Chicken Tikka Masala…. Masalaish, that is.

Is there such a thing as an authentic recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala? I doubt it very much. When I did my bit of research for this delight, I came up with a number of conflicting claims on the original. For many years, I thought that it was just some greasy, mild creamy muck that came in a jar from the supermarket. You know the type of stuff, hot colour, thin taste and a huge desire to drink lots of water later in the evening. There are claims that a Pakistani chef, operating in Glasgow, having run out of curry sauce, added some spice to his tomato soup and Chicken Tikka Masala was born. Others believe it to be an Indian original and I believe that England also lays a claim to its origins. In truth, most Chicken Tikka Masalas I have ever tasted didn’t merit anybody claiming the original.  So, I thought I should try my own.

Purists (Can there be such a person for a dish of indeterminate origin?) may not like the fact that I leave out the cream. I replace it with coconut milk and I also add in mustard seeds. Get over it.

Anyway, here’s the business end of this little rant. This is a recipe of two halves. First there is the chicken and then there is the sauce.

This is a “Stand on a ladder to get the shot” set of ingredients.

Ingredients (for the chicken)

  • 8 free range chicken thighs, boned and skinned
  • 1/4 litre of yoghurt
  • 4 cloves of good garlic
  • 5cm/2” ginger root
  • 1 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon of chilli
  • A pinch of salt

Ingredients (for the sauce)

  • 2 onions chopped fine
  • 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds
  • 4 cloves of good garlic
  • 5cm/2” ginger root
  • 1 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 14 oz (400g) tin of tomatoes
  • 14 oz (400g) tin of coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli
  • A few pinches of salt
  • 8 or so dried curry leaves
  • A handful of fresh coriander to finish

You will note a lot of similarity between the two lists above. When I got my ingredients together, I peeled and blended the ginger and garlic for both lists at once. It makes for more efficiency.

It is a lot of ginger and a lot of garlic for one dish.

First thing, peel and blend the garlic and ginger. Use half of it and mix it with the other ingredients for the chicken. Then slice the chicken into large bite sized pieces. Next, add the chicken and stir to coat the chicken. Leave it in the fridge for at least an hour and preferably four hours.

You don’t need any of the intermediate step photos. This is simple to do.

To make the sauce, chop the onions. Then add a tablespoon of butter or cooking oil to a hot wok or large saucepan. Then add in the mustard seeds.

I used butter. It adds a nice sheen to the final sauce.

When they start to pop and spit all over the place, add the onions and turn down the heat. Sweat the onions for about five minutes or until they become translucent. Add in the garam masala, turmeric, cumin, ground coriander and salt. Fry this mixture until the aromas of deliciousness are released throughout the kitchen. Then add the tomatoes, chilli and coconut milk. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce.

I couldn’t resist a pouring shot. The coconut pours nicely.

Back to the chicken. Heat a barbecue to hot and add the chicken. (You can do this on a griddle pan, if you like). This is to char the chicken, not to cook it.

In another world, somebody might think this is cooked. It isn’t.

When it is charred, add it to the sauce and let it cook over a low heat for about half an hour. The chicken tikka masala is now ready to serve. However, it will taste better if you let it sit overnight and reheat. Remember to chop and sprinkle the fresh coriander just before serving.

A good half hour in the sauce makes for a delightful meal.

This is the best tasting Chicken Tikka Masala you will taste. It is a truly wonderful dish with layers and layers of flavours. I served it with rice and Naan breads. We also enjoyed a couple of beers with it too.

Best served with a beer. In the UK they tend to drink the beers first.

It may not be completely authentic, so I call it “masalaish”. But, none of the “authentic” recipes seem to have any real provenance. I really can’t believe the tomato soup nonsense. Can you?

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Latest comments
  • Great adaptation of a dish with a mixed or uncertain history. I really like the addition of the coconut milk.
    Nope, I don’t believe the tomato soup version either. Well I can say with some embarrassment that Chicken Tikka Masala didn’t exist in the many areas of India I traveled. I say embarrassed, as I asked about Tikka Masala more than once only to get a strange look or a hearty laugh. I think perhaps it’s an English adaptation of an Indian or Pakistan dish.

  • Despite its dubious origins, chicken tikka masala (which apparently just means “spices”) is one of my favorite “Indian” dishes!

  • Thank you. I shall certainly give this a bash. The only thing I shall do different is grind my own spices. I recently discovered the joys of the Cuisinart Spice Grinder; a wonderful little piece of kit. I’ve been making my own Garam Masala and other assorted spices. Love, love, love it. I shall report back. Many thanks. I love your recipes.

  • Beautiful. Indian recipes within families and villages and regions are just as different as those in Italy. Nobody can agree on the “correct” combination and amounts of ingredients. But if they all come out wonderful, I sure don’t care! And this one is fabulous. Although, I always save coconut milk for Thai recipes. For Indian ones, I prefer yogurt or cream or milks made from nuts, like in kormas.

  • Sorry to bust the impression of a few who commented here – Chicken Tikka Masala is NOT an ‘Indian’ dish. Chicken Tikka is. So please don’t refer to it as ‘Indian’. Thank you very much. IMO, it’s pretty gross and gives Indian food a bad name 🙂

  • Let’s just call it “Marty” and make/eat it! 😉 (I use my own name here so as not to open another can of wormage.)

    Looks wonderful and I bet your kitchen still smells good! 🙂

  • Great cooking and serious miles on the bike multi talented amazing

  • Your rude commenter above clearly didn’t read this post at all, since nowhere in it do you claim this is Indian cuisine. And his opinion isn’t worth much, since ‘gross’ is the last thing you could call this flavour-filled dish. If you’re looking for authentic, no, this isn’t classical, but I’m pretty sure my Indian friends would find it quite acceptable if perhaps a little lacking in heat. For me, then, perfect!

  • *huge smile* First: your recipe already lies in my to-do file in the kitchen – I like your spicing ! Secondly, I cannot recount the number of times I have been virtually ‘abused’ for stating chicken tikka masala s a a bastardized but very popular British dish tho’ the other story may have a grain of truth ! Amongst more than 20,000 regional Indian dishes such does not appear anywhere – it is like saying that spaghetti bolognaise is Italian ! With two Indian/Sri Lankan food crazy husbands, I have eaten and cooked such a number of times a week for five decades. . . I am afraid I am on the side of Sanjiv who speaks from a birth country point of view !

    • Unlike the UK, we hardly have Indian restaurants here. I’ve never had chicken Tikka masala. I had my hunch it was a British dish. Just like there is “Indonesian” food in the Netherlands that no one in Indonesia would recognize as such.

        • Well it is authentic in a certain way, because the Dutch forced the Indonesians prepare rijsttafel for their occupiers.

  • Mmm. Conor, I am so glad you are still blogging. Looks delicious and I am sure it tasted the same!

  • hi Conor
    i always thought this was a British Raj type dish, so not an original Indian one at all. When done well, it is delicious i think, and yours sounds wonderful. i love all those aromatics! and it looks good too. cheers sherry

  • The coconut milk is a great idea. And I don’t just mean the pouring shot. Great charring on the chicken as well. One of these days I’ll have to do a sous vide version.

  • “Get over it” indeed. I can tell it was delicious.

      • We haven’t left yet — but I do know where we won’t be staying!

  • Been awhile since I checked in. Great post – text AND photos. Jealous you have the time for this. Keep it up! (And I’m going to try making it!) Ken

  • I have made this recipe twice now and it is lovely. Fragrant and aromatic but not too spicy hot. Im adding it to my favourites. Does it really matter about its authenticity or provenance? Thank you so much for posting it.

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