Chicken Tikka Masala

Yum!  I’ve had a craving for Indian food for a couple of weeks.  I’m not at all adept at cooking Indian yet so I had to wait until I had plenty of time.  Chicken Tikka Masala is one of my favorite Indian dishes.  I’ve made it before, but with a recipe that wasn’t completely satisfactory.  Tonight I used a recipe from Food & Wine.  I think I hit the mark this time.  It’s not Anokha, my favorite local Indian place, but it’s pretty darn good and I can eat in my pjs.  I’m guessing they frown on that at Anokha.  ( A side note for my Charlottesville readers – Anokha is owned by the same people that own Milan).

It’s a multi step process.  Let me warn you now.  This has to be marinated for several hours, preferably overnight, so plan ahead.  I used low fat Greek yogurt for the marinade.  It has a nice tang to it and the thick texture helps it stick to the chicken without a bunch of stirring, turning, etc. during the marinating process.  As per usual I used tomatoes from last summer’s garden instead of canned.  I used a quart sized bag of tomatoes that I had cored, peeled and frozen. (Yes, you can freeze tomatoes, just plan to puree them for sauce or to cook down for paste.  They don’t hold any shape at all so you won’t get big pieces like you do from home canned or store bought).  They’re a tiny bit stringy so I recommend a food processor or blender to puree.  I made a few alterations to the recipe, mostly for convenience reasons.  I used light cream instead of heavy because it’s what I had in the house.   I skipped the almonds step altogether.   My sauce was a little thinner because of these changes.  I added time to the simmering steps to thicken it a little more.  I used chicken breast instead of thighs because it was on sale.  I think that was fine.  I also used long grain white rice.  Dont’ do that.  It’s worth getting the basmati rice and/or getting some naan from a local bakery or restaurant.  Basmati rice is so much lighter than regular rice.  It would make for a much more subtle accompaniment.  All in all dinner tonight was a big success.  The sauce has a lovely heat at the front of the mouth.  I served it with a Vino Verdhe, a new favorite summer white wine.  The wine is light with just a touch of fizz and it balances the spice nicely.

Good? Oh yes.
Easy? Not so much.  But worth the effort and the time.
Good for Company? I think it would be very impressive for anyone who likes Indian food.  Or a nice introduction for those less familiar with Indian cuisine.
Special shopping? The spice list includes some things you may not have, but don’t skip them.  Just get small amounts.

Chicken Tikka Masala


  • 1  cup  plain low-fat yogurt
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1  tablespoon  finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  ground cumin
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  ground coriander
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground cardamom
  • 1/4  teaspoon  cayenne pepper
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground turmeric
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 1/2  pounds  skinless, boneless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2  tablespoons  plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4  cup  blanched whole almonds
  • 1  large onion, finely chopped
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1  teaspoon  minced fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons  garam masala
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  pure chile powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon  cayenne pepper
  • One 35-ounce can peeled tomatoes, finely chopped, juices reserved
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1  cup  heavy cream


1. MAKE THE MASALA MARINADE: In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cayenne and turmeric. Season with salt and pepper.

2. PREPARE THE CHICKEN: Using a sharp knife, make a few shallow slashes in each piece of chicken. Add the chicken to the marinade, turn to coat and refrigerate overnight.

3. Preheat the broiler and position a rack about 8 inches from the heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade; scrape off as much of the marinade as possible. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and spread the pieces on a baking sheet. Broil the chicken, turning once or twice, until just cooked through and browned in spots, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut it into 2-inch pieces.

4. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil. Add the almonds and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate and let cool completely. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until finely ground.

5. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garam masala, chile powder and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with their juices and the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Cover partially and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Add the cream and ground almonds and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes longer. Stir in the chicken; simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, and serve.

Variation The marinade and sauce here are also delicious with shrimp, lamb and vegetables.

Make Ahead: The Chicken Tikka Masala can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat gently before serving.

Serve With: Steamed basmati rice, rice pilaf or warm nan.

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