Chicken Tikka Masala

{I do apologize that the first photo in this post is of raw chicken. I hope you’re not squeamish.}

I grew up in a place where the most exotic thing we ate was Chinese food.  There weren’t many options for international cuisine (although that’s definitely changed in the last few years), and my family just didn’t eat food like that.  I didn’t have sushi, Thai, or Indian food till I moved to North Carolina, but I will say that they are now among my favorite things to eat.

I made my first foray into cooking Indian food with a butter chicken recipe I found via The Pioneer Woman (I do have doubts about its authenticity as actual butter chicken, but I really don’t care – it is delicious).  It was easier than I thought Indian food would be, so it encouraged me to try homemade naan, from a Tasty Kitchen recipe.  This was also easy and super delicious.  The next inspiration came from watching Aarti Party on The Food Network – chicken tikka masala.  So, I invited my friend Shawn over for dinner, and we made chicken tikka masala and naan!

It starts with boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  You poke them all over with a fork, to let the marinade really soak in.  Strangely, I had a lot of fun doing this part.  There’s something very satisfying about it.  After you’ve prepped the chicken, you cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and make the marinade.  You’ll want to do this a little ahead of time, or the night before.

The marinade is simple: yogurt, salt, pepper, and a delicious garlic/ginger paste.  Whisk it together and let the chicken marinate.  I let mine go for a few hours in the fridge, but you can do this anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight.

When you’re ready, gather your ingredients.  The original recipe called for serrano peppers and fresh tomatoes, but I used a mixture of canned tomatoes with jalepenos and fresh tomatoes.  I also added onion to the original recipe.  Prep your ingredients – chop the onion and tomato (if using).

Then you saute olive oil, butter, the garlic-ginger paste, onion, and tomato paste for a few minutes.  It darkens and smells very, very good.  After you add the garam masala and paprika, it starts to smell very, very, very good.

Then you add the tomatoes and let it simmer.  Just a note…I used two cans of tomatoes with chiles, plus about half of a large tomato (1 cup), and it was very spicy for me.  In the future, I’d use one can of tomatoes with chiles, and one without.  I also had a lot of extra sauce, so you could make do with fewer tomatoes, or add more chicken.  The recipe below includes more chicken.

While the tomato mixture is simmering, cook the chicken.  You’re supposed to grill it, but since I don’t have a grill or grill pan, we cooked it in a pan, and it worked out just as well.  You can see my friend Shawn helping out (she also took some of the photos – it was nice to have a helper in the kitchen!).  I would actually cook the chicken first, before you start cooking the sauce, so you have those 2o minutes to make naan, do some dishes, etc.  I’ve noted this in the directions below.  Depending on what kind of rice you’re making, you’ll also want to start that at this time.  Once the sauce has simmered, you also puree the tomato mixture – I used an immersion blender, but left it a little bit chunky.

After you’ve cooked the chicken for a few minutes per side, you stir it into the sauce, and let it simmer again for awhile (this also helps make sure the chicken is cooked through).

Then you stir in heavy cream.  Yum.  Really, this step needs no more explanation.  Except that it makes the sauce deliciously rich and amazing.

Garnish with cilantro and serve over rice.  Naan is highly recommended but not necessary to enjoy this dish.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Adapted from Food Network
Servings: 4 to 6

1 cup plain yogurt, whisked until smooth
3 tablespoons Ginger-Garlic Paste, recipe here (or 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger and 3 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1.5-2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, poked with a fork, and cut into large bite-sized chunks

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion
1/3 cup Ginger-Garlic Paste, recipe here (or 6 cloves garlic and 2-inch thumb ginger minced)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 teaspoons paprika
3 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes, 1 with and 2 without jalepenos, or as desired (or 8 Roma tomatoes+2 serrano peppers)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 to 2 cups water
1/2 cup heavy cream
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Cooked rice, naan, or crusty piece of bread, for serving


  1. Make the marinade: In a large bowl, mix the yogurt, ginger/garlic paste, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken to marinade and toss to coat. Marinate anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight. If marinating for more than 30 minutes, place in fridge.
  2. Cook chicken; ideally this would be over a grill (about 2 minutes per side until charred).  However, if you don’t have a grill, you can just cook it in a hot pan.  Shake off as much marinade as you can, and cook for about 2 minutes per side.  Set aside.  If the chicken isn’t completely cooked through, it will finish cooking in the sauce.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.
  4. While skillet is heating, chop onion and fresh tomatoes and serrano peppers, if using.
  5. Add butter and oil to skillet.  When butter is melted, add the ginger/garlic paste (and serrano peppers if using).  Saute for a few minutes.
  6. Add the tomato paste and cook until darkened in color, about 3 minutes.
  7. Add the garam masala and paprika and saute for about 1 minute.
  8. Add the tomatoes, salt, and 1 cup water to pan.
  9. Bring the sauce to a boil, and then turn heat down to let the mixture simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes.  If the sauce seems too thick, you can add more water.
  10. After the sauce has thickened, blend with an immersion blender, or pour into a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
  11. Add sauce back to skillet if using blender/food processor, and bring back up to a boil.
  12. Add the chicken to the sauce and let simmer for about 10 minutes.
  13. Add the cream and stir to combine.
  14. Garnish with minced fresh cilantro, and serve over rice, with naan, or crusty bread.
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5 thoughts on “Chicken Tikka Masala

  1. shannon says:

    my favorite indian dish ever! this will the fourth recipe i’ve tried and they are always successful because chicken tikka masala is THAT GOOD! i love it poured over jasmine or basmati rice, and if i do the marinade the day before, my whole apartment smells like cilantro :o) now i want to make more!

  2. Meredith K A says:

    This is on my short list! We’ve made similar dishes, but complex sauce + meat + rice is the #1 favorite meal framework of our household, so any recommendation in that category is always a must-try!

  3. Eftychia says:

    Today I was thinking of chicken tikka masala… To be honest I usually use a ready made sauce. Thank you so much for sharing. I will try this recipe for sure.

  4. Jessica says:

    Rachel this looks awesome, and I’ve been craving Indian a lot lately. I made chicken vindaloo a few weeks ago, but masala is what I really wanted 😉

  5. Rachel says:

    Thanks everyone for the read & nice comments! The dish was so good – you all let me know how it turns out for you!

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