Saturday, June 5, 2010

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala is one of my favorite "comfort foods."  When I think about it, most of my favorite foods fall into that category.  I grew up in the Midwest, I really can't help it.  Does it have gravy on it?  Gimme some!  This dish has chicken, rice, and a delicious tomato cream sauce, that for all intents and purposes, is gravy.  Delicious, spicy, delectable gravy.  It's perfect for a rainy day, a rotten day, or any day that a thick, warm blanket of cream sauce might seem like one of the few reliable things on this earth.  No, gravy won't solve all your problems.  But like good whiskey, or a spoonful of sugar, sometimes it makes the medicine go down.

Chicken Tikka is also my first attempt at making Indian food.  I love to eat it in restaurants, but was intimidated by the idea of recreating it at home.  Turns out my fear was unfounded.  Two things make this recipe relatively fool-proof.  First, it's from Cooks Illustrated, known for their extremely thorough testing.  I won't say every single recipe of theirs I have tried has been a winner, but the vast majority have been good.  Second, I take a reliable shortcut on the spices.  There's a store downtown that has a perfect Tikka Masala blend, so I swap their blend for the individual spices listed in the recipe.  I'm all for adventure in the kitchen, but when something works, it works.  This recipe tastes just like I expect Chicken Tikka to taste.  And don't despair if you're not in Seattle.  If you can't find this spice blend in your area, the store ships, and the prices are reasonable.
If you have never tried Indian food before, because you're afraid it will be too spicy (Helloooo Midwestern Family!), this might be the recipe for you.  The sauce is not "hot hot." It's a tomato-based sauce flavored by garlic, ginger, spices and finished with cream.  How spicy it is depends entirely on you.  The recipe only calls for one chile.  You can add more chile, less chile, or remove the seeds and ribs before mincing, to reduce the chile's heat.  Myself, I like it hot, so I keep the seeds and ribs.  Next time I think I'd even up it to two chiles.
One of the brilliant things about this recipe is the preparation for the chicken. First, you press the tikka masala spices into the chicken and let the breasts rest in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.  Then you dunk the chicken in a rich, thick Greek yogurt marinade.  The yogurt protects the meat from drying out while it cooks, and results in the most tender, juicy chicken you can imagine.  The chicken also develops a beautiful charred exterior that lends both flavor and visual appeal. 

While the chicken rests in the fridge, whip up the yogurt marinade and set aside.
Now it's time to build the sauce.  Begin by sauteing onions in oil until they're a light golden color.
Then add the chile, tikka masala, garlic, ginger and tomato paste.
And stir to combine.  Let it cook for a few minutes to blend all the flavors.  This stage of the recipe will have you drooling from the smell of the spices warming, and releasing their essential oils.
Then you add the canned tomatoes and let the sauce simmer.  At this point you could use an immersion blender to achieve a smoother sauce, eliminating chunks of pepper and onion.  That is the one difference I find with this recipe vs a restaurant.  However, I have to say I like the texture the vegetables bring. So, if you don't want to bother, or like myself don't own an immersion blender, don't worry about it.
While the sauce is simmering, dunk the chicken in the yogurt mixture.  Make sure the chicken is thoroughly coated, and transfer to a broiler pan. 
As you can see, the spice mixture will rub off a bit during this process and color the yogurt, but don't worry.  You can't tell the difference when it's cooked.
While the chicken is broiling, chop the cilantro you will add to the sauce at the end. You could also set some aside to garnish the plate, which I forgot to do.
After about 11 minutes per side, the chicken is done when it looks like this.
Let the chicken rest for at least five minutes before chopping into one-inch chunks.
Add the cream and cilantro to the sauce at the end, about five minutes before you're ready to serve. 

And here is the final product.  I ate every single bite, and you want to know the truth?  Gravy makes you feel better.  I dare you to be unhappy after eating this, it's just not possible.  Tender broiled chicken; spicy and slightly tangy from the yogurt marinade. Basmati rice.  A thick, tomatoey, creamy sauce; with just the right blend of spices to warm you straight through.  If that doesn't sound like the cure to a bad day, well, I don't know what does.

If all else fails, pour yourself another glass of whiskey.  

Chicken Tikka Masala by Bonzo Bean
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, published September 1, 2007 
Serves 4 to 6

This dish is best when prepared with whole-milk yogurt, but low-fat yogurt can be substituted. For a spicier dish, do not remove the ribs and seeds from the chile. The sauce can be made ahead, refrigerated for up to 4 days in an airtight container, and gently reheated before adding the hot chicken. Serve with basmati rice. 


1 tablespoon Tikka Masala spice blend 
(or 1/2 t ground cumin, 1/2 t ground coriander, 1/4 t cayenne pepper)
1 teaspoon table salt
2-3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

Masala Sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion , diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger root
1 fresh serrano chile, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Tikka Masala spice blend, or more to taste 
(or 2 t coriander, 1/4 t cardamom, 1/4 t cinnamon, 1/2 t black pepper)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves


1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine Tikka Masala spice blend and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.

2. FOR THE SAUCE: Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and tikka masala blend; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

3. While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler on high. Using tongs, dip chicken into yogurt mixture and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, or broiler pan. Discard excess yogurt mixture. Broil chicken until thickest parts register 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer and exterior is lightly charred in spots, about 11 minutes per side.

4. Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce (do not simmer chicken in sauce.)   Stir in cilantro, adjust seasoning with salt, and serve.  Note: I skipped this step and simply topped the chicken and rice with the sauce, in order to keep the chicken's nicely charred coating intact.


  1. Helloooo from the Midwestern Family!! Sounds really good. We would be willing to try this the next time you are home to fix it!!!

  2. Thanks for post this, Kelly! I tried a chicken tikka masala recipe one time 3 years ago and it was awful and difficult to make to boot. So excited to try this one! Love me some gravy. :)

  3. @ Al, thanks babe!

    @ktothet, you're welcome! I should bring you some spice blend, I have lots leftover as I compulsively overbuy.

  4. Like, Super duper YUM! I always wanted a good recipe for this. I love ordering this at Indian restaurants but always am so intimidated to try Indian at home. Thanks, Kelly!

  5. Oh yum! I love Indian food! We make curry pretty regularly (when we have a kitchen up and running to use). There's a Butter Chicken recipe on The Pioneer Woman's site that I'm longing to make. Your Chicken Tikka Masala looks great too!

  6. Kelly, Now this dish could be matched up wine a few wines or.......A nice cold beer! Your wineguy @ the Q

  7. Hey Wine Guy, we drank the Dancing Bull Zinfandel with it. I picked it up after seeing your write-up. =) Twas delish.

  8. Finally made this. Yum!

  9. @ Karlen, that's great! I'm so glad you liked it! =)

  10. Don't hold your breath for the mini-pot roast thing though. ;)

  11. @ Karlen, you are so stubborn...