This is the best Chicken Tikka Masala recipe you will ever make! Filled with tender, marinated chicken pieces swimming in a rich and creamy curry sauce made from fragrant spices, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, ginger, cream, and butter, this recipe is so easy to make at home and just as amazing as your favorite Indian restaurant.
Chicken tikka masala is my favorite Indian curry. I am slightly obsessed. It’s rich, creamy, buttery, and so deliciously fragrant. Kids love it, husbands love it, and lucky for us it is so easy to make right at home.
If you’re new to Indian food, this chicken tikka masala recipe is a great place to start. And making it at home will allow you to modify the heat level so that it is just as spicy as you’d like – or not spicy at all.
Butter Chicken vs. Tikka Masala
There are two main differences between chicken tikka masala and butter chicken.
- Quantity of spices: As a general rule, chicken tikka masala almost always has a greater amount of spice when compared to butter chicken. This leads to an overall brighter, bolder spice-flavored curry sauce.
- Type of chicken: Some believe that chicken tikka masala is meant to include large chunks of boneless chicken breast meat that is roasted or cooked in a tandoor before being transferred to the rich curry sauce. As such, the chicken will typically be greatly charred around the outside. On the other hand, Butter Chicken is best made with bone-in pieces of chicken thighs or legs.
Chicken Tikka Masala Main Ingredients
Chicken tikka masala is made with chicken, plain Greek yogurt, fresh garlic and ginger, onions, tomato sauce, heavy cream, butter, sugar, and lemon juice. You will also need a handful of spices including garam masala (this is one that I recommend), ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika, turmeric, and cardamom.
Chicken Thighs or Chicken Breasts?
Chicken tikka masala is typically made by marinating chunks of chicken breast in a spice-filled yogurt sauce before being grilled or cooked in a tandoor oven. Since most of us do not have a tandoor, we’ll have to use the next best thing – a smoking hot skillet. For this reason, I recommend swapping the chicken breast for chicken thigh meat. Chicken thighs are less likely to dry out and have better flavor.
How to Make Chicken Tikka Masala
1. Marinate the chicken:
You may be tempted to skip this step, but it’s probably the most important. Simply combine the chicken with the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to coat. Cover and allow your chicken to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to three days.
2. Brown the chicken:
Grab your favorite pan, Dutch oven, or skillet (preferably one with tall sides) and get it nice and hot – like seriously HOT. Add a generous splash of oil to the skillet and swirl to coat. Add the chicken in a single layer and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until browned and just starting to char. Do not crowd the pan and do not move the chicken until it has cooked for at least 2-3 minutes and is starting to brown. Each pan gives different results but assuming the chicken isn’t burnt to death, a little charring is good.
Work in batches, as needed, until all the chicken has been browned. Set aside to a clean plate and scrape out any stuck-on charred bits of chicken.
3. Make the curry sauce:
Wipe down your pan to remove any brown bits stuck to the bottom and return to medium heat. Add a splash of olive oil and the onions. Cook the onions until softened and translucent, then reduce heat to medium-low. Add the garlic and paprika and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Mix in the turmeric, garam masala, coriander, cumin, and cardamom powder. Cook for an additional two minutes, toasting the spices and stirring often – yes, it will look like a mushy, dry glob of onions covered in spices.
Add the tomato puree and water, bringing it to a low simmer. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning to the bottom of the pot.
Remove from heat and puree the sauce using a high-speed blender or food processor. Return the sauce back to the pot and set it over low heat. Add the cream, sugar, and butter. Return the chicken to the pot and simmer everything all together for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until fully cooked. Take care not to boil the sauce.
Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe Tips
- Use ghee in place of oil for a more flavorful (and authentic) dish.
- If the chicken was allowed to marinate in the refrigerator overnight, allow it to come to room temperature for at least 15 minutes before adding to your hot pan or skillet. This is especially important if chicken breasts were used since they contain less fat than chicken thighs and are more likely to stick to your pan or skillet.
- Use plain, full-fat yogurt for the marinade and full-fat heavy cream for the curry sauce.
- If you prefer a thicker sauce, add a few tablespoons of cashews or almonds at the same time that you added the tomato puree.
- This recipe is gluten-free.
Is Chicken Tikka Masala Indian?
While it is known that Chicken Tikka originated in the Punjab region of India, the origin of Chicken Tikka Masala is thought to be somewhere in the UK, including one hypothesis that it was invented by a Bangladeshi chef in Britain or another that it was created in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow, Scotland.
In any case, it is said that there are nearly 50 variations of this popular dish and that, although it is known as Chicken Tikka Masala, is often made using lamb, fish, or paneer.
What to Serve with Chicken Tikka Masala
More Indian Recipes to Try Next
Have you tried making this Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe?
Tell me about it in the comments below! I always love to hear your thoughts. And tag me #theforkedspoon on Instagram if you’ve made any of my recipes, I always love to see what you’re cooking in the kitchen.
Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe
For the Marinade
For the Curry
- 2 tablespoon canola oil
- 2 yellow onions - chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon fresh ginger - peeled and grated
- 6 cloves garlic - minced
- 1.5 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoon ground cumin
- ⅛ teaspoon cardamom powder
- 1 (15 ounce) can tomato puree
- 2 cups water
- ½ cup whipping cream - plus more as desired
- 2 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoon butter
For the Marinade
- Combine all ingredients for the marinade in a large mixing bowl. Whisk well to combine. Add the chicken and mix well to coat.
- Cover and allow the chicken to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to three days.
Brown the Chicken
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pan or skillet with tall sides over high heat. Once hot, add the chicken in a single layer and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until brown and just starting to char. Remove chicken to a clean plate and set aside (do not worry if the chicken is not fully cooked on the inside).
- Scrape out any charred bits stuck to the bottom of the pan and repeat process until all chicken has been cooked (it took me three rounds).
For the Curry
- Wipe down the pot, or clean as needed to remove any brown bits that may have stuck to the bottom. Return to medium high heat.
- Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan. Once hot, add the onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the salt and ginger and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often to prevent the ginger from burning.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the garlic and paprika and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often to prevent the paprika from burning.
- Finally, mix in the turmeric, garam masala, coriander, cumin, and cardamom powder. Cook for an additional two minutes, toasting the spices and stirring often.
- Stir in the tomato puree and water with the onions and spices. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cover. Allow mixture to simmer for approximately 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning to the bottom of the pot.
- Remove from heat and transfer sauce to a large, high-speed blender. Process until smooth. Return the sauce back to the pot, making sure to return as much of the sauce stuck in the blender back to the pot as possible.
- Return pot to low heat. Stir in the cream, sugar, and butter. Once the butter has melted, return the chicken to the pot and mix well to combine.
- Allow the chicken to simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked. Take care not to boil the sauce. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.
- Serve with warm naan or pita bread, if desired. Enjoy!
- Fresh is best. Always try to use fresh ginger, fresh garlic, and always always ALWAYS fresh lemon.
- If you marinate the chicken in the refrigerator overnight, allow it to come to room temperature for at least 15 minutes before adding to your hot pan or skillet. This is especially important if you chose to use chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs.
- Mild or spicy? Depending on your heat tolerance, you may choose to make your curry mild or spicy. This version is quite mild. Add 1/2 or more teaspoons of cayenne powder to kick it up a notch.
- If you prefer a thicker sauce, add a few tablespoons of ground cashews or almonds at the same time that you added the tomato puree.
- Not a fan of chicken? Try making this recipe with lamb, beef, mutton, cauliflower, or even paneer.
- Is Chicken Tikka Masala gluten-free? Yes!
- The leftovers are amazing so definitely hold on to those and enjoy for up to 5 days!
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)