The Best Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe (Restaurant Style)
Hands down the best chicken tikka masala recipe ever, this version tastes just like you’d expect from your favorite restaurant. I’ve spent years perfecting my recipe, and now even the most hardcore of takeout enthusiasts would be fooled by these tender bites of chicken, marinated in yogurt and a blend of delicious seasonings then enveloped in a rich and creamy sauce.
🍅 What Makes This Recipe So Good
- Chicken tikka masala is a popular introductory dish for anyone delving into the wonderful world of Indian cuisine for the first time. I mean, it’s so popular that it’s considered the official dish of the United Kingdom. I totally get it – tender, perfectly-seasoned chicken in a sauce that’s tomatoey, creamy, and spicy but not-really-hot? It makes sense that newbies would see this dish on a menu and think “oh, that seems like a safe bet”. Not only is it a “safe bet”, it’s also one of the most heavenly dishes on the planet if you ask me.
- One downside to incredible chicken tikka masala? It’s hard to recreate at home! I worked on nailing this recipe for well over a decade, always coming so very close but lacking that one special something that took it from a really delicious take on curry to a spot-on recreation of one of my favorite Indian restaurant dishes. But never you fear – after much trial and error and research and tasting, I did it. I captured perfect restaurant-style chicken tikka masala, made right in your own kitchen.
- The magical key that makes a world of difference? That sweet, sweet caramelization process. It literally transforms the ingredients into something next level. Combine that with the heady spices, rich cream, and yogurt-marinated chicken, and prepare yourself to be WOWed.
👩🏼🍳 Chef’s Tips
- Fenugreek leaves are optional but oh, do 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.
- What makes the masala so red? I use deggi mirch powder, which is similar to paprika but a vibrant red, in my chicken tikka masala. It gives the dish a brilliant hue and especially authentic restaurant-style taste. I highly recommend ordering a box if you make Indian food, like my chana masala, butter chicken, or chickpea tikka masala, with any sort of regularity!
- It’s really easy to make this recipe work for a variety of dietary needs. It’s naturally low carb, but you can also make it dairy-free, Whole30, or paleo if needed. I’ve included some alternate ingredients for various diets on the recipe card below.
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 repeat – do not skip the caramelization process!
💬 Frequently Asked Questions
“Tikka” is the term used for the small pieces of meat (in this case, chicken) that are marinated in a seasoned yogurt and then grilled, roasted, or broiled.
“Masala” refers to the creamy tomato gravy, with its rich butteriness and slight sweetness and mild heat.
It can be, but only if you want it to be! You’re in complete control of the heat, so you can make the dish as mild or as fiery as you like. For a hotter sauce, use more than 1 serrano chile and don’t remove the seeds. For a mild sauce, use just one chile (or half of one) and remove all of the seeds.
The leaves have a much milder flavor than the seeds, so I would recommend just omitting the fenugreek or starting with a very small amount if you only have the seeds. (Unless you already know you just absolutely love the taste of them!)
The tikka masala sauce is typically a well-spiced blend of tomato and cream. For this recipe, we use onions, peppers, garlic, ginger, tomato sauce, and heavy cream (or coconut cream, or cashew cream), along with paprika, garam masala, and fenugreek leaves. The chicken is marinated in a mixture of yogurt, turmeric, garam masala, ginger, pepper, and lemon juice.
Chicken tikka masala is usually served with steamed long-grain rice, veggies, toasted pita, or warm naan. Trust me, once you’ve used soft naan to sop up that delicious sauce, you’ll never look back.
If you’re following a specific way of eating like Whole30, paleo, or keto, you can swap out the steamed basmati rice for steamed cauliflower rice or a bed of roasted broccoli or cauliflower.
🥘 Other Recipes You’ll Love
- How to Make Paneer
- Palak Paneer
- Vegetarian Chickpea Tikka Masala
- Whole30 Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala (Paleo, Low Carb)
- Butter Chicken
- Perfect Naan
- Chicken Tikka Masala Chili (Whole30, Paleo)
- Egg Roll in a Bowl
The Best Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe (Restaurant Style)
For the Chicken
- 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts approximately 1-1 ½ pounds
For the Marinade
- 1 cup plain full-fat yogurt see Notes
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice juice from approximately half of one lemon
- 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon dried ginger
For the Sauce
- 4 tablespoons ghee ¼ cup
- 1 medium white onion diced
- 1-2 medium serrano chiles minced, see Notes
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 1 ½ tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 3 ½ teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon paprika or deggi mirch powder for more vibrant color
- 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 medium green bell pepper core and seeds removed, pepper sliced into strips
- 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
- salt to taste
- 2 cups heavy cream at room temperature, see Notes
Serving Suggestions (All Optional)
- prepared basmati rice see Notes
- warmed naan
- finely chopped fresh cilantro
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife
- Large mixing bowl with lid or plastic wrap to cover
- Silicone spatula
- Large skillet
- Wooden spoon
- Wire baking rack
- Baking sheet
For the Chicken
- Place chicken breasts on cutting board. Use sharp knife to trim chicken as needed, then cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
- Add yogurt, turmeric, garam masala, lemon juice, pepper, and dried ginger to large bowl. Stir well to fully combine ingredients, then add chicken to bowl. Toss or gently stir to fully coat chicken pieces in yogurt marinade.
- Once chicken is completely coated, cover bowl with lid or plastic wrap and place bowl in refrigerator. Marinate chicken 1 hour minimum, and no more than 8 hours.
For the Chicken Tikka Masala
- Heat large skillet over medium heat. When pan is hot, add ghee and continue heating skillet until ghee is completely melted. Swirl and tilt skillet occasionally to distribute ghee across surface.
- When ghee is melted, add minced onion to skillet. Sauté onions, stirring occasionally, approximately 5 minutes or until softened.
- Add serrano chiles, minced garlic, and grated fresh ginger to skillet and immediately reduce heat under pan to medium-low. Sauté ingredients, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes or until mixture develops rich toffee color. Note: if mixture begins to dry or stick, stir in 2 to 3 drops of water as needed.
- Once desired color is achieved, add garam masala and paprika. Stir well and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until fragrant. Note: continue adding water if needed to reduce drying or sticking.
- When ingredients are fragrant, add tomato sauce to skillet and stir well until sauce is fully incorporated. Once incorporated, remove skillet from heat and let mixture cool slightly.
- While mixture cools, preheat broiler on high, with oven rack positioned approximately 10 to 12 inches below heating element. Fit wire baking rack onto baking sheet, then place marinated chicken pieces on top of baking rack.
- Place baking sheet under preheated broiler. Broil chicken, stopping to flip chicken periodically, 6 to 8 minutes or until chicken reaches 160° Fahrenheit internally. Once chicken reaches target temperature, remove baking sheet from oven and set aside.
- While chicken cooks, carefully transfer slightly-cooled sauce mixture to blender. Blend mixture until completely smooth. See Notes below for tips on how to safely blend hot liquids.
- Once smooth, return mixture to skillet and add bell pepper, fenugreek leaves, and salt. Stir to incorporate, then simmer sauce over medium-low heat 30 minutes, or until sauce is thick and very paste-like.
- Remove skillet from heat and let cool slightly, then add heavy cream. Stir until cream is incorporated and mixture is very smooth, then return skillet to heat.
- Taste sauce and adjust seasonings as desired. When satisfied with flavors, add chicken to skillet and gently stir until chicken is fully incorporated and coated in sauce.
- Simmer dish only until chicken is warmed through. Divide prepared basmati rice between serving bowls, then top rice with chicken tikka masala. Garnish dish with finely chopped cilantro and serve warm with naan if desired.
- Serrano Chiles: For a mild heat, use 1 serrano chile with the seeds removed. For a medium heat, use 1 serrano chile, including seeds. For a hot heat, use 2 serrano chiles, including seeds.
- Make it Paleo/Whole30: Use a compliant non-dairy yogurt (like unsweetened Kite Hill). Replace the heavy cream with 2 cups coconut cream or cashew cream. Serve over steamed cauliflower rice, not basmati rice.
- Fill blender no more than halfway. Work in multiple batches if needed depending on size of blender and amount of sauce.
- Make sure sauce is cooled slightly before blending.
- Before blending, remove center cap from blender lid. Cover hole in lid with dish towel to keep pressure from building up inside blender. Hold lid down while blending and keep hole in lid covered.
Number of total servings shown is approximate. Actual number of servings will depend on your preferred portion sizes.
Nutritional values shown are general guidelines and reflect information for 1 serving using the ingredients listed, not including any optional ingredients. Actual macros may vary slightly depending on specific brands and types of ingredients used.
To determine the weight of one serving, prepare the recipe as instructed. Weigh the finished recipe, then divide the weight of the finished recipe (not including the weight of the container the food is in) by the desired number of servings. Result will be the weight of one serving.
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