Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala
This healthy Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala recipe was inspired by the month I spent in India, otherwise known as 30 of the most delicious days of my life. We didn’t grow up eating Indian food so before I visited, I wasn’t even sure if I’d like it. Chicken tikka masala (and every Indian food recipe I tasted after) crushed that doubt in one bite.
Everything about India captured my heart, from its color to its chaos to the warmth of its people to its cuisine. While there is much about India that I miss, it is the steaming, creamy curries, fluffy, tender naan bread, and vibrant spices I pine for most.
I’ve had prior success making healthy, Indian-inspired recipes in my own kitchen, Paneer Tikka Masala, Slow Cooker Butter Chicken, and Instant Pot Lentil Curry being three faves. Ben’s also spent time in India, and since chicken tikka masala is one of his favorite Indian dishes too, I decided to try my hand at a skinny chicken tikka masala that would do justice to the chicken curries we’d each experienced abroad.
While this Instant Pot chicken tikka masala cannot compare exactly to the ones we ate in India, for a richly flavored at-home version that takes minutes to prep, is made from ingredients I can purchase in a Midwest grocery store, AND that is healthy, I’m pretty darn happy with it. I am betting that you will be too!
What is in Chicken Tikka Masala?
Chicken tikka masala is a rich, flavorful Indian dish that consists of bite-sized pieces of juicy boneless chicken bathed in a rich, thick spiced curry sauce. It’s spiced in the sense of being intensely flavorful; it’s not spicy in the sense of being “hot.” The tikka sauce is orange in color, and it usually contains a creamy ingredient like coconut cream or yogurt. There is not one true recipe for chicken tikka masala, and you can find dozens (and dozens) of versions of it online. Today, I’m sharing my favorite easy chicken tikka masala recipe that’s made with simple ingredients you can find at the average grocery store.
- Chicken. I opted for boneless skinless chicken breasts, which become perfectly moist and flavorful during cooking. (If you’re looking for a vegetarian recipe, try this Tofu Tikka Masala.)
- Butter. While I think butter is best in this recipe, you could also try ghee, coconut oil, or extra-virgin olive oil.
- Vegetables. Onion and frozen peas were an easy and tasty addition.
- Garlic and Ginger. Fresh is the way to go with both of these.
- Spices. The secret to the richly flavored tikka curry sauce! I used garam masala, chili powder, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne, which should all be easy to find in your local grocery store.
- Tomato Sauce. Adds incredible flavor with little work.
- Coconut Milk. Gives the sauce creaminess and richness.
- Greek Yogurt. For an extra bump of protein and to make the sauce all the more creamy, I made the Indian chicken tikka masala with Greek yogurt.
- Brown Rice or Naan. For serving! Both of these are delicious for soaking up the scrumptious sauce.
- Season the chicken with salt.
- Melt the butter in the Instant Pot on SAUTE, then add the onion, garlic, ginger, and spices. Cook and stir until fragrant.
- Add the chicken, cooking until browned. Stir in the tomato sauce. Cover and cook on HIGH pressure for 8 minutes. Vent immediately.
- Uncover and add the coconut milk. Turn the Instant Pot to SAUTE, and let simmer until thickened. Turn the Instant Pot off, and stir in the peas. Let it cool for a few minutes before stirring in the Greek yogurt. Enjoy with your desired sides and toppings!
Is Chicken Tikka Masala Bad for You?
- While traditional chicken tikka masala calories may be considered high, this lightened-up version is good for you.
- Thanks to the healthy swaps, this recipe is packed with protein and nutrients while staying relatively low in calories.
What Does Chicken Tikka Masala Taste Like?
- Chicken tikka masala is creamy and has a richly flavored tomato base. It’s slightly earthy, has rich undertones of garlic and ginger, and a hint of spice that tastes exotic but won’t overwhelm you.
- What is the difference between butter chicken and chicken tikka masala? While both dishes can be similar in appearance and texture, butter chicken has less spices and tomato flavor than chicken tikka masala. (Butter chicken is also DELISH. For a first-hand comparison, check out my favorite Instant Pot Butter Chicken recipe.)
Why Make Chicken Tikka Masala in a Pressure Cooker?
As you no doubt deduced from the recipe title, I cooked this easy chicken tikka masala in my Instant Pot.
- Because authentic Indian food recipes often take hours to prepare (thanks to toasting and grinding whole spices, plus long simmer times), making pressure cooker Indian food is a natural, valuable shortcut to creating a similar effect in a fraction of the time. Also, because the pressure cooker doesn’t lose moisture, the chicken stays wonderfully moist. I am smitten with Instant Pot Indian chicken recipes. This Instant Pot Chicken and Rice has a few of the same healing Indian spices (though its flavor profile is more subtle). (Check out more of my favorite healthy Instant Pot dishes in this post: 15 Healthy Instant Pot Recipes.)
- Can I make this healthy chicken tikka masala in a slow cooker instead? I haven’t tried a chicken tikka masala slow cooker version yet, but I’m betting it would work! See tips for slow cooker and stovetop versions of the recipe in the notes section in the recipe below. Also, check out my recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Curry.
How to Store, Reheat, and Instant Pot Tikka Masala
- To Store. Store chicken tikka masala in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- To Reheat. Gently reheat leftovers in a large pot on the stovetop over medium-low heat until hot. You can also reheat this dish in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl until warmed through.
- To Freeze. Place cooked and cooled leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating. The texture will become slightly grainy, but it will still be tasty.
What to Serve with Chicken Tikka Masala
- Rice. I love serving this dish with a side of brown rice, but white or basmati rice would be great as well.
- Naan. Fluffy and always delicious! You can make your own naan or buy it premade like I did for this Grilled Naan Pizza with Strawberry Chicken and Avocado.
- Vegetables. To bump up the veggie content of your meal, this would be delicious with a side of roasted cauliflower or sautéed kale.
Recommended Tools to Make Instant Pot Tikka Masala
- Instant Pot. I used this one to make my Instant Pot chicken tikka masala.
Whether you adore Indian food or are just starting to tiptoe your way in, this healthy twist on chicken tikka masala is a wonderful mini vacation on a plate.
Close your eyes and inhale its sweet aroma. You can almost hear the Bollywood tunes playing through the streets!
Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts - cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt - divided
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter - or coconut oil, ghee, or extra-virgin olive oil...I do think the butter is worth it here!
- 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 can no salt added tomato sauce - (8 ounces)
- 1 can light coconut milk - (14 ounces)
- 3/4 cup frozen peas
- 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.
- Add the butter to an Instant Pot and set to SAUTE. Once melted, add the onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala, chili powder, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and the spices are very fragrant, about 5 minutes.
- 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 and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on HIGH pressure for 8 minutes. Vent to immediately release the pressure.
- Uncover and stir in the coconut milk. Turn the Instant Pot back to SAUTE. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and let it continue to simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the Instant Pot off, and then 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.
- Instant Pot Brown Rice: I've been playing around, and so far my favorite ratio is 1 cup long-grain brown rice to 1 1/4 cups water. Stir the two together, add a pinch of kosher salt, and cook on high pressure for 22 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes. PERFECT. (Please note, this applies to long-grain brown rice only. Other rice types may have different cook times and liquid ratios.)
- TO STORE: Store chicken tikka masala in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- TO REHEAT: Gently reheat leftovers in a large pot on the stovetop over medium-low heat until hot. You can also reheat this dish in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl until warmed through.
- TO FREEZE: Place cooked and cooled leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating. The texture will become slightly grainy, but it will still be tasty.
- TO MAKE DAIRY FREE: Use coconut or olive oil in place of the butter; replace the Greek yogurt with a non-dairy yogurt, such as coconut milk yogurt.
- TO MAKE ON THE STOVETOP: Instead of using the Instant Pot in step 2, melt the butter in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium high and continue with steps 2 and 3. After stirring in the tomato sauce and salt in step 3, cover and simmer over medium low until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Uncover the pot, stir in the coconut milk, and allow to simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the peas. Let cool for 3 to 4 minutes before stirring in the Greek yogurt.
- TO MAKE IN THE SLOW COOKER: Follow step 1 as written. Melt the butter in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat and continue with steps 2 and 3. After browning the chicken pieces, transfer the contents of the skillet to your slow cooker and add the tomato sauce and salt. Stir to combine, cover, and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or low for 6 to 8 hours. When the chicken is done, stir in the coconut milk and frozen peas. Let cool for 3 to 4 minutes, and then stir in the Greek yogurt. (Note that the sauce may be a thinner consistency when made in the slow cooker.)
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