Ultimate Chicken Tikka Masala

By • August 7, 2011 30 Comments

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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.
The Editors

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!
  • This recipe is a Community Pick!

More Great Recipes: Curries|Chicken Breasts|Plums|Chicken|Entrees

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Comments (30) Questions (1)


4 months ago SweetTooth

I made this recipe today and it was pretty good. I put in both serrano chiles (not roasted, with seeds scraped out) and it was a good level of spiciness for me (although a little too spicy for my mom). I added in some nutmeg, coriander, and ginger, which worked very nicely with it. I also added a smoky flavor by lighting a coal, putting it in some ghee in an aluminum-lined bowl, putting that bowl in the pan and covering the lid for 5 minutes. The best addition I made was putting some brown sugar in- gave it some amazing depth.


7 months ago donna1963

Does "stove top grill iron” mean a cast iron grill pan? If not, would you please tell me what it means. Thanks.


7 months ago Cklavin

Unbelievable dish! My husband and three young boys LOVEd it. I omitted the roasted Serrano chiles and still it was plenty spicy for us. Grilling the meat is a must.


8 months ago dillybug

Very tasty. I had to back down on the cayenne a bit for my family's tastes. Wasn't sure if to use sweet paprika or half sharp so I did half and half. Will definitely make again!


9 months ago ECMotherwell

Just made this last night, and this dish is PERFECTION! I found, too, that it stands up to some minor shortcuts made for time (I marinated the chicken bites for 7 hours rather than overnight, broiled them on high since I don't have a grill, etc).
I will certainly be making this again.


10 months ago LJF

Do the leftovers freeze well?


10 months ago rachiti

Yes, as long as you don't add the heavy cream to the part you're going to freeze. Once cream or milk is added freezing will change the texture. I Also, once you defrost it you may end up adding a bit of freshly toasted garam masala and more fresh cilantro.


11 months ago fablee

Look forward to cooking this. Searched for your recipes for spicy creamy peas and vegetable korma and didn't come up with anything. Are they posted somewhere else?


12 months ago Nikki

Can you freeze portions for later?


12 months ago Halli

This was our first attempt at Indian cooking and we're very happy with it! That said, now that I read the author's note at the very bottom of the comments to use only San Marzano tomatoes, which I did not, I'll have to either find these or try using fresh, since I used crushed tomatoes, which he advises against in his comment; however, I avoid canned foods due to BPA concerns, and buy whatever organic jarred tomatoes I can find. We used 3 cups, rather than 3 1/2 for a full 28 ounces, and they were a little overpowering, as he says that pureed tomatoes may be, though I don't necessarily think that these were of poor quality as he suggests, but only more broken down than whole chopped tomatoes. (I did have diced on hand, so perhaps those would have been a better choice.) The chicken was spicy for me (I like moderate spice) but the sauce less so, even with the serrano chilis (which I stuck in the oven on 350 for about 20 minutes), and all mixed together the flavors were very nice, and my fiance, who likes spicy, said it was just right for him. I cooked the chicken in a pan on the stovetop along with the extra marinade and it came out great. The extra marinade clumped up a bit while cooking and I garnished my dish with it for extra flavor.


about 1 year 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!


over 1 year 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.


over 1 year 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


over 1 year ago Priscilla

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


over 1 year 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.


over 1 year 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.


over 1 year 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?


over 1 year 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.


over 1 year 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.


over 1 year 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?


over 1 year ago Andi Cullins

I do substitute coconut milk for the cream. Delicious!


over 1 year 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.


12 months ago Nikki

At what stage of cooking do you add the fenugreek leaves? : )


over 1 year ago Kate

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


over 1 year 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.


over 1 year ago sticksnscones

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