chicken tikka masala

Sarah is gone for the weekend. My plans include:

  • watch some dumb movies
  • go to a sweet teacher protest tomorrow
  • teach a class at Soundbridge where I will teach a bunch of 8 year olds how to make popsicle stick harmonicas
  • and last but not least, cook a bunch of spicy food that smokes up the house

I really like using the broiler to cook things. It gets really hot, you can cook a bunch of stuff at once (anything you can fit in a sheet pan), and it doesn’t heat up the house as bad as the oven does. However, it can generate quite a bit of smoke, which can be a problem with our non-functioning kitchen vent. While I don’t mind a little excitement with the fire alarm, Sarah is not a big fan – so I usually try to avoid using it.

chicken tikka

So when I dropped her off at the airport I was all like LET THE PARTY BEGIN, AMIRITE?

chicken tikka

Chicken Tikka Masala is a one of many dishes served at Indian restaurants that’s authentically Indian – in fact, it was probably created in London in the 1970s. It’s hard not to like it – take some chicken, grill it (or roast it, or fry it) and toss it in a buttery, creamy, spicy tomato sauce. In this recipe, the chicken is coated in yogurt and broiled aggressively. While you normally have to be careful subjecting such an easily-overcooked piece of meat to the broiler, the yogurt protects the meat, and each piece comes out very tender.

I could be all noble and tell you that this is a perfect chance to use chicken thighs (inexpensive! more flavor! something Michael Pollan-y about eating the whole animal!) but I think that big, juicy chunks of white meat are exactly what you want here, so I recommend chicken breasts.

This recipe calls for garam masala, which is an Indian spice mixture of coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and other spices. It’s not hard to find (check the bulk section) but if you really can’t find it you can substitute an equal amount of curry powder, adding an extra 1/4 teaspoon each of coriander, cinnamon, and black pepper.

chicken tikka

sauce, before adding chicken:
chicken tikka

dinner, with some brown Basmati rice and corn sauteed with ginger, chile, and curry powder:
chicken tikka

Chicken Tikka Masala

adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, September 2007 issue

serves 4


  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
  • salt
  • 2 pounds chicken breasts
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (full fat is best, lowfat is OK)
  • vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, mined or pressed (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 serrano chile, seeded (I suggest chopping up the whole chile and adding half; that way if it’s not spicy enough you can add the rest before serving)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2/3 heavy cream (I used half-and-half and it worked OK, but the real thing is better)
  • handful chopped cilantro

Combine the cumin, coriander, cayenne, and 1 tablespoon salt in a small bowl, then rub it into the chicken breasts. Place the chicken in a plastic bag and place in the fridge for 30 – 60 minutes. Combine the yogurt, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon ginger, and 1 tablespoon garlic in a medium bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes or until well browned. Add remaining 1 tablespoon garlic and 1 tablespoon ginger, as well as the chile, tomato paste, and garam masala. Cook, stirring, about 2 minutes or until everything is fragrant and deeply browned.

Add 1/2 cup water and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to release browned bits, until mostly evaporated. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, for about 15 minutes or until everything is nice and saucy. Add the cream and cilantro and stir, then turn off the heat.

While the sauce is cooking, preheat the broiler to high and place an oven rack in the second-highest position. Line a baking sheet with foil and place a wire cooling rack inside the baking sheet (this elevates the chicken, keeping it from stewing in its own juices. If you don’t have a rack that will fit, you can just place the chicken directly on the foil – but the chicken might not brown as well).

Dip the chicken in the yogurt mixture, and place on the baking sheet. The pieces should be covered in a thick layer of yogurt; if not, spread a little more on each piece. Discard the rest of the yogurt mixture. Broil the chicken until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. You’re looking for some light charring on each side. If it seems like the chicken isn’t browning after 5 minutes, take the sheet pan out of the oven, adjust the rack to the highest position, and continue. If you’re at all in doubt about doneness, peek with a paring knife to make sure the meat is not pink on the inside. Remove from the oven and let cool on a cutting board for a few minutes, then cut into smallish chunks.

If it’s not still simmering, turn the heat under the tomato sauce to medium and dump the chicken pieces in. Toss well, coating completely in sauce, and serve over basmati rice.


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