I discovered Indian food in college and my life has been better for it. Somehow, it was only recently that I discovered the magic that is Chicken Tikka Masala (CTM). The first time I tried to make it at home, Jake and I invited our friend Todd over and it was pretty awful. It tasted mostly like cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Yikes. We never used that recipe again. Ever since then, I was on a hunt to find a great recipe. A coworker told me if the recipe doesn't have garam masala, it isn't worth it. This isn't the recipe that you can whip up in an hour but it is so worth it in my opinion. This recipe is adapted from Alison Roman over at Epicurious.
While I've had this dish throughout India, this isn't something I'd consider authentically Indian. Some reports suggest that it was invented by a Bangladeshi chef in Britian while others have claimed it was invented in South Asia with a British palate in mind. What I love about this dish is that it's almost a fusion dish that mixes the styles of meat with gravy (that you might encounter in British cooking) with spices you'd find commonly thoughout South Asia, such as cardamom, coriander, and garam masala.
Sourcing the Spices
- Local Indian market (I was surprised to learn there’s two within a few miles of my house)
- Whole Foods
I especially love buying new spices I don’t own from the bulk spice section because it lets me buy a small amount until I know I really like that spice.
Also, regarding garam masala, you can definitely make it at home if you have a spice grinder. We haven’t perfected this spice blend so buy the Punjabi-style garam masala from Penzey’s.
Charring the Chicken
- Cut chicken into cubes, place on skewers, than grill
- Cut chicken in half and grill, then cut on a cutting board once done
- Cut anyway you’d like, broil on a wire rack in the oven
Of all the methods, I’ve recently switched to grilling the chicken breasts or thighs whole. I find this saves me a lot of time in preparation and cooking. But you’ll see below I historically have used skewers. Personally, I would only recommend using the wire rack in the oven if you don’t have access to a grill as it makes a mess that is more difficult to clean.
Chicken Breast versus Chicken Thighs
This recipe calls for 2lbs of chicken breasts but you can easily switch that out and buy chicken thighs too.
Freezing and Reheating Chicken Tikka Masala
Often times I will read you cannot freeze CTM because of the heavy cream. We have never experienced anything but delicious food when we have frozen and reheated chicken tikka masala. We love this recipe so much we typically make a double portion so we can fill up our freezer stash.
We batch cook and freeze our chicken tikka masala in our 1cup and 2cup portions:
- 1-cup tray: perfect for an individual portion of CTM, you can add the rice or naan fresh.
- 2-cup tray: perfect for making a complete meal. We will first add about 1 cup of CTM to the 2-cup tray and then top off with about a cup of cooked basmati rice. This lets us have perfectly sized individual curry and rice bowls.
When possible, I try to let the chicken tikka masala thaw in the fridge either overnight or during the day. However, if you forget or don't plan to let it thaw, that's totally okay.
Here are the various ways I heat up frozen CTM:
- If I'm only heating up a single 1-cup cube, I tend to reheat in the microwave with a splatter cover on
- If I'm heating up 2 1-cup cubes for Jake and me, I tend to reheat in a small pot over medium-low heat.
- If I've frozen a CTM Rice Bowl in our 2-cup trays, I almost always reheat it in the microwave. Cooking times will vary based on your microwave and if you've let it thaw ahead of time. Typically, I'll place it with a splatter cover on for 2.5 minutes in the microwave. Then I'll give it a good stir and reassess how much more time it needs.
How To Make Flavorful Chicken Tikka Masala
Gather and prep ingredients for yogurt marinade
Note: This picture (and the recipe below) is for the original amount that uses 2lbs of chicken. Because we love this recipe so much, the pictures from here on out will be for a double recipe (or 4lbs of chicken breast) even though the actual recipe below is at 1x.
Place yogurt in a large bowl, then add spices and mix together
Add chicken to yogurt mix, stir together. Cover with clear wrap and refrigerate for 4+ hours.
There have been plenty of times where I didn’t have time to prep the yogurt marinade in the morning. What I’ll do is prepare it at the night before and then let it marinate the next day.
How To Make the Tikka Masala Sauce
Prep the Ingredients for Tikka Masala Sauce
Heat ghee or butter in a large pot, add onion, garlic, ginger, and all the spices.
I prefer to use butter or ghee instead of vegetable oil for more flavor. Sometimes I'll also use olive oil. I recommend cooking the onions first until they're translucent and then adding the spics, ginger, and garlic. Cook for about one minute, until fragrant.
Add tomato paste, stir for 2 min
The bottom of the pot will start to turn brown as the tomato paste cooks
Add crushed tomatoes and stir
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 8-10 minutes. Sauce will slightly thicken.
Add cilantro and cream, then stir. Simmer for 20+ minutes
Char the Chicken
If you don't have skewer sticks, see note above about the various ways to char the chicken.
Add charred chicken to sauce, cook 15 minutes
Serve with basmati rice and roasted cauliflower
Freeze leftovers in individual portions for later
Can't wait to have these again for lunch at work!