The best homemade Chicken Tikka Masala recipe like you get at your favorite Indian restaurant! With tender, juicy pieces of charred chicken, swimming in an unbelievable luscious, flavor-packed creamy tomato sauce, it will make your taste buds sing with every bite. Pair this with our homemade Naan bread to mop up the amazing sauce!
I adore Indian cuisine, but since we don’t live close to any Indian restaurants anymore, I have learned to recreate my favorites at home. Chicken Tikka Masala is right at the top of that list. Every time I make it, I spend the following morning anxious and fidgety waiting for lunchtime to draw near so I can inhale the leftovers.
If you’re unsure about Indian food, I am 1000% certain this dish will convert you.
What is Chicken Tikka Masala
Tikka Masala is a traditional Indian dish made up of chicken that’s been marinated in yogurt, charred and simmered in a rich, creamy tomato-based spiced sauce. The gorgeous color comes from Garam Masala, which is blend of cinnamon, black pepper, coriander, cumin, and cardamon. It has a subtle nutty and sweet, unique flavor.
Authentic tikka masala is usually skewered and cooked in a hot clay oven that reaches up to 900 degrees F! Since most people don’t have a tandoor oven, though, we’re sharing how to make it in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop. Just as flavorful, but way easier!
Butter Chicken vs. Chicken Tikka Masala
These two classic Indian dishes are both mouth-watering and extremely similar. They even look practically the same, but there is a difference in taste and cooking method. Butter chicken is cooked mainly with butter (thus the name) and a creamy blend of spiced tomato sauce that’s somewhat mild and slightly sweet. Tikka masala is mainly cooked with oil in a creamy tomato and onion sauce that has more heat and bigger flavor.
Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe
We love the complexity of Indian spices that lend crazy flavor to dishes like this one. Don’t skip any of them or you’ll miss out on the optimal Tikka Masala experience. Here’s what Chicken Tikka Masala Ingredients you’ll need:
(Scroll below to the printable recipe card for details and measurements.)
- Yogurt: This is part of the chicken marinade which helps tenderize the chicken. You can use plain yogurt or plain Greek yogurt.
- Lemon Juice: Use fresh.
- Aromatics: Onion, fresh ginger, and garlic.
- Seasonings: Garam masala, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, chili powder, and salt.
- Brown Sugar: The molasses in brown sugar adds extra flavor to the sauce. It’s a small amount.
- Tomato Sauce: This is canned tomato sauce that is unseasoned, not spaghetti sauce.
- Heavy Cream: For a creamy, rich sauce. You can use half-n-half to cut back on calories.
- Vegetable oil and Butter: We love the combination of oil and butter for sautéing.Cilantro: Used for garnish that adds flavor and a nice pop of color!
Chicken Breasts or Chicken Thighs?
These two cuts of meat deliver subtly different results. Thigh meat is more tender and usually more flavorful, but it tends to be fattier and higher in calories. Chicken breasts are leaner and require a longer marinating time. It’s totally personal preference. The dish will turn out great with either.
How to Make Chicken Tikka Masala
As mentioned earlier, traditional tikka masala is made in a tandoor oven. We don’t have one of those and don’t know many people who do! So, for ease we make this dish in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop, while maintaining all the authentic flavors. Here are some tips to get as close to the real deal as possible:
- Don’t skip marinating: Marinating helps tenderize the chicken and is critical for this dish. Chicken thighs require a minimum of 15 minutes, while breasts need at least an hour. The longer the better!
- Use a cast iron skillet: A well seasoned, cast iron skillet will get you the best charred results. If you only have a regular nonstick pan, cook over hight heat.
- Pan fry in batches: Cooking the chicken pieces in batches helps prevent over-crowding, which can result in steaming, instead of charring.
Chicken Tikka Masala Video
What to Serve with Chicken Tikka Masala
I always serve this dish over hot cooked basmati rice with a sprinkle of fresh chopped cilantro (or parsley) and a side of homemade Naan bread to mop up that amazing sauce! It’s also great with a simple side salad or vegetable like roasted broccoli or roasted asparagus. Then wash it all down with some sweet tea.
Chicken Tikka Masala
For the Chicken Marinade
- 1 cup plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder (not cayenne pepper)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast , cut into small bite-sized pieces
For the Sauce
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large sweet onion , finely diced
- 2 teaspoons grated ginger
- 2 cloves garlic , finely minced
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 8 ounce can tomato sauce (unseasoned)
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup 1/4 cup water , only if needed
- chopped cilantro , for garnish
- naan bread
- cooked basmati rice
- In a bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade; add the chicken and toss to coat. Let marinate for 15 minutes to 1 hour (ideally overnight in the fridge, if time permits.)
- Warm oil in a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. Once shimmering, add chicken pieces in batches, if necessary, making sure not to crowd the pan. Let them fry, untouched, for 1 minute to develop a crust, then saute until browned for about 5 more minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
- Melt the butter in the same pan. Saute the onions until soft (about 3 minutes) while scraping up any browned bits stuck on the bottom of the pan. Add ginger and garlic; sauté for 30 seconds until fragrant.
- Add in the brown sugar, coriander, cumin, paprika, garam masala, and salt. Stir occasionally for about 15 seconds until fragrant.
- Pour in the tomato sauce; let simmer gently for about 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens and becomes deeper in color.
- Stir in the cream until incorporated.
- Add the partially cooked chicken along with its juices back to the pan; cook for an additional 8-10 minutes until chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick and bubbling. Pour in the water to thin out the sauce, only if necessary.
- Serve over cooked basmati rice, with Naan bread, and garnish with chopped cilantro.