This restaurant style chicken tikka masala recipe will fool even the most hardcore of takeout enthusiasts. This paleo chicken tikka masala recipe is rich and creamy with tender bites of chicken, and this dish also works as a Whole30 chicken tikka masala recipe that absolutely everyone would love. Healthy and a wonderful paleo dinner or Whole30 dinner.
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.
Restaurant-style 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? 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.
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.
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.
Make this restaurant style chicken tikka masala recipe! It doubles as a paleo chicken tikka masala recipe and Whole30 chicken tikka masala recipe… versatile, non?
Restaurant Style Chicken Tikka Masala (Paleo, Whole30, Dairy-Free)
For the sauce:
- 4 tablespoons ghee or butter (1/4 cup)
- 1 medium white onion , diced
- 2 serrano chiles , minced (seeded for a milder heat level)
- 5 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger , grated
- 4 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
- salt , to taste
- 1 14- ounce can of full-fat coconut milk
- basmati rice or cauliflower rice
- naan , if you're not paleo or on a Whole30
- fresh cilantro , chopped
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.
To cook chicken: preheat broiler. Place a wire rack over a baking sheet and place chicken pieces on top of rack. Broil, turning occasionally, until browned in spots and cooked through, about 8 minutes total.
To 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.
Add 1/2 the can of 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.
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 you can. Top with plenty of chopped cilantro.