Growing up, I ate in more restaurants than any kid I’ve ever known.
My parents like to say they wanted to bring me to restaurants often as a little kid so I would learn how to behave and it wouldn’t be an issue once I got older. They also say they were trying to expose me to a lot of foods so I wouldn’t become a picky eater. Both things are probably true, but the real reason is because my mom does not cook. And as I mentioned in this post, when left to his own devices, my dad doesn’t eat anything that wasn’t prepared by someone wearing a grease-covered apron.
So we dined out three to four nights a week pretty much until I was old enough to drive myself to the grocery store. In all those years of restaurants, we never once ate Indian food. Up until a couple years ago, I think the closest Indian restaurant to my hometown was over a half hour away. Either way, Indian food was not on our radar.
Now that I think of it, I still have never eaten in an Indian restaurant, or even ordered Indian takeout. The only time I’ve eaten Indian food prepared outside of my own kitchen was at a street market in London this summer. I don’t even remember what I ate but it hit the spot in the midst of a day spent walking outside in the drizzling cold.
I guess this is my longwinded way of saying I have no reference for how authentic this Chicken Tikka Masala tastes. Considering this dish is traditionally made with chicken done in a tandoori oven, and I used a George Foreman mini grill, I suspect fairly inauthentic.
But who cares when it’s so good? I actually went through a phase in college where I ate very little else besides Indian dishes. Or at least my take on them. I was recovering from a series of crappy health issues, and started learning about Ayurveda. Google it, if you wish. Mostly I just ate a lot of mung bean soup and spent way too much money on sesame oil to use instead of body lotion and walked around my apartment at night smelling like general tso’s chicken.
There’s a reason we have Western medicine, friends.
In that time I did learn to make some tasty things out of rice, legumes, and vegetables. The aforementioned mung bean soup, red lentil dahl, saag, kitcheree. Then as always happens after eating the same things every day for far too long, I quit making Indian food completely, for like, four years.
This past fall I saw a recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala done in a slow cooker, and while I had never had it before I couldn’t get it out of my mind for days. As much as I love my crockpot, I decided to go a slightly more traditional route by grilling marinated chicken and coating it in a skillet-made sauce. Using a handful of different recipes for reference, I came up with the recipe you see here. There was just so much variation in all the recipes I read, I decided to just take what I considered the best of each.
You’ll start by marinating cubed chicken breasts in tangy spiced yogurt. If you’ve never marinated anything in yogurt, now is the time to do so. The cultures are amazing for tenderizing meat. Once your chicken has had a few hours in the marinade, you’ll make a quick sauce. A little butter, onions, tomatoes and lots of Indian spices. Garam masala is the spice that gives this dish it’s name and distinct flavor, so it’s pretty essential not to leave it out. I find mine in the bulk section of Whole Foods, but if you can’t seem to locate it in a store, here it is on Amazon. Grill the chicken until nice and charred, then toss it in the skillet and let everything simmer. When the sauce has reduced a bit, you’ll finish it off with some heavy cream. I’ve also tried to making this sauce with sour cream and half and half. While I like both ways well enough, nothing compares to heavy cream. It leaves this spiced sauce so rich, you’ll want to ensure every last drop makes its way from the pan to your bowl!
Serve this chicken over rice, maybe with a side of naan for soaking up all that sauce. Whether this Chicken Tikka Masala tastes authentic or not is hardly important. What is important is if you’ll be able to get away with licking your bowl without anyone seeing.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Yields 6 servings
Tender pieces of grilled chicken in a fragrant, spiced tomato cream sauce.
- 1.5 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
- Salt & Pepper
- ½ cup (120g) plain yogurt*
- 2 tsp. lemon juice lemon juice
- 1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
- 2 large cloves garlic, grated
- ½ tsp. cumin
- ¼ tsp. garam masala
- 2 Tbs. (27g) butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
- 2 tsp. fresh ginger, grater
- 1 tsp. coriander
- 1 tsp. garam masala
- ¾ tsp. cumin
- ½ tsp. paprika
- ¼ tsp. nutmeg
- ½ tsp. salt, more to taste
- 1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes
- ¾ cup chicken or vegetable broth
- ½ cup heavy cream**
- Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Rinse the chicken and pat it dry. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl or tupperware container, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, and spices. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2-12 hours.
Once the chicken has had time to sit, preheat your grill or set a grill pan over medium high heat. Thread the chicken onto 4-6 wooden skewers. Grill for about 3 minutes per side, until nicely charred. It will continue to cook in the sauce. Transfer the chicken to a plate, removing and discarding the skewers. Set aside while you make the sauce.
In a very large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent and soft, about five minutes. Add the ginger and spices and stir for a minute longer. Pour the tomatoes into the skillet, breaking them up into chunks using either a fork or clean hands. Stream in the broth and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, reduce the heat to low so that the sauce simmers. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Simmer for 3-4 minutes until the sauce has reduced somewhat, and the chicken is thoroughly heated through. Slowly stir in the heavy cream and cook for two minutes longer, until hot.
Serve garnished with fresh cilantro over rice and/or naan.
*Either normal or greek yogurt, any fat percentage, is fine.
**I have also tried this recipe on other occasions with sour cream and half & half instead of heavy cream. Both alternatives are good, but heavy cream produces the best results.