This is the best chicken tikka masala recipe ever! It tastes just like the restaurant and will fool even the most hardcore of takeout enthusiasts. Rich and creamy with tender bites of chicken, this best ever chicken tikka masala recipe offers paleo, Whole30, and dairy-free options for a healthy Indian meal.
Chicken tikka masala is a gateway drug.
Having never before tasted a spicy and sour rassam, never dunked a crispy piece of pakora in bright green chutney, never fought over the last gulab jamun in the order, most of us start with chicken tikka masala. It’s considered the official dish of the United Kingdom and is almost certainly the unofficial first-timer’s order the world over. Maybe it’s the description on the menu:
Mesquite broiled Chicken-Tikka cooked with bell pepper, onions in a tomato butter sauce
Chicken tikka prepared in tomato cream sauce.
Pieces of chicken tikka cooked in a creamy sauce with fresh tomato and exotic spices.
I see a few words in each of those descriptions, don’t you? Tomato. Cream. Butter.
Indian cuisine neophytes across the country are pointing at that item on the menu, claiming “It couldn’t be bad.” And oh, are they so very wrong.
The recipe for the best chicken tikka masala is quite possibly the heavenliest dish on the face of the planet, if you’re asking me (and you are, aren’t you?). The heady mix of spices, the slow-cooked onions and garlic, the creamy, buttery ho-my-goodness sauce: it draws most Indian food newbies in instantaneously, converting them for life.
The problem is that a restaurant style chicken tikka masala recipe is weirdly hard to make at home. No, I take that back; it’s really hard to find. I’ve been working at nailing it for over a decade now, with no real luck. Sure, the recipes I made were great, awesome takes at Indian curries. But did they taste like restaurant-style chicken tikka masala? Was it the best chicken tikka masala recipe? Not quite. There was just something missing.
So a little while back, I decided to do some research into what restaurants really do to produce that unbelievable dish. I read through plenty of theory, different elements that combine to create the dish you know and love. I paired those new techniques with a recipe I altered to fit a paleo diet (and Whole30 for that matter!), and, most importantly, I had very low expectations.
And so when I tasted that first bite, it was sheer delight when I realized I’d done it. Finally, the restaurant style chicken tikka masala recipe I’d been dreaming of! The slow-cooked onions, garlic, tomatoes, and spices; the rich and creamy coconut milk; the heady spices and fenugreek. It surpassed every previous attempt I’d made with flying colors.
Why this is the best chicken tikka masala recipe
- It utilizes authentic caramelization processes to produce a tikka masala that tastes just like the restaurant.
- It’s rich and creamy and smooth and spicy and perfect.
- There are Whole30, paleo, and dairy-free options, making it super healthy and workable for even restrictive diets.
Tips to make the best chicken tikka masala recipe
Do not skip the caramelization process either with the aromatics or the tomato sauce. If you do, you’ll end up with a less-than Indian curry, and not the best chicken tikka masala recipe ever! Seriously, if you make this and find it isn’t the best ever, you didn’t caramelize it all long enough!
I used full-fat plain yogurt as a marinade, but if you’re paleo or on a Whole30, you can skip that without missing too much.
Where can I find fenugreek leaves?
Fenugreek leaves are optional but oh, they put the dish over the top. Do use them if you can find them! I bought a big box at an Asian market and have barely made a dent in it. If you like Indian food, you’ll be super happy to have a box of fenugreek leaves at home. I use them in my saag chicken recipe, too, and they really take things over the edge.
Is chicken tikka masala healthy?
This chicken tikka masala recipe is healthy! It marinades the chicken in full-fat yogurt, which I absolutely include as part of my paleo diet. You can totally skip it, though, or marinade your chicken in a dairy-free yogurt, like a cashew, almond, or coconut yogurt. Finally, you can use either coconut cream or heavy cream to enrich the sauce.
This chicken tikka masala has dairy free options and works for a Whole30 or paleo diet. It’s gluten and grain free, includes no sugar, and no processed anything! All real food love.
How to serve this chicken tikka masala
If you’re on a Whole30 or are strictly paleo, omit the regular yogurt in the marinade and either marinade the chicken in coconut milk or a compliant yogurt. When ready to serve, spoon the best chicken tikka masala you’ve ever had over steamed cauliflower rice with plenty of chopped fresh cilantro. A side of sautéed zucchini would be perfect here!
If you’re not on a Whole30, serve this recipe over steamed basmati rice with a side of naan and raita. I have a seriously fab recipe for the perfect naan, and it’s way easier than you’d think!
How to make the best chicken tikka masala
Other recipes you’ll love:
- The Best Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala (Whole30, Paleo, Low Carb)
- Whole30 Chicken Curry (Low Carb, Paleo)
- Butter Chicken
- Whole30 Butter Chicken (Paleo)
- Saag Chicken (Whole30)
- Perfect Naan
- Chicken Tikka Masala Chili (Whole30, Paleo)
Best Chicken Tikka Masala (Restaurant Style, Paleo, Whole30, Dairy-Free)
This is the best chicken tikka masala recipe ever, and it's so rich and perfectly spiced. A double caramelization process produces a chicken tikka masala that tastes just like the best restaurant style dish.
For the sauce:
- 4 tablespoons ghee or butter (1/4 cup)
- 1 medium white onion diced
- 1-2 serrano chiles minced, see note for heat level
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger grated
- 3 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 green bell pepper deseeded and sliced into strips
- 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
- lots of salt to taste
- 2 cups coconut cream or full-fat coconut milk, or heavy cream, or half and half, see note
- basmati rice or cauliflower rice
- naan if you're not paleo or on a Whole30
- fresh cilantro chopped
Marinate the Chicken
Combine all marinade ingredients besides chicken (omitting yogurt if paleo or on a Whole30) in a medium bowl and stir well. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, up to overnight.
Make the Sauce
Heat the ghee in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add serrano chiles, garlic, ginger, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until a nice toffee color, about 20 minutes, adding a few drops of water here and there if drying out and sticking. Add garam masala and paprika and stir well. Cook until fragrant, a few minutes, adding a couple tablespoons of water if necessary to reduce sticking.
Stir in the tomato sauce then transfer to blender and blend until smooth. Return the sauce to your skillet and add the rest of the can of tomato sauce. Add sliced bell pepper, fenugreek, and salt.
Meanwhile, cook the chicken. Preheat broiler and place a wire rack over a baking sheet. Place chicken pieces on top of rack. Broil, turning occasionally, until browned in spots and cooked through, about 8 minutes total.
Simmer for 30 minutes on medium-low heat or until thick and more like a paste than sauce. Add the can of coconut milk and stir until very smooth. Taste and correct seasonings. Add chicken, stir well, and serve over basmati or cauliflower rice and naan, if that fits into your diet. Top with plenty of chopped cilantro.
- Mild: 1 serrano chile, seeded
- Medium: 1 serrano chile, not seeded
- Hot: 2 serrano chiles, not seeded
If you're on a Whole30, you can use a compliant non-dairy yogurt, like Kite Hill unsweetened, to marinate your chicken. You can also skip the yogurt entirely and simply marinate the chicken in spices and lemon juice, or use canned coconut milk to replace the yogurt.
I prefer to use about 2 cups of pure coconut cream, just the thick, solid white part of a can of coconut milk. You can use one can of full-fat coconut milk, if you prefer, but the sauce won't be as creamy. If you're not on any specific sort of diet, try about 2 cups of heavy cream or half and half to enrich the sauce!
This recipe was originally published in April 2016 but was updated with new photos, directions, and recipe revisions in December 2018.