Chicken Tikka Masala

Although I consider Butter Chicken to be the ultimate Indian chicken curry (I saved that recipe for my cookbook), Chicken Tikka Masala takes a close second. In fact, there is little difference in the dishes – both are usually made by adding roasted chicken pieces to a tomato-based curry sauce. Butter Chicken has more, well, butter.

The origin of Chicken Tikka Masala is disputed. It’s commonly believed that it was first whipped up in Indian restaurants in the UK (Glasgow in particular is often cited), but many argue that it was first influenced by dishes from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan well before it appeared in UK restaurants.

Putting the curry together is actually pretty simple – start to finish in under an hour. It gets a little complicated when the chicken comes into play, since it should be marinated for at least 6 hours beforehand (overnight preferred). But with a little forethought, this is an excellent weeknight meal.

Chicken Tikka Masala (Paleo, Primal, Gluten Free, Whole30 with dairy free options)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp kashmiri red chili powder (or 1 tsp cayenne)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2” fresh ginger, grated (1/2 tsp ground ginger okay)
1 cup yogurt (coconut yogurt okay)
2-3 lbs chicken breast, cut into large chunks

2 tbsp ghee
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
5 tomatoes, chopped
3 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 cup heavy cream (1/4 cup coconut milk okay)
salt to taste
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Combine the turmeric, garam masala, coriander, cumin, salt, and red chili powder to make a spice blend; divide the spice blend in half. Combine half of the spice blend with the garlic, ginger, yogurt, and chicken; mix together with your hands in a mixing bowl. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag and marinate for at least 6 hours, overnight preferred.

2. Warm the ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic; sauté until aromatic, another minute. Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, cardamom pods, white pepper, and the other half of the spice blend. Stir to combine, then reduce heat to med/low and gently simmer until dark and thick, about 40 minutes.

3. While the sauce is darkening, prepare your chicken. Skewer the chicken pieces (metal skewers preferred) and grill over direct high heat until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side, flipping once. Alternatively, you can broil them in the oven, about 6-8 minutes per side. You’ll want to time this step to finish near the end of cooking the sauce so that the chicken doesn’t get too cold as you finish the sauce.

4. Once the sauce is dark, transfer it to a blender and blend until smooth. Return to the skillet (strain through a mesh strainer to catch the cardamom shells and tomato skins) and stir in the cream; return to a simmer and cook until slightly darkened, about 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed.

5. Stir in the cilantro and chicken pieces, and allow to simmer for another minute or two before serving.

Any ghee will work fine for this recipe, but we took the opportunity to try one of the grass-fed and organic spiced ghees from Pure Indian Foods (garlic ghee).

The curry before blending. It will turn bright orange when blended.

This chicken can be used for all sorts of curries, not just this one; it’s very delicious on its own, as well. It tends to burn quickly because of its yogurt-based marinade, so be sure to keep an eye on it while grilling.

83 thoughts on “Chicken Tikka Masala

    1. I’ve made this recipe several times. My husband loves it! We all love it. Thank you! Indian is some of my favorite food ever! I know this dish is contervsial as to whether or not it’s Indian, I don’t care, it’s simply amazing!


  1. Hmmmmmm… not too keen on eating all that burned stuff, but the sauce sounds delicious and I’m sure using leftover cooked chicken breast would be delicious!


  2. So excited that you posted this!! This is my husband’s favorite dish. We have searched for the perfect recipe but are never fully satisfied – I can trust though that this recipe will be spot on :) Also – any suggestions for a tomato-less version? Any substitute? I have though that possibly a combo of beets and carrots might at least give the color, but they might disrupt the taste too much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Emily, I think beets and carrots would do well, maybe a bit of squash to give it body without too much flavor. I would do 1 small beet, 2 carrots, and 1 cup squash. 1/4 tsp of tamari or aminos will bring a hint of sharpness to the flavor as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was a really really lovely family dinner. My husband, two kids and I enjoyed it tonight, and husband will get leftovers for lunch tomorrow (making co-workers jealous!)


  3. Recipe looks amazing, i’m going to try this soon! I’m punjabi and this sounds pretty authentic and close to the way I make it. I usually get lazy and instead of grilling the chicke, I just let it cook in the gravy. Although grilling def. does give it a better taste.


  4. We were just at an Indian restaurant over the weekend and enjoyed this dish. We talked about making it at home, then this recipe popped up. Made it tonight and WOW it is good.


  5. I made this dish tonight and my husband was very complimentary, which is amazing! He is Indian and will not eat In Indian restaurants because he doesn’t like the food. So well done and thank you. Karen.


  6. I’ve got a “dumb” question, but do you toss out the marinade after you’ve put the chicken on the grill … or did I miss something?


    1. I can’t speak for Russ, but when I’ve marinated chicken tandoori (a very similar process with yogurt), I saved the extra marinate and added it to a veggie stir fry the following night. It might not be an authentic approach, but it sure tasted good!


  7. I can’t wait to try this, it’s not a flavor profile I typically eat, but this looks and sounds amazing. I also appreciate the extra pictures, when a recipe is outside my comfort flavor, the extra photos tend to push me toward trying a dish I otherwise would pass over.


  8. I swear I think I’m cooking almost exclusively your recipes and Melissa Joulwan’s right now. I made this for lunch today and WOW, it was delicious. I have a four-year-old who can’t have any kind of dairy, so I used coconut milk instead of cream, and no access to coconut yogurt (yay rural living) so made “Paleo buttermilk” with coconut milk and a little ACV for the marinade. It was all seriously delicious. Next up, making that Pernil this weekend, because you are my hero for creating a recipe with 25 garlic cloves.


  9. Made this last night without adding/changing anything – it was absolutely delicious. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing recipe! I’m wondering if you have any input/experience in making a large batch of this sauce and preserving it, either via canning or freezing. I imagine that freezing it might be OK, but what’s your experience with canning cream sauces, if any? There seems to be a big debate online whether it’s OK to do so. Any thoughts?


  10. Love these spices…I will try with lamb…I haven’t been able to find healthy chicken since I moved so until I learn where I can’t wait to try this masala. Happy Nesting.


  11. Making this for the second time and sooooo excited! It pairs delightfully with the samosa mashed potatoes. Thanks!!

    Any ideas/sources for Paleo/gluten-free chapati/roti??


    1. Hi Jeni, there are a few different Paleo-friendly chapati/roti recipes out there, but I haven’t tried them…I do have a grain-free flatbread recipe coming in my cookbook, Paleo Takeout, next month!


  12. This was amazing! I subbed chicken thighs for the breasts and used 2 cans of organic diced tomatoes to sub for the fresh. Left out the cardamom because I am not a fan. After making the sauce and searing the chicken in a pan, I added the rest of the marinade and the chicken to a crock pot to finish then added the cream (I used half and half). It was the perfect meal, and so worth the extra effort. My foodie two year old loved it too :) Thanks so much for the great recipe!


    1. Hi Sarah, coconut yogurt is an option listed in the ingredients list. If you can’t find any locally that fits the Whole30 requirements, you can make your own with this recipe:

      The acidity in the yogurt is essential for tenderizing and flavoring the chicken. Alternatively, you could mix 1 cup coconut cream (coconut milk would be okay) and 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar. Hope that helps!


  13. I don’t know if you’re still monitoring comments on this recipe, but… I marinated the chicken overnight last night, planning to make this dish tonight. Something’s come up and I need to put off making it until tomorrow. I’m worried that’s too long for the chicken to marinate. Should I drain most of the marinade off today?


      1. It was FABULOUS. 48 hours in the marinade did not cause the chicken to mush up at all. Both my picky kids even loved it. I served it with basmati rice, and my son said, “Mom, you know I don’t like rice.” I didn’t hear another peep, and next thing I knew his bowl was completely empty.


  14. Hi, I have been looking for a chicken tikka masala recipe for a while! This recipe is such a great one. Will try it soon.

    As I love indian food, the stuff outside just isn’t healthy. I would love to get a copy of your cookbook. It sounds really cool

    Jonathan Chan


  15. I found this on Pinterest awhile back. We got new cookware yesterday and decided to try this recipe to celebrate. Holy smokes, all of the flavors are spot on. I’m allergic to dairy, so the coconut milk & yogurt worked perfectly just as you said it would. This recipe is definitely a labor of love, but well worth it. Next time I’ll pay attention to the 1 tsp cayenne pepper as I accidently added 2. Doh! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!


  16. I made this for the first time tonight, and the flavors were great. However, after cooking the sauce down, there was clearly not enough liquid for it to be able to blend into a sauce, let alone pass through a mesh strainer, so I had to add a good amount of water to it while in the blender (and some while cooking it to keep it from getting too dry in the pan). I also found that there was not quite as much sauce as I would expect for the amount of chicken used. Any idea why this might be? I did halve the recipe, but cooked the sauce for the suggested 40 minutes, so perhaps that is why. In retrospect, if it happens again, I’m wondering if it would be better to add chicken broth instead of water so as not to dilute the flavors. Thanks for your help!


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