Chicken Tikka Masala: An Iconic Restaurant Standard Comes Home

My Return to an Old Favorite

photo by the author

It’s the starter food of Indian cuisine.

Chicken Tikka Masala, bites of chicken in a creamy tomato curry, is served in restaurants around the globe. It’s what my friends ordered for me when they introduced me to Indian food at a small place on Curry Row in Manhattan’s East Village — my first taste of ethnic food beyond a beef taco in a hard shell or Fettuccini Alfredo.

That meal launched my openness to new tastes when dining out, but in my home cooking? Not so much. It took a long time for me to be willing to experiment in the kitchen. Once I joined Lake Isle Press and officially entered Cookbook Land, untried recipes based on new ingredients and cuisines found their way to my kitchen. I stocked up on new ingredients like cardamom pods and coriander seeds and bought a spice grinder.

Which came in handy when I decided to make Chicken Tikka Masala, following the recipe from “Flavors First” by Indian Master Chef Vikas Khanna, a Lake Isle Press cookbook. Though it may be the safe choice in an Indian restaurant, since I had never made it my habitual trepidation when tackling new recipes clicked in. But I’ve covered enough new culinary ground to get past my doubts, so I went for it.

I breezed past some ingredients that would have intimidated me not too long ago: ghee and homemade blends of curry powder and garam masala (recipes provided). All I needed were fenugreek leaves (two years ago I didn’t even know they existed) and I was good to go.

I can’t tell you whether ghee improved this recipe, though I can say that the onions simmered beautifully and never even came close to burning. I also can’t say if making rather than buying my own spice blends provided an added depth of flavor, but this sauce is indeed flavorful, plus it has a nice kick. (I ramped up the heat with hot paprika instead of mild.)

In terms of new accomplishments, making this recipe was more about expanding my home-cooking options than it was about incorporating a new ingredient or mastering a new technique. It was also a chance to celebrate the dish that opened culinary doors for me and showed me that food from other cultures doesn’t have to be scary or foreign.

Being open to new things, especially for those who were raised to play it safe, can easily seed small acts of daring. In that spirit, cooking offers a chance to score a mini triumph any and every day. I doubt the satisfaction I gain from successfully preparing a recipe I have never made before will ever get old. Fortunately, I have a battalion of cookbooks on hand to stoke my sense of adventure.

Chicken Tikka Masala

SERVES 4–6

Click here for printable recipe.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CHICKEN:
One 2-to-3-inch-long piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup plain, lowfat yogurt, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces

FOR THE SAUCE:
2 tablespoons butter or ghee
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 fresh green chile pepper (such as serrano), chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1 cup tomato purée
1 cup heavy cream
Sweetened coconut flakes, for garnish (optional)
Salt
Basmati rice (for serving)

PREPARATION

  1. To prepare the chicken, combine the ginger, garlic, salt, cayenne pepper, garam masala, and lemon juice in a blender. Starting on medium speed, pulse the machine and scrape down the sides as necessary. Gradually increase the speed until you have a fairly smooth paste. In a large bowl, combine the paste with the yogurt and oil. Add the chicken and mix until the chicken is evenly coated. Cover the bowl and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.
  2. To make the sauce, melt the butter or ghee in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion until well cooked, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the green chile and garlic and cook until well caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the cardamom, cumin, curry powder, paprika, and fenugreek leaves, and cook, stirring well, until the mixture is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Deglaze the pan with the water then stir in the tomato purée. Bring to a boil over high heat, then remove the sauce from the heat. Let cool slightly.
  3. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you plan on serving it. Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat and grill the chicken until it is fully cooked and tender, about 10 minutes. This can be done in the broiler as well, also for about 10 minutes.
  4. Purée the sauce in a blender until smooth. Return the sauce to the skillet over medium heat and add the cream, stirring well; add the chicken. Simmer over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste, transfer to a serving dish, and garnish with coconut flakes and yogurt on the side. Serve with basmati rice.

Recipe From “Flavors First” by Vikas Khanna, Lake Isle Press, 2011

Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on March 11, 2021.

Dara O’Brien is the Creative Director of Lake Isle Press. When she isn’t cooking or writing about cookbooks, she writes plays and sometimes acts in them.

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