Chicken Tikka Masala is my favorite spicy curry recipe. Surprisingly, it is said to be a British national dish, not Indian! Sigh, leave it to me to like the non-traditional Indian recipe best. Chicken tikka is chicken marinated in spices mixed with yogurt, or in my recipe’s case, yogurt, garlic, and ginger. The “masala” part is a spiced paste, which you’ll see how to make a little later in this post. The sauce I make has pureed tomatoes bursting with warm spices and mixed with a little cream to give the warm orange coloring. Traditional CTM is cooked in a tandoor oven, but since most of us don’t have access to a tandoor, a grill pan or actual grill will suffice.
I’ve cooked CTM a few times for a couple of dinner parties we’ve recently hosted, one which was just this past Saturday, with rave reviews. New friend, Will, had second helpings, which is a flattering sure sign of success. CTM is the special kind of dish that heats you up from the inside out, makes your nose run a little, and scents your home with a warm smell of garam masala that makes you want to hug someone. It is definitely a time consuming recipe with many steps, but it’s truly not difficult. If you enjoy cooking with a tremendously flavorful end reward, give it a whirl!!! This recipe has four parts; the marinade, the masala paste, grilling the chicken, and the tomato sauce. I like to get everything zested, measured and chopped before I begin because a.) I’m anal retentive and b.) it’s easier to have everything at the ready. c.) Let’s do this!
First things first. Zest 3 cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon of peeled, fresh ginger, and place into a gallon-sized ziploc baggie. Scoop 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt into the ziploc with the garlic and ginger. Add a few cranks of salt and pepper. Throw in your chicken tenders and zip the top. Massage the marinade into the chicken for a minute, then place in your refrigerator. (You can do this part up to 24 hours ahead of time, but let it marinate for a least 30 minutes.)
Step 1 is over, good job! Now onward to step 2: masala curry paste! Zest 6 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of peeled fresh ginger. Finely dice 1 large or 2 medium sized jalapeño peppers. Place all three ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. (Depending on the hotness of the peppers, I’ll sometimes remove the seeds from one and leave them in on the other.) Rough chop your tomatoes and set aside in another bowl. Measure out 1 teaspoon of garam masala and 2 teaspoons of paprika (I use the non-smoky kind) into a third small bowl. Have your tube of tomato paste at the ready!
In your largest skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the entire bowl holding the zested ginger and garlic and chopped jalapeños. Careful, as you’ve technically just made pepper spray, so avert your eyeballs and make sure your exhaust fan is in the off position!
Sauté the garlic, ginger, and peppers until lightly browned, 7-10ish minutes. Add the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and cook for 3 more minutes, until the color has darkened. Add the garam masala and paprika (when the garam masala hits your pan, prepare your senses to be assaulted by the best smell of the day!) and cook for 1 minute more, to bring out the flavors.
Next, add your chopped tomatoes, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until thickened, about 20 minutes.
Step 3: chicken grilling time! Time to heat your grill pan to medium-high heat. (If you have an outdoor grill, you may still want to use a grill pan, because dripping yogurt marinade all over your communal outdoor grill may piss off your neighbors!) Spray your grill pan with non-stick spray and once it starts just smoking, place the chicken on the grill pan, shaking off the excess yogurt marinade. You most likely will have to do this in 2 or 3 batches. Don’t crowd the chicken! You want all the pieces to char well.
Cook the chicken until charred, about 2 minutes or so per side. It is ok if the chicken is not cooked through, as it will finish cooking in your tomato sauce. You are going for the charred crisp texture which will add an overall depth of flavor to your recipe.
We’ve reached the final step, I’m so proud of you! While the chicken is charring, blend your simmered tomatoes into a smooth sauce. I use the stick blender, but a regular blender will also work just fine. Blend until smooth.
Pour the blended tomato sauce back into your large pan. Begin to nestle the charred pieces of chicken into the sauce. Let the sauce simmer with the chicken, at the very least, 30 minutes, but you can let it go for hours if you like. The longer it simmers, the better the spices will marry, and the more tender the chicken will become. Try to simmer for an hour. The Hubs and I usually show very little restraint at this point and typically have 30 minute minimal patience. 10 minutes before serving, stir in the 1/4 cup of cream to finish the sauce off with a velvety smoothness. The cream will give the curry it’s signature warm orange color. Serve over rice with naan bread (or paper bread! We found it at our Kurdish bakery on Nolansville Pike!) with a cilantro garnish. I also served the dish with a *Shirazi salad and *Mast o’hiar. Collect accolades, pour a glass of wine, and have a seat, you deserve it!
*Shirazi salad: mix chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and thinly sliced red onion with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
*Mast o’hiar: Mix 1 cup of Greek yogurt with a palmful of fresh chopped dill, half a clove of zested garlic, finely diced and seeded Persian cucumbers, salt & pepper.
Chicken Tikka Masala
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- 1 cup plain Greek non-fat yogurt
- 3 cloves zested garlic
- 1 tablespoon zested ginger
- 1 lb boneless chicken tenders (from breast meat)
- 1 gallon sized ziploc bag
Masala Sauce Ingredients:
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 6 cloves zested garlic
- 2 tablespoons peeled and zested ginger root
- 2 jalapeño peppers, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 8 roma tomatoes, rough chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 to 2 cups of water
- non-stick cooking spray for grill pan
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup rough chopped cilantro for garnish
- cooked rice and naan bread, for serving
1. Place 1 cup yogurt, 3 zested cloves garlic, and 1 teaspoon zested ginger into ziploc baggie with chicken. Zip the top and massage the yogurt marinade into the chicken. Place in the fridge for up to 24 hours or at least 30 minutes.
2. In a large skillet add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 3 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the 6 cloves zested garlic, 2 tablespoons zested ginger, and diced jalapeños. Sauté for 7-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
3. Once the garlic, ginger, and peppers are lightly browned, add the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and cook for 3 more minutes. Add the garam masala and paprika, stir and cook one minute longer.
4. Add the chopped romas to the pan with 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and one cup of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes, or until thickened.
5. Heat a grill pan on medium-high. Place chicken on grill pan, shaking off excess marinade. Grill until charred, about 2 minutes per side. It is ok to not cook the chicken all the way through, as it will finish cooking in the sauce.
6. Blend the tomato sauce until smooth and pour back into original skillet. Nestle the charred pieces of chicken into the sauce as they come off of the grill.
7. Let simmer with chicken for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours. 10 minutes before serving, stir in the 1/4 cup of cream.
8. Garnish with cilantro and serve over rice with naan bread.
9. Put your feet up, collect accolades and ENJOY. After this labor of love meal, you deserve it!