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Chicken Tikka Masala

My children love Indian food, so I have taken on the task of mastering certain Indian dishes. One of their favorites is chicken tikka masala. When they first introduced me to this dish, I was a bit puzzled. What is the difference between chicken tikka and chicken tikka masala?                                                     

Chicken tikka is made with boneless chunks of chicken that are marinated in spices and yogurt. The chicken pieces are threaded on to skewers and grilled. It is served over rice and is more like tandoori—so it has no sauce. Chicken tikka masala is also marinated in spices and yogurt; but it is roasted in the oven and served with a creamy tomato sauce that is seasoned with garlic, ginger, and garam masala, a popular Indian spice blend.

There are many varieties of garam masala. It can include as many as 12 spices—some of the most common are black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, mace, cardamon, bay, cumin, coriander, dried chiles, fennel, and nutmeg. Garam is Indian for “warm” or “hot”, and this spice adds warmth to both the palate and the spirit.

Most food historians believe this tasty dish has Indian roots. Rahul Verma, a food critic, states he first ate chicken tikka masala in 1971 in Punjab, India.

Others, however, believe it was created by a Bangladeshi chef in Glasgow, Scotland, during the 1960s. Legend has it that a customer sent his chicken tikka back to the kitchen, complaining it was dry, so the chef created a tomato sauce to satisfy his complaint.

Regardless of its origin, I am glad my children introduced me to this delicious dish. Making and eating chicken tikka masala warms my heart and palate.

Chicken Tikka Masala Serves 6 to 8

Serve with basmati rice and naan. Don’t let the list of ingredients frighten you. This dish can be prepared in about one hour. This recipe is best when the chicken is marinated overnight, but it will still be tasty if marinaded for 6 to 8 hours. I use the jarred ginger that is found in the Produce Department of your supermarket. You can substitute 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for the chicken tenders. For the spices:

6 teaspoons ground turmeric 3 teaspoons garam masala 3 teaspoons ground coriander 3 teaspoons ground cumin 3 teaspoons salt 8 teaspoons garlic, minced 6 teaspoons ginger, chopped

In a small bowl, place turmeric, garam masala, coriander, cumin, salt, garlic, and ginger and stir to combine. Divide the spice mixture into 2 halves. Cover one half with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To marinate the chicken:

Half the spice mixture 1 ½ cups whole-milk yogurt 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders

In a medium bowl, place half the spice mixture and yogurt and whisk to blend. Add chicken tenders and coat thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate overnight in the refrigerator. For the sauce:

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil 1 small onion, thinly sliced 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced ¼ cup tomato paste Reserved spice mixture 1 teaspoon ground cardamon ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 1 can (28-ounces) whole peeled Roma tomatoes 2 cups half-and-half ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

In a large heavy kettle, place olive oil over a medium heat. When oil sizzles, add onion, jalapeño, and tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved spice mixture, cardamon, and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Add tomatoes along with juice to the kettle, squeezing each tomato with your hand as you add. Bring the tomato mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, stirring often and scraping browned bits from the bottom of the kettle until the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. For the chicken: Preheat the broiler to high. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack inside the baking sheet. Arrange chicken in a single layer on the rack. Add any remaining marinade to the tomato sauce. Broil the chicken until it starts to brown in spots, 3 to 6 minutes per side. Chicken will not be cooked through. Remove chicken from the broiler. When cool enough to handle, cut the chicken into 1-inch pieces. Add the chicken to the simmering sauce, cover, and cook until chicken is cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes.

To garnish and serve:

Cilantro leaves Basmati rice Naan

Sprinkle with cilantro leaves. Serve with rice and naan.

Shopping for cilantro: Cilantro is the name given to the lacy, green leaves of the coriander plant and is best purchased fresh. Select leaves with a bright, even color with no sign of wilting or yellowing. Cilantro will keep 1 week in a plastic bag when refrigerated.

Tips for storing cilantro: To help prolong the life of cilantro, place it in a glass of water, stems down, cover with a plastic bag, secure the glass with a rubber band, and refrigerate. Change the water every 2 days.

Carol Ann

Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at and explore her website,

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Carol Ann Kates

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