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)
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.