Chicken Tikka Masala

“You hit at least a 2-run homer.” Chris, continuing the baseball metaphors, commenting on tonight’s dinner. I should hope he liked it, he’s been bugging me about having more of “that stuff” from “the place by Becky and Brian” for months. We recently checked out Sindhu in East Lansing and his memory was refreshed as were the persistent requests to make this at home.

Indian food requires a lot of spices; and usually not ingredients you use in a lot of other foods. I did some internet searches and found several recipes for Chicken Tikka Masala. Most of them called for cumin, coriander and garam masala at a minimum. Various recipes also included ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, paprika, cayenne pepper, jalapeno and so on.

While we were in Ann Arbor last weekend, we discovered this awesome spice shop in Kerrytown. They have all the spices in big jars and you are encouraged to stick your nose in all of them. I could have spent hours in there. By happenstance, we came across a spice mix specifically for Tandoori-style marinades. The chicken in Chicken Tikka Masala is marinated skewered and then cooked in a Tandoor Oven before being tossed with a tomato cream sauce. Typically, Indian food of this style is served with rice and/or Naan (flatbread).

Starting Monday I have to dramatically alter my eating habits under direction of my physician (oh yeah, and so my team can win the weight loss challenge at work): no more breads galore, creams and cheeses, etc.. I guess this weekend is sort of like the Last Supper so I decided to make the Chicken Tikka Masala with both Naan and rice. I admit, the Naan is store-bought. I really want to make my own but I didn’t think it would fit in our busy day of cleaning and organizing. Meijer (on W. Saginaw) sells some really nice Naan in the bakery section. You just heat it up in the oven, brush a little butter or olive oil on and chow down.

Remember all those spices I mentioned? As it turns out, I had everything I needed to make this version from RecipeZaar except coriander. I chose this particular recipe because of its relative simplicity and because it had so many favorable reviews. My second choice was from Food & Wine magazine but it was much more intense and required even more spices I didn’t have.

Quick side note: Coriander is the seed from cilantro. In other countries, both the leaves and seeds are called coriander. The word cilantro is derived from the Spanish name for the plant.

Meijer, along with selling that tasty Naan, has an ever improving spice section. Most of the spices are now available in organic. In the case of coriander, Meijer had 3 different versions and the organic variety was significantly cheaper than the regular stuff. Win-Win!

The original recipe


1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken, cut in 1 inch cubes


1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground red pepper
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 piece minced ginger (1-inch long)
6 bamboo skewers (6-inch)


1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala (buy in Indian market)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


1. Soak bamboo skewers in water.
2. For sauce, melt butter on medium heat.
3. Add garlic& jalapeno; cook 1 minute.
4. Stir in coriander, cumin, paprika, garam masala& salt.
5. Stir in tomato sauce.
6. Simmer 15 minutes.
7. Stir in cream; simmer to thicken- about 5 minutes.
8. Thread chicken on skewers, and marinate (in the refrigerator) for an hour or so.
9. Discard marinade.
10. Grill or broil chicken, turning occasionally, to cook through- about 8 minutes.
11. Remove chicken from skewers; add to sauce.
12. Simmer 5 minutes.

My Version

I followed the basic recipe above with only a few minor changes. The directions above are not exactly the most efficient order of events so I’ll re-write them below.

  • Instead of the dried spices listed in the marinade, I used the Tandoori Spice Mix along with the lemon juice and ginger I used Greek yogurt (one 7oz bowl).
  • I didn’t have a jalapeno for the sauce so I added some cayenne pepper to bring up the heat.
  • We served with rice and Naan (garnished with a little butter, garlic and fresh cilantro).

Redone directions:

  • Soak skewers in water
  • Make marinade. Thread chicken pieces on skewers and brush marinade on, covering thoroughly.
  • Allow chicken to marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour.
  • Heat grill or broiler. Remove chicken from the refrigerator.
  • Melt butter in medium saucepan or saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic (and jalapeno) and spices. Cook for about 15-30 seconds.
  • Add tomato sauce to pan, using a whisk to combine spices with sauce. Reduce heat to simmer. If you are using a large pan, watch to make sure the tomato sauce doesn’t stick or get too thick.
  • Remove excess marinade and place chicken on the grill or under the broiler. Turn as needed and cook through.
  • Add cream to sauce. Whisk to combine and simmer additional five minutes.
  • When chicken is cooked, remove from skewers and mix in to sauce.
  • Garnish with fresh cilantro.


This dish (which serves 4) is pretty high in calories and saturated fat thanks to the cream. You could substitute half and half or yogurt (regular or reduced/non-fat) or coconut milk (regular or lite) for the cream. Or a combination of these things. The fat in the cream does give the sauce a really silky texture; it may take a little experimenting to maintain the texture with healthier ingredients.

One of the comments on the recipe site suggested adding a chopped fresh tomato with the tomato sauce. The sauce wouldn’t be as smooth but this might be a way to balance the heat, if you accidentally overdo it in the marinade or jalapeno.

Many of the other recipes around the internet use ground almonds in the sauce. I think I would like try the more involved version from Food and Wine next time but this version was really easy- great for a weeknight supper. The chicken can marinate overnight if necessary- the low acidity of the yogurt won’t chemically cook the chicken.


5 thoughts on “Chicken Tikka Masala

  1. I have a stand-by Chicken Tikka Masala recipe that I learned from an Indian chef in a cooking class a few years ago. If you’re not thrilled with our version, I would be happy to share. This is my “signature” curry, and I love to play with Indian spices. Enjoy!

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