chicken tikka masala

chicken tikka masala 8

Chicken tikka masala sounds so good in theory. It’s everything I love about Italian food – carbs and meat and tomato sauce mixed together – but it’s Indian food, which I also love. Except, the first time I made it, the similarity was too strong. I felt like I was eating spaghetti sauce with weird spices over rice when it should have been pasta.

chicken tikka masala 3

It took a couple years, but I finally got around to trying a new recipe. Maybe it’s the lemon juice in this recipe that makes all the difference, but there was no spaghetti confusion here. Marinara doesn’t usually have chili spices, ginger, and yogurt either.

chicken tikka masala 5

There’s one thing about this recipe that will seem strange and might make you uncomfortable, and that is that the chicken is not cooked all the way through on the grill. A trip to the grill (or the broiler) is important to really brown, even char, the meat, but then it’s chopped so it can finish cooking in the sauce. This gives it time to soak up some flavor from the sauce without drying out.

chicken tikka masala 6

It may be an unusual technique, but it works, because this is the best chicken tikka masala I’ve ever eaten. Of course, the only other chicken tikka masala I’ve eaten was the spaghetti one, so my basis for comparison is not large. Still, I know good when I taste it, and this is very good.

chicken tikka masala 10

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chicken Tikka Masala (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

6-8 servings

3 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
12 cloves garlic, 8 smashed and 4 minced
3 tablespoons minced or grated fresh ginger, divided
2 cups yogurt
¾ cup fresh juice from 4 to 6 lemons, divided
5 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (breasts, legs, or a mix), skin removed
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 cup heavy cream

1. Heat a small not-nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin, paprika, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne; toast, stirring constantly, until the spices begin to smoke. Immediately remove them from the pan so they don’t burn.

2. Combine 6 tablespoons of the spice mixture, 8 cloves smashed garlic, 2 tablespoons ginger, the yogurt, ½ cup lemon juice, and ¼ cup salt in a large bowl. Score the chicken at 1-inch intervals and immerse in the yogurt mixture; cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 8 hours, turning occasionally.

3. When the chicken has marinated, heat the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Add the onions, 4 cloves minced garlic, and the remaining 2 tablespoons ginger. Cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to brown at the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Puree, either with an immersion blender or in batches with a regular blender. Stir in the cream and the remaining ¼ cup lemon juice. Season with salt if necessary; set aside.

4. Heat a grill to high heat. Grill the chicken without moving until charred, 5-7 minutes. Flip the chicken and char the second side. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and allow to rest for 10 minutes. The chicken should not be cooked through. (The chicken can also be broiled instead of grilled.)

5. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces; transfer it to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately with rice or naan, topping with the remaining cilantro.

chicken tikka masala 9


  1. Looks like I kind of over-did the ‘browning’ of the chicken.

  2. suzanne says:

    have you tried the one from cook’s illustrated? it is one of our family favorites! we top it with chutney (store bought. sorry! haha!) and a cilantro, yogurt, honey, ginger relish that i saw somewhere but can’t find the recipe for the life of me!
    also, i love your blog! it is my favorite cooking blog and it lives at the top of my browser page right after facebook and the national weather service (florida. what can i say.) and before chow and usatoday. thanks!!!

  3. suzanne – Thanks, that’s so nice to hear! I’m trying to get my blogging mojo back. 🙂

    I have never made chutney, so no shame there! I do love it with Indian food though. That relish sounds great too.

    The CI recipe is actually the one I didn’t like all that much. It wasn’t bad at all, it just didn’t quite hit the right notes for me. I even made it again a year or two later, because, as you know if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I have a lot of faith in CI and their recipes. But this one was more in line with what I wanted from a chicken tikka masala recipe.

  4. oh i hate confusing taste recipes like that! i’ve had some soups and pastas that were just…weird. this sounds lovely!

  5. Amanda says:

    I’m huge fan of Indian food as well, and cook it all the time as my bf grew up there (it’s taken YEARS to master). My absolute favorite tikka masala/butter chicken recipe is from Monica Bhide ( I only use a little of the tandoori masala (and you could probably leave it out), but that and the dried fenugreek leaves make it as authentic in taste as you’d find in a U.K. pub–which I’m pretty sure is where it was invented (haa–seriously). I’m happy to mail you those spices should you ever want to try! Love your blog and have enjoyed trying many of your recipes.

  6. suzanne says:

    ok. i just posted your blog on my facebook after reading your comment about your “blogging mojo”. 😉 maybe you can post a pic of my glass shower door on your facebook to help me get my cleaning mojo back! haha! if only it worked that way. sigh.
    i had never had tikka masala before i tried the cook’s illustrated recipe so i didn’t have anything to compare it to. i will have to give this one a shot! especially since you said that the gold standard in my book (as my book only has one page) sucks. 😉
    thanks again for all of the great recipes!

  7. Italian? You mean Indian food?

  8. I’m sorry I didn’t read your whole post hahahaha! Pardon me. Looks like a great recipe!

  9. This sounds so delicious. Thanks for sharing this recipe.