The number one dish that comes to people’s minds when they think of Indian food is Chicken Tikka Masala. It’s on the menu of every Indian restaurant especially outside of India. And yet, this dish is not technically Indian. And in fact, chicken tikka masala enjoys the status of being Britain’s national dish!
The most popular story about where the chicken tikka masala comes from takes us back to the 1960’s to an Indian restaurant in the UK. Chicken tikka is a dry chicken dish – you can think of it as tandoori chicken made with smaller pieces of boneless chicken. A British diner at this Indian restaurant orders the chicken tikka, finds it too dry for his taste, and sends it back to the kitchen. The puzzled chef thinks on his feet, and cooks up a quick gravy with tomato sauce, yogurt and some spices. The diner loves his chicken tikka with gravy and chicken tikka masala is born.
There is however an alternate story that suggests that chicken tikka masala was first made in India. Colleen Taylor Sen writes in Curry, A Global History that Kundan Lal Gujral, the owner of Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi, invented the tandoori chicken and butter chicken as a way of using up leftover tandoori chicken. Butter chicken, roasted tandoori chicken in rich tomato, butter and cream sauce is said to be a precursor to chicken tikka masala. Chicken tikka is basically the same as tandoori chicken. the only difference is that the pieces are boneless and they are usually skewered before cooking. Whatever the origins of the dish, these stories remind me how much the cuisine of any culture is influenced by so many others.
And so, when I asked my husband what he would like for dinner if I were to cook Indian food, he promptly said “A chicken curry would be awesome with some chapathis!” So I did make this for dinner and it was great.
So here’s my version of chicken tikka masala. I’ve made it without using heavy cream and it is still yummy. But by all means, if you prefer it with cream, use it. If you are curious, this recipe was husband approved.
Chicken Tikka Ingredients
- 4 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
- 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon clove, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1.5 lb chicken breast cut into 2-3 inch pieces
Mix the marinade ingredients together except for the chicken. Taste the marinade and add more salt or cayenne powder if desired. Keep in mind that the ‘masala’ gravy will tone down the flavor a bit. For tenderest results, marinate the meat for a few hours.
You have a couple of options on how to cook the tikka. You could skewer the chicken pieces and grill them (so the small pieces don’t fall through). You could broil them on medium for 3-4 minutes on each side or till just cooked. Or if you’re like me and can’t find your broiler pan, you can bake it at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes or till the chicken is just cooked. If it is still a little pink on the inside, that is fine. The chicken will simmer in the curry for a few minutes. Prepare the masala while the chicken is cooking.
If you prepare the chicken tikka ahead of time, remember to not overcook and cover tightly before refrigerating. This will ensure tender rather than chewy pieces of chicken in the masala.
- 1 yellow onion, finely diced
- 3 ripe tomatoes, medium dice 2 and juice the other
- 2 jalapenos sliced lengthwise (optional)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1/2 cup of yogurt or cream (For non dairy version, use Almond/Cashew cream or thick coconut milk)
Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok over medium high heat for roughly 3 minutes or till a cumin seed thrown in lightly sizzles. Add the cumin and bay leaves and allow to sizzle for 10 seconds. Stir fry the onion and chilis till onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining spices. Give it a quick stir before adding the tomato juice. Once it gets to a boil, add the tomato. Cook down the sauce till thicker and there is a thin film of oil on top, about 15 minutes. Add salt to taste before adding the chicken tikka.
Taste and decide if you want to add yogurt. If the sauce is too spicy for you, adding yogurt will help. Simmer on low for a few minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve with rotis, chapatis, or naan.