India – Chicken Tikka Masala

India – Chicken Tikka Masala

Some of my western friends and coworkers are intimated by traveling to India. Not me! I have lovely coworkers in India and a huge love of spicy food. Plus, I’ve never been sick while traveling, which I translate to a steel gut. My best memory of this trip is my coworkers taking such great interest in teaching me about their favorite foods and then taking me spice shopping at the local grocery store. Oh… and I have half a dozen scarves as a constant reminder of my time wandering through India.

An Indian exploration with a short pause

One of these days I’ll update this post with my amazing adventure to the Taj Mahal and Goa. For now, I can offer up a testimony to the friendly culture of my Indian coworkers and a little over a week of doing nothing but talking and eating – mostly eating. It’s very easy to go to India and not actually see India. The road from the airport is a fortress intended to keep you from peering into the languishing neighborhoods along the way.  You are dropped off a The Taj or Leela palace and you feel like royalty. The food is exquisite and more than plentiful. Keeping safety in mind, I hope you will journey out to experience the local culture. I suspect you, like me, will walk away with a new appreciation for the comforts that so many of us enjoy on a daily basis. I left with a new understanding of poverty. One quick PSA. If you are in the nicest restaurant in Bangalore, continue to drink the bottled water directly from the plastic bottle. Don’t let those beautiful silver mugs fool you. They are not dishwasher safe – enough said?

Why Tikka Masala

Tikka Masala is the quintessential India meal in my opinion. It marries the spicy and the sweet so perfectly that your tastebuds dance from joy. Curries are so absolutely delicious and central to Indian cuisine that I can’t imagine picking a non curried dish for India.

An Austin Tikka Masala experience

My friend Estella joined me for my Tikka Masala adventure. Like me, she adores food and is quite the culinary queen in her own right. She’s also a business owner, tech star, fashionista. More importantly, she is constantly looking for the good in people and is always looking for some way – big or small – to make the world a better place. Check out her charity organization 5point5liters and see her latest charity adventure.

Inspirational recipe and resources

Chris at All Recipe’s contributed this recipe.  I’m not sure it’s entirely traditional, but you will see that I’ve adjusted it pretty considerably from the starting point.

Tweaks and cautionary tales

  • I do solemnly swear to never use canned tomatoes.  Ditched those immediately and replaced with whole, fresh tomatoes.
  • I marinated the chicken in a combo of seasonings to ensure the flavor really soaks in
  • I upped the seasonings quite a bit
  • I replaced heavy cream with half and half

Helpful reading:

Julie Sahni wrote a great blog on Tikka Masala for epicurious.  I found this after my experiment, but thought you might be interested.

How to make Tikka Masala healthier

You could replace the chicken with tofu or even bell peppers and other veggies for a great vegetarian tikka masala.  You can also replace the ghee with an olive oil based spread.


  • Learning Curve: none
  • Pre-work: it’s not required, but I recommend you marinade the chicken for four hours at least
  • Vegetarian: no, but could be easily
  • Healthy: Yes
  • Freezes well:  yes


India - Chicken Tikka Masala
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This dish is beyond easy and absolutely delicious. It makes for a great quick, mid week meal.
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 6
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon each of cumin, ginger, tumeric, paprika
  • 5 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter), normal butter will work as well
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, double if you want more heat
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3- 4 large ripe tomatoes (peeled - instructions included - and roughly chopped)
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste (optional)
  1. (optional) Mix two tablespoons white vinegar with 1 teaspoon each of cumin, ginger, tumeric, paprika, and a dash of olive oil. Pour over chicken and store covered in the refrigerator for 4 hours.
  2. Heat ghee in a large skillet over medium heat, add onions and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and turmeric into the onion mixture and fry for 2 minutes.
  3. Peel tomatoes (pierce skin and boil for 30 seconds to aid in peeling skin). Roughly chop and simmer in large stock pot until it reaches sauce consistency (10 - 15 minutes). Add onion mixture to tomato sauce and simmer for 10 minutes. Begin chicken step below. Mix in cream, paprika, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Bring sauce back to a simmer.
  4. Heat vegetable oil in a separate skillet over medium heat. Stir chicken into the hot oil, sprinkle with curry powder, and sear chicken until lightly browned but still pink inside, about 3 minutes; stir often. Transfer chicken and any pan juices into the sauce. Simmer chicken in sauce until no longer pink, about 30 minutes; adjust salt and sugar to taste.




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  2. Ryan Uttanwalla - June 20, 2014

    Hey Amber
    The tikka masala recipe is quite nice and very similar to the original, have a look at this if you’d like to compare!
    Cheers and happy cooking!
    Ryan ~ Soul Food

    • Amber
      Amber - July 6, 2014

      Thanks, Ryan. I’ll definitely check it out. I feel a bit self conscious about cooking traditional foods as I think it’s probably impossible for me to master the traditional techniques in a year. As my journey continues – and if I get my dream – I’ll get to spend time in many of these countries actually learning from the experts!

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