender.
- Cooking Time: Take care in grilling the chicken. Ensure the poultry is cooked through and still succulent. The key is to cook the meat within the right amount of time. To cook 1-inch cubes of chicken pieces on skewers, take approximately 12 minutes. You can cook 1-2 minutes longer at max. Otherwise, the chicken will go hard. As for the masala sauce, make sure it is simmered until it reduces and turns thick.
- Layering Flavors: When adding the chicken pieces to the sauce, let them simmer to allow the spice flavors to develop in the meat.
What To Serve It With
This velvety chicken tikka masala is best served with Indian flatbread, such as naan bread or chapati. It is also delicious to enjoy with plain white Basmati rice.
If you throw a dinner party and want an Indian food spread for your guests, pair this chicken tikka masala with lamb karahi, aloo palak, chicken biryani, and naan bread. Don’t forget to serve yogurt raita and some chutney to accompany your menu.
What To Do With The Leftovers
If you cook this chicken curry in large portions, refrigerate any leftovers as they keep well in the refrigerator for up to a week. The dish also freezes well for up to 6 weeks.
To Thaw and Reheat
Fully thaw the dish before reheating it until it is piping hot. Once the food has thawed, you must not refreeze it and must consume it within three days.
Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe
- A kitchen knife
- Chopping board
- mixing bowl
- Baking tray
- Cooking pot, deep frying pan, or karahi
For the Chicken Tikka
- 2 boneless chicken breasts or 3 boneless chicken thighs cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika powder
- ½-1 Red Kashmiri red chili powder or cayenne pepper
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
For the Masala
- 4 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 medium brown onion finely sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon coriander powder
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ¾ teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika powder
- 2 medium tomatoes chopped
- 12 fluid ounces chicken broth
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- A handful of chopped fresh cilantro
For the Chicken Tikka
- Place the prepared chicken pieces in a mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice and salt and rub them well. Use a skewer or a fork to pierce the meat as you mix the seasoning. Set it aside for about 20 minutes.
- Add minced ginger, garlic, ground cumin, paprika powder, chili powder, heavy cream and garam masala. Mix well until all the chicken pieces are covered with spices and cream. Cover the bowl and leave it in the refrigerator for at least six hours. The longer, the better for the spices to develop in the meat.
- When ready to cook, put the meat on skewers and place them on a baking tray. Cook the chicken tikka in a grilled oven, ordinary oven, air fryer, or instant pot at 350°F/ 180°C. It takes approximately 12-15 minutes to grill the chicken, or it is cooked through and lightly browned.
For the Masala
- Heat the oil on a lidded pan at medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, fry the onion slices until golden brown.
- Add the ginger and garlic. Stir-fry for about a minute until they release aroma.
- Add coriander, turmeric, chili, and paprika powder. Stir fry for about 15 seconds before adding one tablespoon of plain yogurt.
- Keep frying until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process of adding one tablespoon of yogurt until all yogurt is finished.
- Chop two medium tomatoes and put them into the spices mixture. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the tomatoes turn soft and pulpy. Try mashing them with the back of a wooden spoon.
- Then, add the chicken stock and salt to the mixture. Continue cooking at low heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce is thick.
- Lastly, stir in the garam masala and check the flavors. Add more salt if needed.
- Single cream can be used to replace heavy cream.
- Kashmiri red chili powder gives a more vibrant color to the dish and has more flavor in its spiciness. You can substitute it with cayenne pepper powder if you don’t have it.
- If you like, you can omit the chicken stock and just use water to replace it. You may want to increase the salt if your chicken stock is unsalted. Do a taste check to ensure the saltiness is according to your liking.
*Nutritional information is a calculated guesstimate. Please note that this can change with different brands and modifications you may make to the recipe. For the most accurate information, use a nutritional calculator with the exact brands and measurements you’re using with each recipe.
Devy Dar is the founder and creator of So Yummy Recipes, a website where she shares traditional and non-traditional recipes from South Asia, the Far East, and beyond. An Indonesian native living in the UK and married to a Kashmiri-Pakistani, Devy has a BA degree in Japanese studies and language for which she studied and lived in Japan. Her encounter with various cultures and cuisines has encouraged her to help others recreate recipes from those cultures in a practical way with daily ingredients. Her works have been featured in Reader’s Digest, Al Jazeera, MSN, Yahoo, Bon Appetit, and more.