Get the best, easy Indian Chicken Tikka Masala recipe right here! Tender chicken in a creamy tomato sauce with mild Indian spices. The essential Indian dish to add to your repertoire!
When I think of Indian dishes, the first one that comes to mind is Chicken Tikka Masala. Not only does it taste amazing, but it’s really fun to say 🙂
Where does Chicken Tikka Masala come from?
There is some debate over whether or not this dish is even Indian. One account has it being invented in England; another says it was invented in Scotland–both by Bangladeshi chefs. But a food critic said he first had it in the Punjab region of India. (You can check out the differing stories here).
Quite frankly, I don’t care where it came from. All I care about is that it’s delicious!
Does Chicken Tikka Masala have dairy, nuts, gluten, peanuts, or sugar?
I know there are lots of us who are being careful with what we eat and have chosen to avoid certain types of foods. So let me give you the rundown on Chicken Tikka Masala.
Dairy: Yes, and lots of it. Traditionally, the chicken is marinated in yogurt, and heavy cream is added to the sauce.
Nuts: No nuts or peanuts.
Gluten: No gluten
Sugar: Only 2 teaspoons of brown sugar are added. There will be slightly more natural sugar due to the tomato paste, but the amount of sugar overall is minimal.
Do I have to marinate the chicken in yogurt?
Now traditionally, the chicken for this dish is marinated in plain yogurt with some spices. I wanted to see if this was really necessary and made any kind of a difference in the flavor and texture of the chicken versus just cooking plain chicken.
I will say that the chicken that was marinated overnight in the yogurt and spices was more tender than the chicken that was just cooked right before adding it to the sauce.
However, if you don’t have plain yogurt or don’t want to bother marinating the chicken overnight, you can certainly skip it. The dish will still be delicious, although the chicken won’t be as tender.
If you use thighs rather than breasts, you’ll need a much shorter marinating time, as thighs are naturally more tender than breasts.
I also don’t know if it’s necessary to add all the spices to the yogurt marinade. Since the chicken is covered with sauce eventually, I don’t think you can even taste the spices from the marinade. But that’s just my opinion.
Ingredients for Chicken Tikka Masala
Let’s talk about the ingredients for this dish so you can see if you have everything you need on hand, or if you need to make a trip to the store.
First, you need to decide if you’re going to marinate your chicken. If so, you’ll need the following:
- chicken breasts or thighs
- plain, unsweetened yogurt (I used Greek yogurt)
- minced garlic
- powdered ginger
- garam masala powder
- red chili powder
For the sauce, you’ll need all of the spices listed above for the marinade, plus:
- vegetable oil
- tomato paste
- heavy whipping cream or evaporated milk
- brown sugar
How to Make Chicken Tikka Masala
Cut your chicken (2 large breasts, or the equivalent weight in thighs) into bite-sized pieces and put into a Ziploc bag with 1 cup of plain yogurt and all the spices listed above for the marinade. (Exact measurements for each can be found below on the recipe card).
(If you’re not marinating your chicken, just cut it into bite-sized pieces right before you plan to cook it).
If you’re using breasts, marinate in the refrigerator overnight for best results. If you’re using thighs, marinate for as little as ten minutes to an hour (or overnight if desired).
After your chicken has marinated (or if you’ve chosen not to marinate at all), add some oil to a large non-stick skillet and turn the heat onto medium-high.
Once the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces in batches, making sure not to crowd the pan. Cook on each side for about three minutes–no longer.
You want to brown the chicken, but not let it get cooked all the way through. We’re just looking for brown spots on the outside. The inside of the chicken will cook later as it simmers in the sauce.
Now remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and add some more oil to the pan.
Turn the heat down to medium. Fry your chopped onions for a minute or two. Then add the fresh garlic and ginger and cook for about a minute.
Add the garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and coriander and fry for 20 seconds, until fragrant.
Quickly add the tomato paste and about 1/2 cup of water and stir.
Add the salt and chili powder. Stir and turn the heat down to medium-low or low. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chicken and any accumulated juices to the sauce.
Add the heavy whipping cream or evaporated milk and stir.
Let simmer for 8-10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick and bubbling. Add more water to thin out the sauce if necessary.
Garnish with cilantro if desired and serve!
What is Chicken Tikka Masala served with?
This recipe adapted from Cafe Delites.
For the marinade (optional)
- 1 cup plain yogurt (unsweetened)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons powdered ginger
- 2 teaspoons garam masala powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the Chicken and Sauce
- 2 large chicken breasts (1 to 1 1/2 pounds) or the equivalent weight of chicken thighs
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- half of a large onion, finely diced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger (or 1 teaspoon powdered ginger)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 (6 ounce) cans of tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream or evaporated milk
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 cup of water (or more, to thin the sauce)
To marinate the chicken (optional)
- Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and place in a large Ziploc bag.
- Add one cup of plain yogurt, 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic, 2 teaspoons powdered ginger, 2 teaspoons garam masala powder, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, and one teaspoon of salt.
- Seal the bag and then squish the chicken and yogurt and spices until everything is evenly distributed. If using chicken breasts, place in the refrigerator and marinate overnight. If using chicken thighs, place in the refrigerator and marinate for ten minutes to an hour.
To cook the chicken
- Place a large non-stick skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
- Add the chicken (whether using plain chicken or marinated chicken) into the hot pan in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan.
- Cook on each side for no longer than three minutes--just until brown spots form. The chicken will finish cooking in the sauce.
- Remove the browned chicken from the pan and set aside.
To make the sauce
- Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil to the same pan you cooked the chicken in.
- Add the minced onions and cook for about three minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any brown bits left from the chicken.
- Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of minced garlic and 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger) and cook for about one minute.
- Add the 1 1/2 teaspoons of garam masala powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, and 1 teaspoon of ground coriander. Stir for about 20 seconds, until fragrant.
- Quickly add the two (6 ounce) cans of tomato paste and stir. Add 1/2 cup of water to thin.
- Add 1 teaspoon of red chili powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Turn the heat down to medium or low and simmer for about ten minutes.
- Add the partially cooked chicken into the sauce. Stir.
- Add the 1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream or evaporated milk and 2 teaspoons of brown sugar to the sauce. Stir and simmer for about ten minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is bubbly. Add more water to thin if necessary.
Marinating the chicken is not necessary, but will produce more tender chicken. You can also choose to just marinate the chicken in the plain yogurt without the spices if desired.