Ultimate Chicken Tikka Masala

By • August 7, 2011 • 19 Comments

Author Notes: I love Indian food, but for a long time I struggled getting this dish just right. This recipe is an amalgamation of numerous recipes and tricks I've picked up. The result is delicious. The chicken is juicy and extremely tender, and the sauce is just the right flavor and consistency. Enjoy!kevin.townsley

Food52 Review: WHO: Kevin.townsley lives in Toronto and plays the viola.
WHAT: A take-out favorite, made even better at home.
HOW: Marinate your chicken in yogurt and spices; simmer a sauce of caramelized onions, cream, and more spices; grill your chicken and fold it in.
WHY WE LOVE IT: There's a certain smugness and satisfaction that comes with cooking a favorite take-out dish at home -- and making it even better. This is a perfect example. We love how balanced the recipe is; the richness of the cream cuts through the heat of the spices and the acid of the tomatoes, and the chicken, wonderfully, never dries out. Put down that phone -- this is so much better than ordering in.

Serves 8

Tikka Marinade

  • 1 cup plain Greek or whole milk yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne
  • 3 grinds of fresh black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon ginger minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut in 1.5 inch cubes
  • Skewers


  • 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion cut into thin half wheels
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely minced
  • 2 serrano chilies roasted, seeded, and diced (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
  • One 28-ounce can San Marzano whole peeled plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish
  1. Mix all of the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Fold in the chicken, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Heat the oil in a large casserole.
  4. When the oil is hot, turn the stove to medium and add the onion. Brown the onions until they are caramelized. This takes about 20 minutes of constant stirring, and you might get lazy and want to shortchange this step. Resist the temptation and do it properly. This is the most important step for bringing rich flavor to your sauce. Also, if you want a little more onion in the dish try adding a second smaller onion and cut it into larger wedges, This adds some nice textual variation to the dish.
  5. Next, add the garlic and chilies, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Now add the cumin, paprika, and garam masala. Fry these spices with the onions for a minute to release their flavor. Add salt and pepper directly prior to adding tomatoes. This helps draw the flavor of the onions, spices, and tomatoes together.
  7. Next, add the chopped tomatoes and mix well. It is alright to add the juice contained within the tomatoes themselves, however, be very conservative with the remaining juice in the can. You may find you want to add a little for volume, and that's fine, however, if you add too much your sauce will be very watery.
  8. After the tomatoes have cooked with the spices for a few minutes add the heavy cream, thoroughly mix, and bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally.
  9. While the sauce is simmering, take the chicken out of the refrigerator, and place on wooden skewers.
  10. If you feel like making the effort you can grill the chicken outside on a charcoal grill (using real wood charcoal). This is the best way. However, it adds a decent amount of time, and if you're cooking more than one dish, it can be a huge pain running in and out of the house. The other option is a stove top grill iron. Lightly coat the iron with oil, and once it is hot enough, cook the chicken skewers.
  11. Once the chicken is fully cooked, take it off of the grill and put it to the side to cool for 8 to 10 minutes. This seals in the flavor and ensures the tenderness of the meat.
  12. By now the sauce should have thickened nicely. Remove the chicken from the skewers and fold it into the sauce. Raise the heat slightly and stir for 2 to 3 minutes.
  13. Remove from heat, and serve over basmati rice. Garnish with some fresh cilantro. See my recipes for spicy creamy peas and vegetable korma, they make excellent side dishes.
  • This recipe is a Wildcard Contest Winner!
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Jump to Comments (19)

Tags: chicken, curry, indian, juicy, marinade, savory, spicy, Tender, tikka

Comments (19) Questions (1)


3 months ago Madelijn

Wow I´ve never commented here before, but this turned out so dlicious that I have to come rave about it! I dont have an oven nor a bbq, so I´m bummed about a lot of recipes that I can´t make, but with my grilling pan this went perfect! The flavour and consistency come really close to the real thing!


4 months ago rachiti

If you're looking for ideas to personalize this recipe - substituting one teaspoon coriander powder for the cumin will compliment it nicely. Also, if you really like Indian food, consider ordering some Indian red chili powder...it has a subtly different more earthy/fruity flavor. Finally, if you have bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks, this works wonderfully too. I add them to the masala/sauce as it cooks or bake them in the oven. I'm hoping to start grilling them soon. Using bone-in dark meat gives a juicer more flavorful finished product.


4 months ago BARBARA WHITE

cooked this for dinner, it was great. I baked the chicken instead of grilling. I did not remove any of the marinate. I roasted the pepper, yes it is spicy, but good


4 months ago Priscilla

How long did you bake the chicken for and at what temp?


4 months ago Claudia

Made this as written (including grilling) this evening. I'm generally not a spice baby, but it was too hot for me (and I didn't use the roasted peppers). Husband and son-in-law loved it as it was.


4 months ago rachiti

As written it would be too hot for me too...but that's one of the best parts of Indian cooking...you can adjust most recipes spice level just by adjusting the red chili element. I use Indian chili powder which gives a different flavor...and much hotter so it's more like 1/4 teaspoon for this size recipe...just enough for flavor but not too hot. I hope you try this recipe again.


4 months ago NatWhit

Something that always confuses me in recipes that call for marinating the chicken in yogurt and spices-- how much of the marinade do you shake off before cooking the chicken? I usually use Greek yogurt, which is thick and tends to cling to the meat. Should I wipe off the excess? Use a thinner yogurt? Or is the yogurt supposed to remain on the chicken?


4 months ago rachiti

Some of the yogurt will remain on the chicken and that's ok. In India it usually calls for thick yogurt anyway so you're fine with the consistency of Greek yogurt. The main purpose of the yogurt is to tenderize while it's marinating so having a thin coating is fine. I actually often cook my chicken right in the masala/sauce so a bit of extra yogurt means I can use a lot less cream at the end. Basically, as long as you like how it tastes & your grill doesn't flare up from drippy yogurt...it's the right way for you.


4 months ago Bobiya

In order to get smoky flavour if you do opt for cooking chicken over stove, before garnishing create a little space in the middle of your curry and put a bowl with a tablespoon of ghee. To it, add a burning coal using tongs which will immediately starts sizzling and smoking. Shut the lid tight for few minutes and voila! Take the bowl out when done. This technique was used while cooking biryani or meat dishes in olden days before serving.


4 months ago linda

Hello, this sounds so fresh and lovely, Indian food is my favorite however I am allergic to tomatoes. Any substitutes that are not nightshades? or can I just make it without?


4 months ago Andi Cullins

I do substitute coconut milk for the cream. Delicious!


4 months ago Mona

Hi, a minor suggestion for this dish would be to add a pinch of dried fenugreek leaves (crushed within your palms as you add) to give this dish a unique taste and aroma.


4 months ago Kate

Any options besides a stove top grill iron (which I don't have)? How would this work under the broiler?


4 months ago rachiti

It's flexible. It tastes a bit different depending upon how it's done but it actually works on a slatted roasting pan cooked in the oven at 375/400 until it's no longer pink. I would imagine a minute or two under the broiler to finish would make it extra smoky.


4 months ago sticksnscones

It sounds perfectly delicious! Could one substitute coconut milk for the heavy cream?


almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I made just the grilled chicken component of this a few weeks ago; everyone raved about it. In fact, I'm making it again tonight! I used some of the marinade on some firm fish (mahi mahi), and it was fantastic, too. Will probably make the entire dish at some point later in the year. Thanks for an excellent recipe! ;o)


almost 3 years ago Turtle Wexler

I made this and it was the best Chicken Tikka Masala I've ever tasted-- bracingly hot (my cayenne is super-strong) and all-around lovely. Where are those recipes for vegetable korma and spicy creamy peas? I checked your profile, but didn't see them linked.


over 2 years ago kevin.townsley

I apologize for the delay. I've been pretty busy with school, and putting recipes on here fell off my radar. I'll go ahead and put those two recipes on tonight, and since I have some time this week, I'll see about making them and getting some good pictures. It's hard to get people to try your dishes without pictures, so thank you for giving this one a shot!


about 3 years ago kevin.townsley

Just a quick note. I specify San Marzano whole tomatoes for a reason. They are high quality, and the taste can't be matched. Some recipes call for tomato puree. I strongly recommend against that option. Puree is often made of poor quality tomatoes, and the taste overpowers the dish.