Ultimate Chicken Tikka Masala

August  7, 2011
18 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 9 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Serves 8
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

Test Kitchen Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 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
  • Sauce
  • 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
  • 2 pinches Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole peeled plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 sprigs 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

49 Reviews

Michele September 2, 2023
My husband & I made this dish together, a team effort and it was extremely well worth it! So excellent, but we used coconut cream for the sauce (we didn’t have dairy cream). The entire recipe is scrumptious, and the spices…my husband could not stop raving about it! Job well done. We’ll be making this recipe again and again!
hungryhouse September 30, 2022
Looks Yummy!! I love chicken very much. I would love to see more recipes on Chicken.
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[email protected] March 1, 2022
So Delicious!! I work so I made this on the third day after marinating. It was time consuming but well worth it! The only thing is I forgot to roast the peppers. I'll make it again with the roasted peppers and I'm sure it will be even more delicious. SO many wonderful layers of flavor! Thank you!
Natalie T. December 23, 2021
So yummy! Since I found this recipe I make it regularly. It's a bit spicy but has such a depth of flavor. It makes extra sauce which is great to mop up with flat bread or naan! (I recommend only one serrano pepper and pureeing the sauce before adding the chicken.)
Darian March 2, 2021
Delicious! The only adaptation was to cook the chicken with marinade instead of grill. Remember to take out the whole cloves before adding to the sauce for this method - you do not want to bite into one of those! It was spicy but pleasantly so, not too much. The husband and kid served a little Greek yogurt on top to moderate the heat. Served over rice.
Hannah April 26, 2020
I needed to turn this into a dairy-free version for myself, so I used cashew-yogurt and coconut milk. I’m just as happy with the coconut milk results as some other reviewers. I decided to make rice and roasted butternut to serve the chicken in and I’ve got to say, the quartered butternut becomes four perfect ladles for the tikka.

In the future, even if it becomes a far cry from tikka masala, I’ll marinate tofu and serve it over butternut for a meatless weekday meal. Thank you, LittleMissMuffet, for this idea!
LittleMissMuffin November 18, 2017
oh, I didn't want to wait for rice to cook, so I served the sauce over some roasted butternut squash I had, and I think I liked that better than the chicken!
LittleMissMuffin November 18, 2017
this was very yummy. cut the cayenne in half and didn't have any serranos or ginger (so omitted both) and used coconut milk instead of heavy cream (since I didn't have that either). was plenty spicy and very good
Alison September 24, 2017
I made a double recipe for a group last night. I can't comment on how authentic this recipe is, although I thought that chicken tikka masala was an Anglo-Indian invention rather than actual Indian food. whatever it may be, this dish is very tasty. Based on the comments below, I added coriander to the spice blend in the marinade and the sauce, and thai chilis instead of serrano. To accommodate a range of tastes, I cut the overall heat back by about 50%, and thought it still had some heat but not enough to put off anyone other than the truly heat-averse. I also used the heavy cream, but perhaps only about 75% of it. My own preferences would have led me to use coconut milk, but having not made this before, I didn't want to range to far from the original recipe. It was very good and quite well-received. I served it with basmati rice and a cucumber raita (from this website, the Antonia James recipe).
Alicia September 10, 2017
I'm married to an Indian guy and have been trying to improve my Indian cooking skills, so thought I'd give this recipe a go. When I tasted the recipe, it tasted more like an American-Indian fusion curry than authentic chicken tikka masala. I asked my husband for feedback on the recipe and he said the use of American paprika as well as the absence of more traditional spices (i.e. coriander) is what's making it not taste as authentic. Alas, back to searching for a true, authentic chicken tikka recipe.

A couple suggestions to people looking to learn Indian cooking:
- In India red onion is the dominant type of onion used in all recipes. Make sure you are using red onions only.
- Serrano peppers are not used in India. If you live next to a specialty market you should look for thai or birds eye green chilies. They are generally spicier and have a different flavor profile than serrano.
- Puree the sauce before adding the chicken.
Jenny March 19, 2016
Do you think I can switch out the heavy cream with full cream coconut milk?
I think curries go well with coconut milk, but i'm not sure if it will add the same thickness to the curry
Halli March 19, 2016
Try it and let us know! It can't be bad! I use half the cream it says, but also cook the chicken in the yogurt and add all of it into the sauce.
LittleMissMuffin November 18, 2017
I used coconut milk and thought it was great.
Lost_in_NYC January 21, 2016
Could you add the remaining marinade to the pot of the sauce and cook it down before adding in the cooked chicken? I hate wasting good marinade
Halli January 21, 2016
I cook the chicken in a pan and cook all the marinade along with it, so it would probably work fine to cook the marinade alone in a small saucepan stirring often. I do use less spice than it says though, because adding all of that to the dish made it much too spicy!
Taylor T. October 15, 2015
I love this recipe! It's as good as tikka masala from our favorite Indian restaurant. I would love to make your spicy creamy peas and vegetable korma recipes but I can't find them on Food52. Can you share the links?
SweetTooth April 29, 2015
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.
donna1963 February 3, 2015
Does "stove top grill iron” mean a cast iron grill pan? If not, would you please tell me what it means. Thanks.
Cklavin January 27, 2015
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.
dillybug January 6, 2015
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!
ECMotherwell November 25, 2014
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.
LJF November 3, 2014
Do the leftovers freeze well?
rachiti November 3, 2014
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.
Halli January 21, 2016
I use much less cream than it says, about half, and it's been fine frozen with it added.
fablee October 5, 2014
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?