Quick and Easy Chicken Tikka Masala
Posted by: Monila Kotecha Junkins on November 26, 2013,
I didn’t grow up eating chicken tikka masala. I feel like chicken tikka masala is a restaurant dish and there weren’t many Indian restaurants in eastern Canada, where I spent the first half of my childhood. And, since my parents are vegetarian, my exposure to Indian meat dishes was defined by what our more carnivorous family friends cooked (never chicken tikka masala – maybe North Indian style butter chicken, but that was as close as it got).
In fact, my first memory of eating chicken tikka masala was in the UK, which is where it is reputed to have been invented (there are a lot of conflicting stories on how and where it was created so I will leave the history of its origin to Wikipedia and Google…). It’s on every restaurant menu in the UK and because Brian loves it so much, we ordered our fair share of chicken tikka masalas while living in London. It’s a comforting dish that is pleasing to people with varying spice tolerances and therefore, it’s often the first dish I cook for people who have limited or no experience with Indian food.
Chicken tikka masala usually involves two distinct steps: making chicken tikka, grilled chunks of yogurt and spice marinated chicken and then combining it with a masala, a spice mixture or paste. Since I usually don’t have any leftovers when I make chicken tikka (or more likely I opt to make something else with the leftovers—more on that another day), I needed to come up with a one-step, one-pot chicken tikka masala. If you do have chicken tikka leftovers that you made or ordered in, by all means use that.
I make a cheats chicken tikka by quickly marinating the chicken and cooking it directly in the aromatics and spices. This saves me some cleanup (which I love!) but I also just like this process better. The other thing that I do differently is to use boneless skinless chicken thighs instead of the breast. The thighs add the right amount of fat and flavor to the sauce and compensate for the fact that I use a lot less cream than restaurant versions. Plus, they are just a lot more tender than the breast and more forgiving if you overcook them. What do you like to use in your tikka masala? Lamb? Tofu? Beans? I would love to hear!
One-Pot Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe
1 lb of boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch chunks
Marinade for Chicken:
- 2 heaping TBS plain yogurt (I use non-fat greek yogurt)
- Juice from ½ lemon
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or less if you want a milder dish)
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp garam masala (an Indian spice blend available at most supermarkets and online)
- a pinch of salt
Ingredients for the sauce (“the masala”):
- 1 TBS vegetable oil
- 1 TBS butter
- 3 cardamom pods, smashed lightly (optional-not necessary if you have garam masala but I add it)
- 2 cloves (optional-not necessary if you have garam masala but I add it)
- 1 inch stick of cinnamon
- 1 large onion (preferably sweet), finely diced
- 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1 TBS grated ginger
- 1 TBS crushed garlic
- 1 TBS ground cumin
- ½ TBS ground coriander
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you want it spicy)
- 4 plum tomatoes, pureed (or you can use a 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes)
- 2 TBS tomato paste
- 1 cup of water
- 1 TBS brown sugar
- ½ tsp garam masala
- 2-4 TBS heavy cream
- small handful of cilantro leaves, chopped for garnish
- Combine ingredients for marinade in a large glass bowl, add chicken and allow to marinate while you get on with the sauce.
- In a large pot, heat oil and butter over medium heat and add the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. Cook for 20-30 seconds or until lightly fragrant (do not burn!).
- Add the onion and salt. Cook over medium heat and stir frequently. Cook until the onions are a light to medium brown color.
- Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute over medium heat, or until lightly fragrant.
- Add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook until the fat starts to leave the spice paste (you will see little pools of liquid on the top or on the sides). Some of the liquid from the tomatoes should have evaporated leaving a thick mixture.
- Add the chicken to the same pot and cook until the outside is no longer opaque. Add garam masala, brown sugar and enough water to cover the chicken. Cook covered on medium low for 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is meltingly tender. The sauce should be the consistency of a pasta sauce. Add water or turn up the heat to reduce the sauce as necessary before going to the next step.
- Turn heat to low and add cream. Check the seasoning. If it is flat, add more salt, garam masala, brown sugar or cayenne.
- (Optional) Remove cardamom, cinnamon stick and cloves.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with Basmati rice or naan.