This Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe is so easy to make right at home using simple and delicious ingredients like fragrant spices, tomato sauce, onion, garlic, ginger, cream, and butter. Filled with tender, juicy, marinated chicken pieces swimming in a rich, aromatic, and creamy curry sauce, the whole family will love this restaurant-quality chicken tikka masala recipe.
Given that my husband is HALF Indian, I have decided it would be fun to add some easy and delicious Indian recipes for all of you to try. After all, I am a huge fan of Indian food and need a place to keep all my favorites stored for safekeeping.
I’ve decided to start with the recipe for one of my all-time favorites – rich, creamy, and utterly irresistible chicken tikka masala.
Super easy to prepare, the flavor is out-of-this-world! Easily modified to be spicy, mild, or somewhere in-between, this recipe is guaranteed to have the whole family asking for seconds.
Ingredients in Chicken Tikka Masala
There are two main parts to this recipe- the marinade and the sauce. Fear not, the list is not nearly as long as it seems (and many of the items listed are spices).
For the full list and amounts of ingredients, scroll down to the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
- Plain, full-fat Greek yogurt. It doesn’t really matter what kind of yogurt you use as long as it’s plain, unsweetened, and full-fat. Yogurt is the ultimate meat tenderizer and will also play a critical part in the overall taste of the sauce.
- Garlic + Ginger. These aromatics infuse into the yogurt and help season the overall dish. Garlic and ginger are paramount to Indian cooking.
- Garam masala. Garam (“hot”) and Masala (a mixture of spices) translate to a mixture of spices used to “heat the body”. In other words, they are a mixture of spices that are mixed and roasted and then ground together. This is a dry mixture. While the spices are not necessarily hot in a literal sense, these spices are believed to elevate body temperature in Ayurvedic medicine. Usually a blend of spices including black pepper, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg, and green cardamom. The garam masala blends will differ between brands and regions, but this is one that I recommend.
- Ground Cumin. A staple in much of Indian cooking, cumin gives an earthy, warming, somewhat peppery character to food.
- Ground coriander. The ground-up seeds of what we know as the cilantro plant, ground coriander is often described as warm, nutty, and citrusy.
- Paprika. Mild and somewhat sweet, this spice is used to season and color various dishes.
- Oil. Most marinades come with some kind of oil mixed in there. I added olive oil, but vegetable oil would work also.
- Lemon juice. Please use fresh lemon juice, not the concentrated kind.
- Yellow onions. I chose to add yellow onions as they’re the mildest tasting. Feel free to use sweet white onions as a substitute
- Ginger + Ginger. When making a recipe that relies so heavily on aromatics like garlic and ginger for ultimate favor, always try to use fresh. Ginger can be somewhat intimidating to mince so make your life easy and use a Microplane to grate yours.
- Paprika. Mild and somewhat sweet, this spice is used to season and color various dishes.
- Turmeric. Turmeric is a bright orangish-yellow spice popular in many Asian dishes. It has an earthy aroma and gives a somewhat bitter flavor to foods.
- Garam masala. Yes, more garam masala. Remember, this recipe loves spices.
- Ground Cumin. Add more or less ground cumin to the sauce depending on your own personal preference.
- Cardamom powder. Cardamom, whether ground or left whole, is strong, pungent, and quite intense. Because of this, most recipes do not call for an overwhelming amount; instead, a small amount is used to enhance flavor.
- Tomato sauce or puree. Two words- more sauce.
- Cream. Unless you’re counting calories, use the full-fat stuff. Just trust me.
- Sugar. Sugar is optional, but it does help balance some of the acidity from the spices and tomatoes.
- Butter. Yes, I know. Do you have to add the butter? No. However, this recipe makes a lot. I assure you that the 4 tablespoons of butter won’t make much of a difference.
Chicken Thighs or Chicken Breasts?
You’ll typically find this recipe filled with beautiful, smoky, delicious chunks of chicken breast that were marinated in a spice-filled yogurt sauce then grilled or cooked in a tandoor. Since most of us don’t have a tandoor or red hot coals just sitting outside our house, we’ll have to use the next best thing – a smoking hot skillet.
I prepared this recipe in my favorite go-to Dutch oven. Although non-stick pans and skillets have their place, I do not recommend that for this recipe.
So, even though, yes, it is traditionally made with chicken breasts, chicken thighs will give the best flavor given this particular cooking method.
How to make Chicken Tikka Masala
Step one. Marinate your chicken
This is the first, and arguably most important, step in making chicken tikka masala. Do not skip as this step is essential to the overall taste and flavor of this wonderful dish. Yes, that means that even if you only have enough time to marinate your chicken for 30 minutes, something is better than nothing.
Combine the chicken plus 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.
Step 2. Brown the chicken
So, your chicken has been marinated, now it needs to be browned. 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 your skillet and swirl to coat. Add the chicken in a single layer and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until brown and just starting to char. Do not crowd your chicken and do not move your chicken until it has cooked for at least 1-3 minutes and starting to brown. Each pan will give different results, but assuming you don’t BURN your chicken 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.
Step 3. Make your sauce
Start by wiping down your pot to remove any brown bits that may have stuck to the bottom. 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. Keep going).
Add the tomato puree and water, bringing to a low simmer.
And all of a sudden, that glob of spices starts to resemble a chunky curry sauce.
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.
Now, since curries are typically creamy and luxurious, we want to blend all this up. Remove from heat and puree your sauce using a high-speed blender. Return the sauce back to the pot set over low heat, making sure to return as much of the sauce stuck in the blender back to the pot as possible.
Add the cream, sugar, and butter.
Return the chicken to the pot and mix well to combine. Allow the chicken to simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until fully cooked. Take care not to boil the sauce.
Is Chicken Tikka Masala Indian or British?
The exact origin is greatly debated.
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.
Difference between Chicken Tikka Masala and Butter Chicken
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.
Looking for more delicious chicken recipes? Try these reader favorites:
- 15-Minute Lemon Honey Ginger Chicken Recipe
- Hungarian Chicken Paprikash Recipe
- Easy Chicken and Butternut Squash Recipe with Mushrooms
- Cheesy Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Recipe
- Easy Chicken and Dumplings Recipe
- Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Dip
- Baked Harissa Chicken Recipe
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 tbsp canola oil
- 2 yellow onions (chopped)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger (peeled and grated)
- 6 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1.5 tbsp sweet paprika
- 1 tbsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/8 tsp cardamom powder
- 1 (15 ounce) can tomato puree
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup whipping cream (plus more as desired)
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 4 tbsp 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.)