Chicken Tikka Masala

FullSizeRenderFans of Indian food will love this smokey chicken dish, layered with rich spices in a creamy tomato sauce. My son Justin had been hinting that I try a curry dish sometime, but then he got bold and Facebooked me this recipe for Turkey Tikka Masala from The New York Times. It’s a dish that uses leftover Thanksgiving turkey, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. When I realized I didn’t have enough leftover turkey to do the dish, I opted to use fresh boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I had my husband Rich grill them on his Big Green Egg to get that Tandoor-tender treatment. This dish was utterly amazing, and that’s an understatement.

We’ve often wondered why all these Indian dishes that taste so similar have vastly different names, so I did a little research. Apparently, the names differ depending on the region, so a “rogan josh” can taste the same as a “marsala” as they use the same ingredients. “Tikka” refers to chicken cooked in the Tandoor (a cylindrical clay oven), and “marsala” is a sauce made with tomatoes and onions OR a mixture of spices, depending on your source of information. 

And what exactly is garam masala, other than a spice required in Indian recipes that you don’t have on hand? It’s a mix of peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, mace, cardamom, bay leaves, and cumin—and is sometimes referred to as a “curry.” An Indian curry stew is usually a blend of coriander, cumin, and turmeric, and sometimes chili peppers. There’s no curry powder actually in curries. Curry is a word invented for the British or by the British to describe the delicious stews they “discovered” during their colonization of India.

But enough with the history lesson! Back to the food! I did a few things differently than the original recipe—like I didn’t puree the sauce, and I used half and half, instead of heavy cream. My other adjustments to process and ingredients are reflected below.

Serves 6

For Meat Marinade

2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
4 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 cloves garlic, finely grated
4 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1¾ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

For Marsala Sauce

4 tablespoons ghee, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon cardamom
1-2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garam masala
1½ teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
1 serrano pepper, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups half and half
¾ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 small lemon (optional)

3 cups cooked basmati or jasmine rice

To make the marinade: Combine the garam masala, coriander, cumin, paprika, turmeric, salt, garlic, ginger, and yogurt in a bowl and stir. Add chicken thighs and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

To make the masala: Add 3 tablespoons of the ghee to a Dutch oven set on medium-high heat. Add onion, cardamom, bay leaf (or leaves), paprika, pepper flakes, garam masala and salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Make space among onions in center of pot, and add the remaining 1 tablespoon ghee. When ghee has melted, add ginger, garlic, and serrano pepper, and sizzle for about 10 seconds. Stir into the onions. Stir in tomato paste, then add tomatoes and juice from the can, crushing tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the liquid is almost gone, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add cream and chopped cilantro to the pot. Taste and add salt if needed. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 40 minutes. *

While sauce is cooking, grill chicken until done, and no pink remains in center. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Stir into masala sauce, and serve over cooked rice. (If adding lemon juice, stir in just before serving. I forgot the lemon, and did not think it needed it!)

*NOTE: The original recipe called for pureeing the sauce in a blender at this point, before adding the chicken in. I thought that was an unnecessary step, but might try that next time I make this so the sauce is creamier. And there will be a next time for this tasty dish!

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