Simple Chicken Tikka Masala Is Easier Than You Think

Chicken tikka masala may be a dish that's mostly enjoyed in the U.S. and Europe, but its flavors come from Indian cooking.

Chef and food writer Stephanie Rapone of Pantry to Plate says: "This Chicken Tikka Masala has an amazing spice blend that makes the flavors complex and a spicy heat that's entirely optional. It's a rich sauce, and the whole thing comes together in one pot on the stove." That rich spice blend comes thanks to a ton of herbs and spices, and that's not even counting the onion or cilantro for garnish.

So yes, this is an involved recipe, so don't feel badly if you feel daunted at the outset. Just follow the recipe closely, and your confidence with grow with each step closer to the savory, spicy perfection you're cooking toward. Just be warned that any dinner guests who try the meal may start showing up uninvited just in case you happen to be preparing it again.

Gather your ingredients for this chicken tikka masala recipe

Given what you already know about this and other Indian dishes, it will probably come as little surprise that there's a long list of ingredients for this chicken tikka masala recipe. But here we go. You'll need: boneless, skinless chicken thighs, olive oil, kosher salt, curry powder, unsalted butter, half a medium yellow onion, five cloves of garlic, a two-inch piece of fresh ginger, ground cumin, ground ginger and garam masala, half a teaspoon of cinnamon, one serrano pepper, a 14-ounce can of tomato sauce, paprika, white sugar, and a cup of heavy whipping cream (or sub in a cup of coconut milk).

Oh, and for ideal serving, you also need a cup of long-grain white rice (and two cups of water to cook it), cilantro for garnish, and plenty of naan.

Still with us? Good, gathering all that stuff is the hardest part!

Prepare and blend your spices for this chicken tikka masala

To start this chicken tikka masala recipe, paste the garlic and ginger paste on a micrograter or rasp (if you didn't purchase ready-made garlic/ginger paste, in which case just measure out what you need), and then set them aside. Now, slice the serrano pepper in half length-wise. If you want less spice, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and membranes. Set the pepper aside with the garlic and ginger.

Next, mix the ground cumin, one teaspoon of the kosher salt, the ground ginger, the garam masala, and the ground cinnamon together in a small bowl and set the mix aside. Finally, open the can of tomato sauce and measure the whipping cream (or coconut milk), and set those aside at the ready as well.

Cook the chicken and onion for your chicken tikka masala

Cut the chicken for your chicken tikka masala into chunks that are about one and a half to two inches. Meanwhile, heat olive the oil in a large nonstick skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it's hot but not smoking. 

Add the chicken chunks to the pan, and immediately season them with a teaspoon of kosher salt. Brown the meat for three to five minutes on the first side (until it easily releases from the skillet). Now, turn the chicken over and sprinkle a teaspoon of curry powder over the meat. Continue cooking the chicken for two or three more minutes on the other side, then stir to evenly coat the chicken in the curry. 

Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside — the chicken should not be cooked through completely, as it will finish cooking in the sauce. Now, add the butter to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium until it has melted. Add the onion and cook it, stirring frequently and bringing up any brown bits from the chicken, until the onion becomes translucent.

Create the sauce for your chicken tikka masala

Once the onions have cooked through, add the garlic paste, ginger paste, and the serrano and cook, stirring constantly, for two minutes. Then, add the spice mix of cumin, salt, ground ginger, garam masala, and cinnamon, and stir thoroughly. Continue to cook for another two or three minutes. 

Next, pour in the tomato sauce, and keep on stirring until the spice mixture and tomato sauce are thoroughly combined. Now, turn heat to low and simmer everything for ten minutes, stirring every few minutes so the chicken tikka masala sauce doesn't scorch.

Combine all your chicken tikka masala ingredients together

After ten minutes have passed, add the paprika and sugar and stir to mix them in completely, then add the chicken back to the pan. Return your chicken tikka masala to simmer, and cook for another ten minutes.

Meanwhile, in another pan, combine the rice, water, and a half teaspoon of kosher salt, bring things to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook the rice (covered) for about 15 minutes. Then, remove it from heat and leave the lid on while you finish the meal.

Now back to the main event. After those ten minutes, add your heavy cream (or coconut milk) to the chicken and tomato sauce mix. and stir to combine thoroughly. Simmer for about seven to ten more minutes. While simmering this last time, toast or heat the naan according to package directions or your preferences, and chop some cilantro for garnish.

Now, serve that chicken and sauce over the rice, garnish well with cilantro, and soak the sauce up with the naan as you enjoy both the dish and the praise of your diners.

Simple Chicken Tikka Masala Is Easier Than You Think
5 from 30 ratings
Chicken tikka masala may be a dish that's mostly enjoyed in the U.S. and Europe, but its flavors all come from Indian cooking.
Prep Time
15
minutes
Cook Time
60
minutes
Servings
4
servings
chicken tikka masala served
Total time: 75 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ medium yellow onion
  • 5 cloves garlic, pasted ( with a micrograter or garlic press)
  • 2 inches ginger, peeled and pasted (use a micrograter)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 serrano pepper
  • 1 (14-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream or high-quality coconut milk (recommended: Chaokoh brand or Aroy-D brand)
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 2 cups water
Optional Ingredients
  • Cilantro for garnish
  • Naan
Directions
  1. Dice onion into quarter-inch pieces and paste the garlic and ginger on a micrograter or rasp if you don't have ready-made garlic/ginger paste. Set aside.
  2. Slice the serrano pepper in half length-wise. If you want less spice, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and membranes. Set aside with garlic and ginger.
  3. Mix 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon garam masala, and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and set aside. Open can of tomato sauce, and measure whipping cream/coconut milk and set aside.
  4. Cut chicken into one and a half to two-inch chunks.
  5. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken chunks, season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and brown 3 to 5 minutes on the first side (until it easily releases from the skillet). Turn chicken over and sprinkle a teaspoon curry powder over chicken. Cook for 2 to 3 more minutes on the other side. Stir to evenly coat the chicken in the curry. Remove from the skillet and set aside. The chicken should not be cooked through completely, as it will finish cooking in the sauce.
  6. Add butter to the skillet and reduce heat to medium heat until melted. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently and bringing up any brown bits from the chicken, until translucent. Add garlic paste, ginger paste, and the serrano pepper, cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add spice mix of cumin, salt, ground ginger, garam masala, and cinnamon, and stir thoroughly and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Add tomato sauce and keep stirring until the spice mixture and tomato sauce are thoroughly combined. Turn heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes so the sauce doesn't scorch.
  8. After 10 minutes, add paprika and sugar and stir to mix completely. Add chicken back to the pan. Return to simmer and cook for another 10 minutes.
  9. Add rice, water, and half a teaspoon kosher salt to sauce pan, bring to boil, and reduce to simmer. Simmer (covered) for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and leave the lid on while you finish the meal.
  10. Add heavy cream/coconut milk to the chicken and tomato sauce and stir to combine thoroughly. Simmer for 7 to 10 minutes.
  11. While simmering, toast or heat naan according to package directions. Wrap naan in foil to keep warm, and when all is ready, serve chicken and sauce over rice, garnish with cilantro, and soak the sauce up with the naan as you enjoy.
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