Chicken Tikka Masala
Whether you’re new to Indian food or consider yourself a proud connoisseur, this Chicken Tikka Masala recipe has your number for dinner this week. Tender pieces of chicken slow simmered in a spiced yogurt tomato sauce, you’ll find tikka masala listed on just about any Indian restaurant menu, for good reason.
Chicken tikka masala is deeee-licious.
I spent one of the tastiest months of my life traveling around India, and Ben worked there for two summers.
Thanks to our mutual food affair, on the nights we order takeout, it’s almost always Indian food. Each time, we pick a different mix of dishes to share.
Well, most of the dishes are different, with one notable exception. I think you know where this is going.
Chicken tikka masala.
Made with garam masala (which is a blend of many spices), turmeric, and cumin, chicken tikka masala is spicy and rich, but only in the sense of FLAVOR. Chicken tikka masala is not “spicy” in the sense of hot, the way say a jalapeno might be. (If you are looking for spicy as in hot, try this Jamaican Curry Chicken).
If you haven’t eaten Indian food before, the taste can be a little hard to describe.
Picture warm, aromatic, and a little exotic.
And really, really good.
Many authentic Indian chicken tikka masala recipes call for toasting and grinding whole spices, a pour of heavy cream, and have a list of ingredients that runs the length of my forearm.
They’re tasty of course, but not something I am substantially motivated to make at home, especially on a weeknight when I prize fast, nutritious recipes.
Since tikka masala is one of my favorite Indian dishes, a few years ago I developed a shortcut version for a healthy Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala. It’s become a 5-star reader favorite and is a recipe I cook often.
Since not everyone owns an Instant Pot, what you’ll find in today’s post is an easy chicken tikka masala recipe made on the stovetop with ingredients you can find at most grocery stores.
All you need is a great big pot, a spoon, and of course, an appetite!
What is Indian Chicken Tikka Masala
Traditional Indian chicken tikka masala features pieces of chicken tikka (boneless chicken marinated in spices and yogurt that is roasted in an oven), served in a creamy tomato curry sauce. It’s typically served over rice, often with naan bread to mop up the saucy goodness.
No one single recipe is standard. This particular version of chicken tikka masala is healthy. I used light, wholesome ingredients without sacrificing the warm flavors and luscious texture.
The true chicken tikka masala origin is up for dispute.
- Some say it was created Punjab, India by accident a mere 50 years ago.
- Some say it originated in a South Asian community in Britain.
- One popular account states that chicken tikka masala actually originated in Scotland, where a British Pakistani chef added a tomato cream sauce over the top of his chicken tikka dish to satisfy a customer (the customer was expecting more of a gravy and thought the original dish was dry). The addition was a huge success, and the variation stuck.
Wherever and however this dish came to be, I’m certainly glad it did! I suspect you will be too.
Chicken Tikka Masala vs. Butter Chicken
Chicken tikka masala is frequently confused with butter chicken, which has a similar appearance. Both dishes have the same orange-colored sauce and bite-sized pieces of chicken.
Unlike chicken tikka masala, however, butter chicken does not have a prominent tomato flavor. Butter chicken’s sauce is also slightly creamier and richer.
How to Make Chicken Tikka Masala
This is a lightened-up, streamlined version of a more traditional Indian chicken masala recipe.
It’s not spicy, and you can find the ingredients at most major grocery stores.
- Chicken. I used boneless, skinless chicken breast, though you can certainly swap chicken thighs. It becomes tantalizingly tender once slow cooked in the sauce and spices.
- Garlic + Ginger. Both add to the complex flavors of the dish.
- Garam Masala. A blend of many spices (including cinnamon, mace, peppercorns, coriander, cumin, and cardamom to name a few), it’s a one-stop flavor shop and a must-have spice for Indian-inspired recipes like this one. It can be found at most grocery stores and online here.
- Other Spices. Turmeric, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne help create the bold, deep, and complex flavor we expect from chicken tikka masala sauce. Adjust the amount of cayenne as needed to reach your desired level of spiciness.
- Tomato Sauce. For the sauce’s signature tomato flavor. I prefer to use a sauce with no salt added for better control over the saltiness of the dish.
- Coconut Milk + Greek Yogurt. My wholesome swaps for the heavy cream. Both ingredients help thicken the sauce and make it supremely rich and creamy. I used light coconut milk and nonfat yogurt.
- Peas. A colorful final veggie addition. Frozen peas work beautifully here. You don’t even need to thaw them first.
- Season the chicken.
- Sauté the onion in butter. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and spices.
- Brown the chicken, stirring to coat the pieces in the spices. Look at that color!
- Stir in the tomato sauce and coconut milk.
- Simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick.
- Let cool for a few minutes before stirring in the yogurt. Serve with rice or naan, with a sprinkle of cilantro. ENJOY!
Storage and Reheating Tips
- To Store. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm chicken tikka masala in a Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-low heat. You can also reheat this dish in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating. The texture of the sauce may change, but the flavors will still be delicious.
What to Serve with Chicken Tikka Masala
- Rice. With its creamy sauce, this recipe was meant to be served with a bed of rice. White, brown, or cauliflower rice would all be tasty.
- Naan. An undeniably scrumptious Indian flatbread that is perfect for dipping in the sauce. You can find it at most major grocery stores, an Indian restaurant or deli near you, or look up a recipe for homemade naan (I have my eye on this one).
- Vegetables. Serve this dish with a healthy side of Crock Pot Honey Carrots or Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic.
- Tofu Tikka Masala. An excellent vegetarian tikka option for this recipe, using cubes of extra firm tofu
- Paneer Tikka Masala. If you can get your hands on paneer (I hear Costco has it now; I found it at an Indian grocery store near me), it’s absolutely delicious and worth trying at least once (though I think you’ll want it much more than once!)
More Indian Favorites
Put your spices to good use making one of these Indian-inspired dishes.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Dutch Oven. A classic kitchen tool that’s perfect for making this recipe.
- Extra Large Cutting Board. Never run out of cutting space again.
- Measuring Spoons. Perfect for measuring all the different spices in this dish.
Cooking this recipe takes me right back to that wonderful summer in India. I hope it transports you there too!
As always, if you try this recipe please leave a comment below to let me know how it came out. Your notes and kind reviews keep me going, and your feedback is so important to me.
Chicken Tikka Masala
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts - cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt - divided
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 small yellow onion - finely chopped
- 3 large cloves garlic - minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon garam masala*
- 1 teaspoon ground chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne - use more if you like the dish spicy
- 1 8-ounce can no salt added tomato sauce
- 1 14.5-ounce can light coconut milk
- 3/4 cup frozen peas - no need to thaw
- 1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- Prepared brown rice — or naan - for serving
- Fresh cilantro - for serving
- Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and set aside.
- In a Dutch oven or similar large, sturdy pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the onion. Cook until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, garam masala, chili powder, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is completely soft and the spices are very fragrant, about 3 minutes more.
- Add the chicken pieces, stir to coat with the spices and onion, and cook, stirring often, just until the outsides start to brown, about 4 minutes.
- Add the tomato sauce, coconut milk, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine.
- Bring the pot to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low. Let simmer gently until the sauce thickens slightly and the chicken is tender and cooked through, about 20 minutes.
- Uncover and stir in the peas.
- Let cool for 3 to 4 minutes, and then stir in the Greek yogurt (do not stir in the Greek yogurt right away or it may curdle). Enjoy warm with rice or naan and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro.
- *Garam masala is a blend of many spices and is very important to the final flavor of the recipe. It is available in most grocery stores and can also be found online here.
- TO STORE: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm chicken tikka masala in a Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-low heat. You can also reheat this dish in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating. The texture of the sauce may change, but the flavors will still be delicious.
- Adapted from my Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala.
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