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Chicken Tikka Masala

tikka time

I love Indian food but it has always intimidated me in the kitchen. So many spices! I think I am afraid of butchering the authenticity of a dish because it is so much more foreign in terms of technique and ingredients than what I cook regularly. Usually I can find some footing with a particular recipe or cuisine based on my culinary school training but Indian foods and flavors do not exactly fit within the “holy” French-based culinary canon taught this (and last) century.*

*see the movie 100 Foot Journey for more on this topic…or if you just want a feel-good foodie love fest.

tikka masala spices

A little over a year ago, I was watching one of my favorite nerd shows, The Mind of a Chef, and April Bloomfield was making Chicken Tikka Masala, talking about how it is the national dish of England! My first thought was “what!!? that can’t be true” – well it is kiiiinda true, some prime minister, in some random speech, said it was a true British national dish” in 2001. More importantly my second thought was “i can do this (!) – if it sucks, hey, its just british food.” The fact that it was some mudblood hybrid leftover thing from colonial times somehow made it that much more accessible.


Long story (not so) short, I made it, loved it, and have been more courageous ever since. And while the spice combinations do continue to occasionally stump me, they are usually still edible (sorry Chris!) and it is almost always because my chef head gets a little too big and I think that I can tweak a recipe on the first go-around (read: don’t try that at home).

What I am trying to say is: make this. Guess I should have led with that.


Chicken Tikka Masala

Yield: serves 4-6


  1. 2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs

  2. 4 tbl butter (or ghee if you have it)

  3. 1 yellow onion

  4. 2 tbl fresh ginger

  5. 3 cloves garlic

  6. ¼ cup tomato paste

  7. 2 tsp chili powder

  8. 2 tbl ground coriander

  9. 1 tbl ground cumin

  10. 1 tsp garam masala

  11. 1 tsp turmeric

  12. 1 tbl paprika

  13. 1 cup white wine (or ½ cup vinegar + ½ cup water)

  14. 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

  15. 1 cup plain greek yogurt

  16. brown rice or naan (for serving – optional)


  1. Brine Chicken: combine ¼ cup fine salt with ¼ cup sugar in a large bowl, add about 8 cups of water and whisk vigorously to dissolve. cut chicken into 1” cubes, add to brine liquid and let sit in the fridge for 1 hour.

  2. Prep the rest of your ingredients: dice onion and set aside. Grate ginger and mince garlic – these can be set aside together. Measure out all of the spices (can be put in the same bowl) and set aside.

  3. Remove chicken from brine and dry thoroughly. Heat 2tbl butter in a large, wide-rimmed pot and sauté chicken – work in batches if necessary, crowding the pan causes the chicken to steam rather than sear.

  4. Remove chicken once seared and set aside. All you want is some golden brown color on the chicken, it does not have to be cooked through.

  5. Heat up another few tablespoons of butter in the same pot and sauté the onions for 5-7 minutes, season with salt. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook another minute, stirring often.

  6. Stir in tomato paste and spices, let cook 1 minute then deglaze with wine and scrape up any bits at the bottom.

  7. Stir in crushed tomatoes and add chicken back to the pot. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

  8. If chicken is cooked through, remove from heat and stir in yogurt.

  9. Serve over rice, with naan, or as is.


*to make this in a slow cooker, use all dark meat and add everything to the pot except the yogurt. cook on low 4-6 hours. add the yogurt just before serving.


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