Chicken Tikka Masala. Three little words that make any curry lover drool. I read recently that this simple chicken dish is singularly responsible for fostering the love of Indian foods throughout much of the western world. Ironically, this dish of chicken chunks (tikka) originated most likely in the United Kingdom, not the Punjab region of India although that’s hotly contested. But who cares? It is delicious!
I’ve made a few versions over the years. I love the American Masala recipe (by Suvir Saran) as well as his Murgh Pulao dish. I’ve enjoyed making various versions of Tikka including one by Julie Sahni on Epicurious. This recipe is my blended, personal, more healthy take on Chicken Tikka Masala so don’t be surprised if what you make at home is not what you love in the restaurant. This looks like a lot of work but once you get the spices assembled, it’s rather quick and delicious.
** You will need a Mortar & Pestle** I love my small one from Le Creuset. Its not expensive, super sturdy and cleans well. Buy from Sur la Table or Sign of the Bear.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Note: Ask your butcher to pound the boneless, skinless chicken breasts thin for you. 4-5 breasts pounded to about 1/2″ thick. Saving you time and clean-up later. If you want to do this at home place the breasts about 2″ apart on wax paper. Place another large wax paper sheet on top of the chicken. Then beat the chicken with a mallet or rolling pin until 1/2″ thin. Do not use a hammer — you want a wider surface to pummel the chicken evenly flat. Don’t ask how I learned this lesson… Lumpy chicken is never good.
To Marinate the chicken. Prick the chicken breasts all over with a fork (both sides). In a medium sized bowl, whisk together:
- 1/4 cup of plain Greek Yogurt (low fat or whole)
- 3 tablespoons of Avocado oil (you can use Peanut Oil or vegetable oil but NO olive oil)
- 4-5 cloves of coarse-chopped fresh garlic
- Zest of 1/2 a Lime
- Juice from 1&1/2 fresh limes
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Pinch of fresh chopped ginger (steal from what you use for the Sauce (see below)
Add chicken to the bowl and using your hands, massage the marinade into the chicken. Cover and set aside. I try to do this and hour ahead for extra marinade but it’s not necessary. Just put it in the fridge until you start the sauce then bring it out.
For the Curry Sauce:
In a small clean bowl, mix the following after chopping or grinding each ingredient:
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds — fresh grind using your mortar & pestle
- 1 &1/2 teaspoons worth of fresh ground cardamon seeds — use your mortar & pestle
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds — fresh grind using your mortar & pestle
- 1/2-3/4 teaspoon nutmeg (whole seeds) — use the small holes on your cheese grater
- 1 &1/2 teaspoons of plain paprika. (Not smoked, Spanish, etc.)
- 2-3 tablespoons of peeled and fresh minced/chopped Ginger. Use about 3 inches worth of fresh ginger.
- 1 heaping teaspoon of cayenne (less if your little ones don’t like things too spicy)
Coarse chop 1 large WHITE onion.
Curry is a quicker dish. Have ready:
- 1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)
- 2 fresh tomatoes cored and chopped in a bowl
- 2 cups or 1 box of Pomi chopped tomatoes
- 1/2-3/4 cup good water
- 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (I like rainbow peppercorns)
- 1 cup clean & chopped fresh cilantro
- Fresh limes sliced in wedges for serving
- Jasmin Rice (make per directions) enough for 4 people plus 1/2 cup frozen green peas to add into rice while boiling/simmering. Add 2 pats butter once rice is “finished”.
* Assemble ingredients for your rice in the sauce pot now but do not start the rice yet until you are cooking chicken.
In a sturdy, wide pot (opt for larger, like at least 4 quarts or bigger to protect you from hot splatters), melt a whole stick of butter (6-8 tablespoons) over medium heat. Raise heat to medium high heat and Sauté onion until generally golden or light brown. You will need to watch the onion and scrape up any burned bits — they add marvelous flavor. I also like more butter. I think real butter fights wrinkles.
Lower flame to medium or moderate heat. Stir in spice mixture. Mix well. Let the herbs heat and meld with the onions. I wait for the aromatics to bloom up from the pot. You don’t want to burn the herbs but want them to be hot. Stir in your fresh tomatoes, the Pomi chopped tomatoes (the whole box including the juices), water, greek yogurt, and salt. Bring the mixture to a short boil before reducing the sauce for 10 minutes at a gentle simmer.
While the sauce is simmering, heat 1/2 tablespoon of avocado oil in a large skillet and cook chicken over medium high heat. You’ll have to work in two or three batches. Brown well on both sides and remove from skillet when chicken is just cooked through about 6 or 7 minutes total each batch. **Clean skillet between batches with a quick swipe of clean paper towel. Add fresh avocado oil to skillet between batches too. Place cooked chicken on a cutting board or plate and slice into 1/2″ strips. Add the cooked chicken to the sauce as it’s ready.
Fire rice. Make according to the directions on your box/bag. I add in lots of green peas to the rice and butter for flavoring. This dish can be too spicy for most kids but they love the rice and peas.
Once all cooked chicken has been added to the sauce, simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and grind in your fresh pepper and 3/4 cup fresh cilantro. Keep some cilantro for garnish.
Divide the rice into wide bowls. (Warm them in the oven at 150′ if you think of it before). Spoon “Chicken Tikka Masala” mixture over the Rice and Peas. Squeeze 1 wedge of fresh lime juice over the mixture and garnish with cilantro and another 1 or 2 lime wedges. Serve immediately!
Our Annadel Chardonnay goes beautifully with this dish. Or else opt for a crisp, non-grassy Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy!