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The Best Chicken Tikka Masala
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Toss the takeout menus and whip up a crowd-pleasing recipe for The Best Chicken Tikka Masala.
Tender chicken thighs stewed in a creamy tomato sauce has been a go-to comfort food my entire life.
Every culture has some variation of this perfect marriage of poultry and produce, and our family’s variation just so happened to be my Hungarian grandmother’s chicken paprikash.
I grew up loving the taste and flavor of aromatic sauces. My parents did a great job of exposing my siblings and I to a wide range of ethnic cuisines, so both Indian and Thai curry popped up frequently at the dinner table, whether we were eating at home or dining out.
Chicken tikka masala became my favorite restaurant dish as a child. It was hearty, tomatoey and reminiscent of my grandmother’s classic paprikash. It hits similar flavor notes on the tomato front, and with a simple swap of Hungarian nokedli for basmati rice and garlic naan, we are in business.
I’ve sampled more than a dozen chicken tikka masala recipes at Indian restaurants in San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and London. It doesn’t get any better than this homemade version that’s loaded with fresh garlic, ginger and a blend of traditional spices.
One note: Do not let the ingredient list intimidate you! All of the spices are readily available at major grocery stores, including the Garam Masala, which you’ll find in the spice aisle.
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The Best Chicken Tikka Masala
For the chicken marinade:
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon Garam Masala (See Kelly's Note)
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 2-inch pieces
For the curry sauce:
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 (14.5-oz.) can chopped tomatoes
- 2 cups heavy cream (or one 14.5-oz. can coconut milk)
- 1 Tablespoon Garam Masala
- 1 Tablespoon turmeric
- 1 Tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 Tablespoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
Make the chicken marinade:
In a large bowl, whisk together all of the chicken marinade ingredients, except for the chicken.
Add the chicken and stir until it is thoroughly coated.
Cover the bowl and refrigerate the chicken for a minimum of 4 hours or up to overnight.
Make the curry sauce:
Add the vegetable oil to a heavy-bottomed saucepot set over high heat.
When the oil is barely smoking, add the marinated chicken and sear it on all sides until brown and crispy. (The chicken does not need to be cooked through.) Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and set it aside while you make the curry sauce.
In the same stockpot set over medium-high heat, add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook them for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent.
Add the tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and remaining spices and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes. Allow the curry sauce to cool slightly then transfer it to a blender.
Purée the curry sauce until smooth then return it to the saucepot set over medium-low heat.
Stir in the heavy cream then bring the curry to a gentle simmer. Add the chicken to the sauce and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked fully. Add the sugar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the Chicken Tikka Masala over basmati or with naan.
Garam masala is an Indian spice blend. It can be found in the spice aisle of all major grocery stores as well as retailers such as Walmart and Target.
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