Chicken Tikka Masala

This Chicken Tikka Masala recipe rivals your favorite restaurant and is easy to make at home with accessible ingredients – you will be blown away at the explosion of flavor!

Chicken Tikka Masala is a must-make, astonishingly easy recipe, made with local grocery store ingredients!  The lusciously rich and creamy, bronze-orange tomato-cream curry sauce is earthy, smoky, packed with spices and of course juicy, marinated, charred chicken.  This Tikka Masala recipe has been perfected from the spices, to the cooking techniques, down to which tomatoes you use for the best recipe out there!  Now, just load your chicken curry over hot rice with a showering of cilantro and a side of naan to mop up the silky sauce, and prepare for downright deliciousness!

Make your own Indian-inspired dishes at home with these easy recipes: Shrimp Curry, Tandoori Chicken, Tandoori Chicken Kabobs  and Lentil Curry.

HOW TO MAKE VIDEo Tikka Masala Recipe

up close of chicken tikka masala showing how juicy the chicken is
showing how to make tikka masala by garnishing the chicken and sauce in a pan with cilantro

Chicken Tikka Masala FAQS

What does Chicken Tikka Masala mean?

The word tikka is a Persian word, meaning “bits” or “pieces.”  Masala means mixture.  It refers to the pieces of chicken cooked in a tandoor, then simmered in a mixture of tomatoes, cream and spices.

Where did Tikka Masala Come From?

There are several theories and claims as to the exact origin of Tikka Masala, the most popular being from either the South Asian community in Great Britain or a restaurant in Glasgow, Scotland.

During the British Raj, a period from 1858 to 1947, the British Empire ruled over the Indian subcontinent.  During this time, many South Asians migrated to the U.K., and opened restaurants.  Food historians Peter and Colleen Grove adamantly believe the dish “was most certainly invented in Britain, probably by a Bangladeshi chef.” The two foodies point the finger towards Balbir Singh’s Shahi Chicken Masala recipe, published in 1961 in Indian Cookery.

The other theory is that Tikka Masala originated in the 1970s in the authentic curry house, Shish Mahal, in Glasgow, Scotland by Ali Ahmed Aslam.  The story goes that a truck driver ordered Chicken Tikka, but complained that the dish was too dry and sent it back to the kitchen. So, Ali took a nod from Brits love for gravies and sauces and created the dish with a can of tomato soup, spices, and a dab of yogurt.

No matter who invented this iconic dish, it is a global favorite spanning countries, continents and can now be made in your own kitchen!

Is Tikka Masala Indian?

While the exact origins of Tikka Masala are contested, it is widely accepted to have originated somewhere in Great Britain and is the considered the national dish, even more so than Fish and Chips!  In fact, in 2001, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook mentioned the dish in a speech, hailing the Chicken Tikka Masala as a symbol of modern multicultural Britain, and how Britain celebrates external influences. In the speech, the Secretary offered his own simplified explanation of how the dish evolved: “Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.”

Butter Chicken VS. Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala and Butter Chicken are two of the most popular curries and look strikingly similar with their creamy orange sauce and chunks of chicken.  They are made with many of the same ingredients including chicken, yogurt, tomatoes and garam masala, so it can be difficult to tell the two apart by appearance alone.  With one taste, however, you will see that the two favorite curries differ significantly in flavor.  

Tikka Masala has a pronounced smoky flavor from the chargrilled chicken and an overall more complex flavor profile than Butter Chicken.  Butter Chicken, however, is not chargrilled and just simmered with the sauce.  It has a less pronounced tomato flavor and is also richer due to the generous addition of butter which also adds a subtle sweetness. 

What is Tikka Masala sauce made of?

Tikka Masala is a tomato and cream-based curry sauce made of sautéed onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and many Indian spices such as garam masala, turmeric, coriander and cumin and paprika.  The sauce is simmered, pureed, then cream (either in the form of heavy cream, yogurt or cashews) is stirred into the sauce to make it creamy. 

What does Tikka Masala taste like?

Tikka Masala is a tomato and cream-based sauce that’s smoky from the chargrilled chicken, rich and creamy, with a slight sweetness and tanginess with mild heat (although we like it hot!) punctuated by earthy spices, ginger and garlic.  

The spices in the Tikka Masala vary depending on the region and from cook to cook; there is no such thing as an authentic version.  While there is no standard recipe for Tikka Masala, garam masala is a key ingredient, a traditional Indian spice blend that may contain cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper, and sometimes also coriander and cumin. Chicken Tikka Masala also often include ginger, garlic, turmeric, paprika, coriander, and cumin.

How spicy is Chicken Tikka masala?

Tikka Masala is a mildly spicy, earthy, curry dish with a creamy tomato sauce.  Traditionally, it contains Kashmiri chili, which is a type of chili pepper grown in the Kashmir region of India. It’s bright red in color and has a very mild spice level.  Many restaurant versions, however, offer mild, medium or spicy curry. 

What do you eat with Tikka Masala? 

Chicken Tikka Masala is traditionally paired with basmati rice in order to soak up the rich sauce and offer a neutral textural component.  It is also usually paired with naan to mop up the leftover sauce.  Other sides to compliment the rich and earthy spices are raita, a creamy yogurt cucumber dish, and mango chutney. 

Is Tikka Masala healthy? 

Chicken Tikka Masala is high in protein thanks to the chicken but high in calories due to the heavy cream.  To reduce the calories, evaporated milk can be used in place of the heavy cream.  It won’t taste as rich, but still delicious and extremely flavorful.

Are there variations of Tikka Masala?

There are widespread adaptations of Tikka Masala made with different proteins such as pork, paneer, tofu, chickpeas, and vegetables such as peas, cauliflower, and/or carrots.

Can Tikka Masala be made vegetarian?

Yes!  Paneer Tikka Masala is a popular vegetarian alternative made with paneer cheese instead of the chicken. Paneer is an Indian, non-melting cheese, traditionally made from curdled buffalo milk, or a mixture of buffalo and cows’ milks and some sort of fruit or vegetable acid like lemon juice. The cheese is mild and milky in flavor, soft and spongy, ideal for soaking up the flavor of the marsala sauce. The paneer is usually cut into cubes for curries and can be grilled, or cooked on skewers without melting.

Can Tikka Masala be made vegan?

Yes, Tikka Masala can be made vegan by using extra firm tofu instead of the chicken, diary free yogurt, and coconut milk instead of heavy cream.  Drain the tofu first by placing in a bowl then placing a plate on top, then topping with a heavy object for 10 minutes or so.

Are Chicken Tikka and Chicken Tikka Masala the same dish?

No, Chicken Tikka and Chicken Tikka Masala are not the same dish, but they start as the same dish.

Both Chicken Tikka and Chicken Tikka Masala begin by marinating small chunks of chicken in a mixture of yogurt and spices.  The chicken is then skewered and grilled in a special clay oven called a tandoor.  At this point, the grilled chicken is Chicken Tikka.  It becomes Chicken Tikka Masala by adding the chargrilled chicken to a masala curry sauce made with tomatoes, cream, onions and spices, particularly garam masala.

Is Tikka Masala gluten free?

Yes, Chicken Tikka Masala recipe as written is gluten free.

up close of chicken tikka masala showing how juicy the chicken is

Chicken Tikka Masala Ingredients

This Chicken Tikka Masala recipe is made with easy-to-find ingredients but boasts big, bold, exotic flavor.  I have divided the ingredients into three sections 1) the chicken marinade, 2) the spices, 3) the sauce.  Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need (full measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post): 

For the chicken marinade 

  • Chicken: Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are the best choice for the juiciest, most flavorful chicken that melts in your mouth.  Chicken thighs are dark meat and therefore able to be charred at high heat while still remaining incredibly juicy.
  • Plain yogurt:  The calcium and lactic acid work together to break down the protein in the chicken, leaving it super tender.  It also creates a thick coating which insulates the chicken from drying out while searing. Plain yogurt or full fat Greek yogurt will work.
  • Lemon juice:  You may use fresh or bottled. The citrus helps tenderize the chicken by breaking down lean muscle fibers and helps cut through the earthy seasonings.
  • Aromatics:  Garlic and ginger add crucial pungent flavoring to the chicken.  Fresh is best but you may use 1 teaspoon each garlic powder and ground ginger in a bind.

For the SPICE BLEND

Tikka Masala is intensely flavorful due to the plethora of seasonings.  I know it is a lot of spices, but they each play a crucial role in the complex flavor profile and only take a couple minutes to whisk together. You will need:

  • Garam Masala:  this is the namesake of the masala sauce and cannot be skipped!  It is a very common seasoning and can be found at your local grocery store located with the spices. It is a tantalizing combination of ground cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, ground cloves and nutmeg.
  • Paprika:  please use regular paprika and not smoked paprika or the smokiness will overwhelm the curry sauce!
  • Chili powder:  a blend made of chili peppers and other spices including cumin, onion, garlic powder; note American chili powder is NOT hot cayenne pepper.
  • Cayenne pepper: you can make this recipe as mild or as spicy as you like depending on how much cayenne you add.  ½ teaspoon will be mild and 1 teaspoon is medium.
  • Coriander: earthy, tart, and sweet.
  • Turmeric: earthy and bitter, with a bit of peppery spice.
  • Cardamom:  minty, citrusy, herbal and spicy 
  • Salt: use regular table salt. Enough salt is crucial to enhance the rest of the seasonings or your Tikka Masala will taste bland no matter how much it’s loaded with spices!
up close or tikka masala with chicken in a bowl with rice

For the SAUCE

  • Fire roasted crushed tomatoes:  The type of tomatoes is crucial and makes a huge difference in the taste of the entire dish!  Please use fire roasted crushed tomatoes instead of regular tomatoes.  Fire roasted tomatoes have been roasted which gives them a complex smokiness, deeper flavor and lower acidity. In fact, they are so balanced and sweeter than regular tomatoes, you shouldn’t even have to add any sugar to the sauce!  I highly recommend getting good quality (such as Cento Marzano®, Carmelina Marzano Italian®, or Muir Glen®)
  • Heavy cream: This makes for a silky-smooth Tikka Masala Sauce and balances the tomatoes.  If you want to keep things healthier, use an equal amount of evaporated milk instead. 
  • Aromatics:  Onions, garlic and ginger are the building blocks of the sauce.  Use yellow onion for the most flavor.

How to Make Chicken Tikka Masala 

To make this easy Chicken Tikka Masala recipe, chicken is marinated in a spiced yogurt sauce, seared in a skillet then finished in a tomato-cream based curry sauce.   After the chicken has finished marinating, the dish comes together in 30 minutes! I’ve given detailed step-by-step instructions below (full measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

Step 1: Make the Spice Blend

  • Whisk together all of the spices; set aside.
showing how to make Chicken Tikka Masala recipe by mixing together garam masala, ground cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, salt, chili powder and turmeric

Step 2: Marinate the Chicken 

  • Remove 2 ½ tablespoons of the Spice Blend to a large bowl (whatever you are going to marinate the chicken in).
  • Whisk in the yogurt, lemon juice, half of the garlic and half of the ginger. 
  • Add the chopped chicken and stir to evenly coat.  You want every piece of chicken coated in the marinade! 
  • Marinate the chicken for AT LEAST 30 minutes at room temperature but the chicken is very best if marinated for at least 3 hours in the fridge, ideally overnight. 
a collage showing how to make Chicken Tikka Masala recipe by making the chicken marinade by whisking together yogurt, garlic, ginger, lemon juice and spices

Step 3: Make the Chicken Tikka Masala Sauce

  • Sauté onions in a large braiser or Dutch oven until softened, about 5-7 minutes. 
  • Add the remaining ginger, garlic and Spice Mix and sauté for 1 minute.
  • Stir in the crushed tomatoes. 
  • Bring to boil then reduce to gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes, while stirring often and scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  You can cook the chicken while the sauce simmers.
a collage showing how to make Chicken Tikka Masala recipe by 1) sautéing onions, sautéing spices, garlic and ginger, 3) adding crushed tomatoes, 3) simmering until reduced

Step 4: Cook the Chicken in Batches

  • Heat a high smoking point oil (like vegetable or canola) in a large cast iron skillet over high heat.   
  • Working in batches, add the chicken to the skillet and cook until charred on each side (creates that signature flavor!). Transfer the chicken to bowl. Note that the chicken will not be fully cooked at this point but will finish cooking in the sauce.
showing how to make Chicken Tikka Masala recipe by searing the chicken in a cast iron skillet until charred

Step 5: Blend the Sauce (optional)

  • Transfer the tomato mixture to a high-powered blender and purée until smooth, leaving a corner of the lid open and covered with a paper towel so steam can escape and it doesn’t explode.  Alternatively, transfer to a bowl and use an immersion blender to blend, then return back to the pan.
showing how to make Chicken Tikka Masala recipe by blending the masala curry sauce in a blender until smooth

Step 6: Combine

  • Stir the heavy cream into the blended sauce followed by the chicken.  Cover and gently simmer for a few minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.  Season to taste.  Depending on the tomatoes you used, you may need to add 1-2 teaspoons sugar to balance the acidity.  Add additional cayenne pepper for more heat if desired.
a collage showing how to make Chicken Tikka Masala recipe by adding heavy cream to the masala sauce followed by the charred chicken thighs

Step 7: Serve

  • Serve over basmati rice with optional cilantro.
up close of chicken tikka masala showing how juicy the chicken is
  • Use chicken thighs.  As discussed, chicken thighs are juicier, more tender and more flavorful resulting in a far superior finished dish.
  • Use fresh aromatics. Use fresh onion, ginger, and garlic plus fresh cilantro for the most vibrant, well-rounded nuanced flavor.  By using fresh onions, we’re able to caramelize them fist in the skillet which adds a smoky sweetness.
  • Use plenty of salt.  2 ½ teaspoons may seem like a lot of salt – but we are making a full 2 pounds of chicken with a lot of sauce!  The salt in the marinade allows for better flavor penetration and better juice retention when the chicken is cooked.  In the sauce, it enhances everything!  You can have all the spices in the world, but if you don’t enough salt, your dish will still taste bland.  If you are watching your salt, however, then adjust to your needs, then salt to taste.
  • Don’t chop the chicken too small. Aim for 1.5-inch chunks so that the chicken doesn’t cook all the way through when it’s first seared. It will finish cooking low in the tikka masala sauce, resulting in juicy pieces of chicken rather than tough and stringy ones.  (Note, because thighs are thin, they will not be 1 ½ inches thick, just 1 ½ inches wide.)
  • The longer you marinate, the better! The marinating chicken soaks up tons of flavor and also is tenderized thanks to the acidic yogurt.  For the best flavor, marinate the chicken for 3 to 6 hours, or even better, overnight.  However, if you’re short on time, you can marinate the chicken at room temperature for 30 – 45 minutes, and your dish will still be tasty. 
  • Char the chicken. Don’t be afraid of the crispy bits! Browning the chicken adds that undeniably delicious, trademark chargrilled flavor. 
  • Simmer the chicken gently.  Once you add the chicken to the sauce, simmer it gently over low.  You never want to simmer chicken at too high of heat or it will become tough and rubbery. Cook the chicken just for a couple minutes to cook through, it won’t take long because chicken thighs are so thin.  If you’ve used chicken breasts, you’ll likely need to simmer longer.
  • Adjust the spice!  You can make this Chicken Tikka Masala as mild or as spicy as you like!  My husband and I both prefer the recipe with a full 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper for medium-hot.  However, if you don’t like much spice, reduce the cayenne and add more to taste.
  • Control curry consistency.  If the curry sauce is too thick, thin it out with chicken broth or water. 
  • To clean your blender:  If you blend the tikka masala sauce in a blender, be aware it will stain due to the turmeric.  You will need bleach to get it clean.
  • To clean your cast iron enamel:  Cleaning cast-iron enamel is a breeze!   Fill it a little over halfway with water.  Bring the water to a simmer then add 2 tablespoons baking soda.  Using a long-handled dish brush, clean the skillet – any residue will come right off!
showing how to serve chicken tikka masala recipe by adding to a bowl with basmati rice with naan
  • Make it spicy:  1 teaspoon cayenne pepper is medium, leaning towards medium-hot spice level, which should be perfect for those who like heat, but not fiery heat.  If you want your mouth to be on fire, increase the cayenne pepper further.  
  • Grill the chicken:  You can approximate the chargrilled flavor of the tandoori by grilling the chicken pieces until charred.  Because the pieces are small, I suggest skewering the chicken first for easy rotating.
  • Broil the chicken: Position a rack directly under the broiler and preheat to high. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack inside. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on the rack and broil until the chicken starts to brown in spots, 3 to 6 minutes per side (it will not be cooked through). 
  • Add vegetables: Substitute some of the chicken for your favorite vegetables such as cauliflower, zucchini, squash, eggplant, broccoli, mushrooms butternut squash, spinach, etc. If you’d like to use potatoes, par-cook first in the microwave by chopping into bite-size pieces. Place the potatoes and ⅓ cup water in a microwave-safe dish. Cover and microwave on high for 6-7 minutes until fork tender. Drain and allow them to finish cooking with the sauce.
  • Use roasted vegetables: For an even more complex-tasting dish, roast the veggies before tossing them with the tikka masala sauce. 
  • Swap the protein.  You may use pork tenderloin or shrimp. For pork, follow the same instructions for the chicken. Shrimp, however, can’t sit in the marinade as long as chicken (otherwise it will become rubbery!). Marinate shrimp for no more than 30 minutes, then cook completely in the skillet. Stir the shrimp into the sauce just before serving to prevent it from overcooking. 
  • Use coconut milk:  Swap the heavy cream for full fat coconut milk for a fantastic coconut infusion of flavor.
  • Use whole tomatoes:  Instead of fire roasted crushed tomatoes, simmer whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushing them as the sauce simmers.  They are sweet with a lower acidity than regular tomatoes and taste fabulous.
  • Use aromatic powders: If you don’t have fresh ginger and garlic on hand and need to make this recipe NOW (I get you), you may substitute with powders – 2 teaspoons each and equally divide between the marinade and the sauce.
  • Use Kashmiri chili: This chili pepper is grown in the Kashmir region of India and often used in Tikka Masala. It’s bright red in color and has a very mild spice level. Its flavor is totally unique, so the closest approximation I can give you is that it tastes kind of like a blend of paprika and cayenne pepper.
  • Make it lighter:  Use half and half or evaporated milk in place of the heavy cream.
  • Vegetarian Tikka Masala: Swap the chicken with chickpeas, extra firm tofu, paneer (detailed below) or your preferred blend of vegetables such as cauliflower, mushrooms, carrots, bell peppers, etc.  To use tofu, start by draining excess moisture from the tofu by placing it in a pie plate, topping with a heavy plate and weighing down with 2 heavy cans (to release water). Set aside for 10 minutes then cut into ½-inch cubes. 
  • Paneer Tikka Masala:  Substitute the chicken for paneer cheese.  Paneer is a fresh Indian cheese that holds its shape and doesn’t melt, even after being cooked. It’s similar to halloumi, but softer and not as squeaky. 
  • Vegan Tikka Masala:  Choose your preferred vegetarian protein substitute above and use dairy free yogurt and coconut milk instead of heavy cream.
tikka masala with chicken served with rice and cilantro
  • Rice: I prefer nutty basmati rice for the Indian flavored dish, but any rice will work to mellow and absorb the flavorful sauce. Just pop the rice in your rice cooker for an easy side.
  • Low carb options: cauliflower rice, quinoa, broccoli rice or a blend of brown rice and any of the aforementioned options.   You can even use low-carb noodles such as zoodles or spaghetti squash.
  • Bread: naan is fabulous to soak up the delectable sauce.  Naan is a yeast-leavened Indian bread, traditionally baked in a tandoor, a clay oven, and is widely available at most grocery stores.  Once you’ve secured your naan, you’ll want to warm it up a bit for optimal taste and texture (see how below).
  • Condiment:  serve with plenty of dahi (a yogurt made from cow or water buffalo milk), cucumber raita (yogurt-based sauce) or yogurt to balance the heat and cut through the richness of the curry.  You can make a simple raita (recipe below), or pick up Indian dahi (a brand called Desi Dahi is good) at the grocery store.
  • Vegetable/Salad: a simple green salad, Ramen Salad or Asian Pineapple Salad would both be delicious or serve with roasted vegetables like roasted broccoli, roasted asparagus, or roasted cauliflower.
  • Fruit: Pineapple, kiwis, mangos, grapes – pick your favs!

 

showing how to serve chicken tikka masala by scooping up the chicken and sauce with naan bread

WANT TO TRY THIS Chicken Tikka Masala RECIPE?

PIN IT TO YOUR Chicken, Dinner or Asian recipe BOARD TO SAVE FOR LATER!

FIND ME ON PINTEREST FOR MORE GREAT RECIPES!  I AM ALWAYS PINNING :)!

©Carlsbad Cravings by CarlsbadCravings.com

showing how to serve chicken tikka masala recipe by adding to a bowl with basmati rice with naan

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala is a must-make, astonishingly easy recipe, made with local grocery store ingredients!  The lusciously rich and creamy, bronze-orange tomato-cream curry sauce is earthy, smoky, packed with spices and of course juicy, marinated, charred chicken.  This Tikka Masala recipe has been perfected from the spices, to the cooking techniques, down to which tomatoes you use for the best recipe out there!  Now, just load your chicken curry over hot rice with a showering of cilantro and a side of naan to mop up the silky sauce, and prepare for downright deliciousness!
Servings: 6 servings
Total Time: 4 hrs
Prep Time: 25 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins

Save This Recipe To Your Recipe Box

You can now create an account on our site and save your favorite recipes all in one place!

Ingredients

Chicken and Sauce

  • 2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut into large bite-sized pieces (about 1 1/2-inches)
  • 1 cup plain or Greek yogurt, fullfat is best
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger, divided
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided
  • neutral, high smoking point oil such as canola or coconut, see notes (do NOT use olive oil for chicken)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 28 oz. can FIRE ROASTED crushed tomatoes (see notes)

Spice Blend

  • 1 TBS EACH garam masala, chili powder, paprika (not smoked)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tsp EACH turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon (optional if you have it)

ADD LATER

  • 1 1/3 cups heavy cream (use evaporated milk for lower calories)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar, optional, as needed

Instructions

  • Mix spices: Whisk together all of the Spice Blend spices in a small bowl; set aside.
  • Marinate chicken: Remove 2 ½ tablespoons Spice Blend to a large bowl or freezer bag (whatever you are going to marinate the chicken in). Add the yogurt, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon grated ginger and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Whisk to combine. Add the chopped chicken and stir to evenly coat. Marinate for 30-45 minutes at room temperature, but BEST if refrigerated overnight.
  • Sauté aromatics for sauce: Heat 1 ½ tablespoons oil in a large braiser or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, 5-7 minutes. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 tablespoon garlic and the remaining Spice Blend and sauté for 1 minute.
  • Make sauce: Stir in the crushed tomatoes. Bring to a boil then reduce to gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often and scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. (You can cook the chicken while the sauce simmers, see Step 6).
  • Blend sauce (optional but recommended): After simmering, transfer the tomato mixture to a high-powered blender and purée until smooth, leaving a corner of the lid open and covered with a paper towel so steam can escape and it doesn’t explode. Alternatively, transfer to a bowl and use an immersion blender to blend, then return back to the pan. Season to taste. Depending on the tomatoes you used, you may need 1-2 teaspoons sugar to balance the acidity.
  • Cook chicken: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large cast iron skillet over high heat until smoking. Working in batches, add the chicken in a single layer and cook until charred on each side, about 2 minutes per side (it will not be cooked through). Transfer chicken to a bowl; set aside. Scrape out the skillet in between batches and add more oil to cook the next batch.
  • Combine: Stir the heavy cream into the blended sauce followed by the chicken. Cover and gently simmer for a few minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Season to taste with additional salt, sugar and/or cayenne pepper.
  • Serve: Serve over basmati rice with optional cilantro.

Video

Notes

Tips and Tricks

  • Chicken: Please do NOT use chicken breasts. The high temperature required to char the chicken will overcook it and cause it to dry out.  Chicken thighs are dark meat and will not dry out, are inherently more flavorful and will become melt in your mouth tender.
  • Garam Masala:  This is a common spice blend and can be found with the spices at every grocery store.   
  • Spice level:  1 teaspoon cayenne pepper is medium, leaning towards medium-hot spice level, which should be perfect for those who like heat, but not fiery heat.  If you don’t like heat, reduce the cayenne pepper.  You can always add more to taste after the sauce is complete.
  • Oil:  You must use a high smoking point oil and NOT olive oil.  Use canola, vegetable, coconut, grapeseed or other neutral flavored oil with a high smoke point.
  • Fire roasted crushed tomatoes:  The type of tomatoes is crucial and makes a huge difference in the taste of the entire dish!  Please use fire roasted crushed tomatoes instead of regular tomatoes.  These tomatoes have been roasted which gives them a complex smokiness, deeper flavor and lower acidity. In fact, they are so balanced and sweeter than regular tomatoes, you shouldn’t even have to add any sugar to the sauce!  I highly recommend getting good quality such as Cento Marzano®, Carmelina Marzano Italian®, or Muir Glen®.
  • Make it lighter:  Use half and half or evaporated milk in place of the heavy cream.  You may also use full fat coconut milk for coconut infused sauce. 
  • Vegetarian Tikka Masala: Swap the chicken with chickpeas, extra firm tofu, paneer (detailed below) or your preferred blend of vegetables such as cauliflower, mushrooms, carrots, bell peppers, etc.  To use tofu, start by draining excess moisture from the tofu by placing it in a pie plate, topping with a heavy plate and weighing down with 2 heavy cans (to release water). Set aside for 10 minutes then cut into ½-inch cubes. 
  • Paneer Tikka Masala:  Substitute the chicken for paneer cheese.  Paneer is a fresh Indian cheese that holds its shape and doesn’t melt, even after being cooked. It’s similar to halloumi, but softer and not as squeaky. 
  • Vegan Tikka Masala:  Choose your preferred vegetarian protein substitute above and use dairy free yogurt and coconut milk instead of heavy cream.
  • To clean your blender:  If you blend the tikka masala sauce in a blender, be aware it will stain due to the turmeric.  You will need bleach to get it clean.
  • To clean your cast iron enamel:  Cleaning cast-iron enamel is a breeze!   Fill it a little over halfway with water.  Bring the water to a simmer then add 2 tablespoons baking soda.  Using a long-handled dish brush, clean the skillet – any residue will come right off!
  • Storage:  Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days.  You may also freeze the Tikka Masala for up to 3 months, then thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.   

Did You Make This Recipe?

Tag @CarlsbadCravings and Use #CarlsbadCravngs

Leave a Review, I Always Love Hearing From You!

Reader Interactions

leave a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

6 Comments

  1. Sharon Frisbie says

    I decided I had to try this and was getting all the spices together and my husband wandered in and asked what I was making. He thought I said Chicken Marsala and smiled, but I corrected him and said Masala not Marsala, “Oh, is that Indian food?” in a tone that says I won’t like it. It’s a bit of work, but oh was it tasty. He is now happil finishing off what I couldn’t eat..Love your recipes.

    • Jen says

      Thank you for being the first to review this recipe Sharon, I’m so pleased you both loved it – despite not being Chicken Marsala ;)!

  2. Kevin says

    This looks amazing–can’t wait to try it!

    • Jen says

      Thanks, I’m excited to hear what you think!

  3. franz says

    Usually I’m very disappointed by most recipe blogs, as they have no respect for the origins and traditions of a dish and they often randomly substitute white people stuff to make it easier. I really respect how deeply you go into the origins of the food and how “traditional” you keep your recipes.

    This is a fantastic website. Keep up the awesome work!

    • Jen says

      Thank you for the kind comment Franz! I love to honor and dig into the origins of a dish – it’s so interesting to me. I hope you love this recipe!

5 Secrets to
30 Minute Meals

Tips, tricks & recipes to get dinner on the table fast!

FREE EMAIL BONUS