Chicken Tikka Masala is a great gateway meal for those who haven’t tried Indian cuisine or who aren’t overly adventurous eaters. In this Ultimate Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe, tender pieces of chicken are simmered in a luxurious, creamy tomato sauce and made fragrant with Indian spices like coriander, ginger and Garam Masala.
It’s not too spicy and it does not have a strong curry flavor, so the whole family can get in on it. It all comes together in one pan, and it’s naturally gluten free. Let’s dig in!
What’s in Chicken Tikka Masala
There’s nothing to be intimidated by here, as all of the main ingredients for this Indian dish are easy to find in most grocery stores. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Boneless, skinless chicken breast. More authentic versions of this dish use chicken thighs. Either one works, so use what you like.
- Greek yogurt. The nonfat version is so thick and rich that you can get away with using it here, and save yourself some fat grams.
- Tomato sauce
- Tomato paste
- Heavy cream. Some people really enjoy substituting an equal amount of coconut milk for the cream, which is totally allowed.
- Onions. Yellow onions are the standard, but a sweeter onion like Vidalia is also nice. Avoid using red onion.
- Ginger. While fresh is always best, I find that having a jar of minced ginger in the house makes life a million times easier without affecting flavor. Use it if you don’t have the fresh kind on hand.
- Garam Masala. This is an incredible Indian spice blend made up of clove, cinnamon and cardamom. It imparts a pungent but sweet flavor to food that’s almost hard to describe because there’s nothing else like it. Just try it.
How to make the Ultimate Chicken Tikka Masala
Making this Chicken Tikka Masala is a two-step process, but I definitely consider it weeknight cooking because the steps are quick. And you’ll only need one pan. Yay!
The chicken should marinate for at least an hour. If you can, throw it in the fridge in the morning so it can marinate all day. If you forget, just do it an hour before you want to make dinner. It doesn’t need too much time. The marinade is a mixture of Greek yogurt, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander and salt.
Then, you’ll brown the chicken pieces and make the tikka masala sauce. The sauce comes together really quickly and only needs about 10 minutes of simmering until it reaches that creamy, silky consistency.
It has a base of tomato sauce and gets its creaminess from – you guessed it – cream. We’re also doubling down on the marinade spices and using them again in the sauce.
What to Serve with Tikka Masala
If I’m at one of my favorite Indian restaurants, I’m also ordering up some onion bhaji. So good.
And where there’s naan, there’s raita. Raita is a yogurt sauce that helps cool down the palate after some spicy bites of curry. Now, your meal is complete!
Is Chicken Tikka Masala Spicy?
The short answer – it can be. The heat level in this and any other curry dish is always adjustable to your preference. Most Indian restaurants will give you the option to select the heat level of your order.
Indian curries typically get their heat from ingredients like red chili powder, cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes. This Ultimate Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe uses crushed red pepper flakes for heat. The result has a mild-to-medium heat level. I encourage you to adjust the measurement to your liking.
Chicken Tikka Masala vs. Butter Chicken
Butter Chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala are two of most popular dishes that you’ll find at Indian restaurants. And they’re very similar. They both have roots in Northern India and both have chicken as their primary ingredient. They both use a combination of spices like garlic and ginger and are simmered in a creamy curry sauce.
Here’s how they are different: Tikka Masala is a tomato-based sauce with a bolder use of spices and heat. Butter Chicken is creamier, does not include tomato in the sauce, and is less spicy than Chicken Tikka Masala. Also, any kind of boneless chicken (breasts or thighs) is used in Tikka Masala, while Butter Chicken typically only uses breasts.
Chicken Tikka Masala vs. Chicken Korma
Chicken Korma is another ah-mazing Indian dish that I love so very much. Like Tikka Masala, it starts with tender chicken that’s served in a creamy, aromatic sauce. Both use yogurt-based sauces.
Unlike Tikka Masala, Chicken Korma does not have tomatoes in its sauce. Also, Korma almost always uses coconut milk. Tikka Masala typically uses cream. Chicken Korma also incorporates some type of nut – usually cashews – in the sauce. Tikka Masala does not use nuts.
Tikka Masala vs. Curry
While all masalas are curries, not all curries are masalas. The term “curry” is used to describe any vegetable or meat that is cooked with spices. A curry can be creamy, tomatoey, spicy or mild. It’s a blanket term for many cooked dishes. Not all curries include actual curry powder. Some include no actual curry powder at all!
Masala, on the other hand, refers to the specific spice blend used in dishes like this Ultimate Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe.
Origin of Tikka Masala
Did you know that Chicken Tikka Masala is considered the national dish for the United Kingdom? If you’ve ever visited London, this comes as no surprise. Indian food culture is huge over there!
We ate a lot of Indian food when we visited. Some of the best Chicken Tikka Masala can be found in the UK.
It traces back to the 1960s, when a Bangladeshi chef and his cohorts migrated to the UK and brought their cuisine with them.
So while there may be some debate over the true origin of this dish, its true roots are certainly in India.
I think of this Chicken Tikka Masala as the ultimate Indian comfort food. It’s so warming and satisfying, especially with a side of naan bread. And the tomato cream sauce is so addicting, it will make even the most resistant eater an instant fan of Indian food.
I hope you love this Ultimate Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe as much as we do. And when you make it, I’d love to hear about it! Drop a rating or leave a comment below. Enjoy!
For more Indian-inspired recipes, try these:
- Coconut Cauliflower Curry
- Tandoori Spiced Chicken Thighs
- Raita (Indian Yogurt Dip for Naan & Biryani)
For more chicken dinner recipes, try these:
- Old Fashioned Chicken and Vegetable Stew
- Chicken Shawarma with Tahini Yogurt Sauce
- Ginger Soy Chicken Meatballs
The Ultimate Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe
- 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast cubed
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt I use nonfat
- 1 Tbsp. garlic minced
- 1 Tbsp. ginger minced
- 1/2 tsp. Garam Masala
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp. cumin
- 2 15- oz. cans of tomato sauce
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 cups diced yellow onion
- 4 tsp. Garam Masala
- 3 tsp. garlic minced
- 3 tsp. ginger minced
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
- 4-5 cups cooked basmati or jasmine rice
- fresh cilantro optional, for garnish
- Combine all marinade ingredients, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
- When ready to cook, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the chicken. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside.
- Add oil and onions to the skillet and saute until onions have started to soften. Add garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper and Garam Masala and continue to saute. Stir in the tomato paste.
- Pour in the tomato sauce and use a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the skillet. Add heavy cream and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer, add the chicken back to the skillet and simmer until thickened, 10-15 minutes. Serve over cooked rice and garnish with lots of fresh cilantro.