America's Test Kitchen: Chicken Tikka Masala

[Scroll down to view recipe and video]

As mentioned in my Fun Food Fact regarding chicken tikka masala (not to be confused with chicken marsala), it is a common misconception that the dish was born in India when it reality it was not. Although it is still considered an Indian dish, chicken tikka masala was born in a curry house in Glasgow. That is why you often see chicken tikka masala being served alongside other English dishes like fish and chips, bangers and mash, or shepherd’s pie in many restaurants and pubs in the UK. In the America’s Test Kitchen episode Indian Favorites (season 8, episode 20), ATK chef Bridget Lancaster shows us how to make this classic Indian/English dish.

I love Indian food, and there are so many good Indian dishes that I enjoy: yellow curry chicken, korma (Indian-style vegetable curry with potatoes, cauliflower, peas, & chickpeas), tandoori chicken, saag paneer (Indian-style spinach with fresh cheese), chicken biryani, mulligatawny soup, etc., but my absolute favorite is chicken tikka masala. What I like about this recipe is that it left the chicken breasts whole when broiling in the oven. Using whole chicken breasts made it easier to handle when marinating. I’ve made one other chicken tikka masala recipe where you’re supposed to cut the chicken into cubes, marinate, and put them on skewers to broil in the oven. I found this to be messy at times handling the bits of marinated raw chicken and putting them on skewers. This proved to be too cumbersome as opposed to broiling whole chicken breasts. I must admit though that this increases the surface area of the chicken getting more of an exterior char which is great for flavor. The drawback though is that the chicken can overcook since they’re already cut up into small pieces before cooking. When broiling the whole chicken breasts, mine seemed to overcook just a tad when using the full 18 minutes. I normally use thin boneless chicken breasts, so those would cook faster. Of course everyone's ovens are different and the cooking time also depends on the size of the chicken breasts.

When looking up recipes for chicken tikka masala, my initial hesitation was the use of tomato sauce, a primary ingredient in chicken tikka masala. Even though masala sauce is basically a mixture of tomato sauce, cream, and various spices (you don't have to go to a specialty Indian grocery store to find the spice garam masala...I found it at my local Safeway), I was worried that the tomato sauce would make the masala sauce more like a marinara sauce. I was afraid that my chicken tikka masala would taste more Italian than Indian. However, my concerns were put to rest with the addition of cream and the Indian spices. The tomato sauce, cream, and spices really came together to give you a nice deep Indian flavor, and the cream made the sauce thicken. My chicken tikka masala tasted like the chicken tikka masalas you would get in an Indian restaurant. Yes, I was very satisfied with the way it turned out. I definitely used the seeds of the serrano chile to give it more of a kick or you can add a bit of cayenne pepper to the sauce as an alternative if you don't have any chile peppers. The chicken tikka masala I’ve tried in restaurants have always been not too spicy. There was always enough of a kick in heat to make your nose runny, but you definitely won’t be dripping sweat.

America's Test Kitchen Chicken Tikka Masala
Typical Indian dish: chicken tikka masala

The color of my masala sauce ended up not being what I expected. I was expecting a deep red/orange color that you would get with the chicken tikka masala from most Indian restaurants, but mine turned out more of a faded orange. I suppose I could add more tomato sauce, but that might ruin the flavors since the flavor was already spot on. I’ve seen in some other recipes that you can add a bit of tomato paste which is what I might do in the future. Perhaps a tablespoon of tomato paste would be enough to give it a darker color.

I know most of my readers dislike cilantro which is something I don’t understand because I personally love it. It almost seems as if people either love cilantro or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground with this ingredient. For those people who are cilantro atheists, I have to say that cilantro did add a refreshing flavor that complemented the masala sauce. I just cannot imagine chicken tikka masala without cilantro. Of course I am biased, but I like to use it liberally as a topping on my chicken tikka masala.

Indian Naan Bread that goes with your Chicken Tikka Masala
Indian style flat bread, naan, goes great with chicken tikka masala.

I served my chicken tikka masala over basmati rice, but any long grain rice like jasmine or basmati rice would work. You could always eat chicken tikka masala with roti or naan bread (a type of Indian flat bread) as well. In fact you could even use both rice and naan to get the best of both worlds. Have the chicken tikka masala over rice and use the naan bread as a side to soak up the remaining masala sauce.

FlavorFool's Notes

  • I used the seeds of the serrano chile [or jalapeno] for added heat. All the chicken tikka masalas I’ve had always had a little bit of spice to it, but was never that spicy that it was intolerable.
  • I used a good amount of cilantro as a topping which really went well with the dish. There's a certain freshness when adding cilantro. Please don’t exclude the cilantro.
  • I ate my chicken tikka masala over basmati rice. I think any long grain rice is good enough whether it’s basmati or jasmine rice. Instead of rice, you could always eat chicken tikka masala along with naan, a type of Indian flatbread. I recommend the naan from Trader Joe’s which is actually decent for it being a packaged store bought naan if you don't have the time to make your own naan.
  • Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe

    America's Test Kitchen - season 8, episode 20, Indian Favorites, Simplified
    serves 4 to 6


    1/2 tsp ground coriander
    1/2 tsp ground cumin
    1 tsp table salt
    1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
    1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
    2 tbsp vegetable oil
    2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tsp)
    1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt [you can use low-fat if you don’t have whole]
    2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat

    Masala Sauce
    3 tbsp vegetable oil
    2 tsp grated fresh ginger
    1 medium onion, diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
    2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tsp)
    1 fresh serrano chile, ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced [you can keep the seeds for added heat which is what I did or use a jalapeno if you don't have a serrano chile]
    1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
    1 tbsp garam masala
    1 tbsp tomato paste
    1/2 tsp table salt
    2 tsp sugar
    2/3 cup heavy cream [I've heard of people using half and half instead, but I have yet to try]
    1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves


    1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine salt, cayenne, coriander, cumin and in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together ginger, garlic, oil, and yogurt; set aside.

    2. FOR THE MASALA SAUCE: Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 mins. Add ginger, garlic, tomato paste, chile, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 mins. Add salt, sugar, and crushed tomatoes; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 mins, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

    3. While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler. Using tongs, dip chicken into yogurt mixture (chicken should be coated with thick layer of yogurt) and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Discard excess yogurt mixture. Broil chicken until thickest parts register 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer and exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 mins, flipping chicken halfway through cooking.

    4. Let chicken rest 5 mins, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce (do not simmer chicken in sauce). Stir in cilantro, adjust seasoning with salt, and serve.

    Video: Learning how to cook the unofficial national dish of Great Britain – chicken tikka masala.


    plasterers bristol said...

    Yum my favorite Indian dish, i've never actually made it from scratch yet, so looking forwards to trying this....


    FlavorFool said...

    Hi Simon,
    Yes, I agree as well that chicken tikka masala is my favorite Indian dish. It's what I order anytime (and every time) I'm in an Indian restaurant. If you do try this recipe, let us know how it turns out - I hope it turns out well! Good luck!

    srtap said...

    This is the best Restaurant-style Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe I have found. It does have multiple steps but it is not hard to make. The result is well-worth it.

    FlavorFool said...

    Hello @Srta.P, yes the America's Test Kitchen recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala is quite close to the chicken tikka masala I would normally get in restaurants. It's quite nice to be able to make restaurant quality chicken tikka masala at home.

    Unknown said...

    When we order this dish we always get it mild. How spicy is it with the serrano chile that has been ribbed and seeded?

    FlavorFool said...

    Hi @Shari, I've found that a serrano chile that has been ribbed and seeded left the America's Test Kitchen recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala still very much mild. Of course everyone's taste buds are different and what I may consider mild, someone may think is still too spicy. I know my mom and sister have a lower tolerance for heat when it comes to spicy food versus me, so it varies. I suggest using 1 serrano chile and just giving it a try, and see how that goes first. If it's still too spicy, at least you know not to use serranos in your chicken tikka masala. Good luck!

    ENorman said...

    I made this last night and it was a WINNER. If you love chicken tikka, you will love this recipe!

    FlavorFool said...

    Hello @ENorman, that's great that the America's Test Kitchen recipe for chicken tikka masala is totally working out for you. It definitely is a winner in my household as well. We love the fact that it gives us a deep Indian flavor from such a simple recipe.

    Ldyboss said...

    FIY for the chicken Tikka Marsala lovers out there the red is NOT additional tomato sauce you will mess up the balance of the Marsala! If you ever see plain tandoori chicken it's "red" in color...that's actually just food dye not a flavor enhancing ingredient. It's a small bottle clear with a red top about the size of an file roll canister 1.5in tall 1in diameter. Brite red powder.... $3 in an Indian grocery store.
    Add some to the chicken you marinade and the. Add it to the sauce....end result red tikka sauce looking EXACTLY like your favorite Indian restaurants tikka

    Ldyboss said...

    Film Roll canister ^

    FlavorFool said...

    Hello @Ldyboss, I had no idea that dishes like chicken tikka masala and tandoori chicken used food coloring. I always thought that it was just the seasoning and other ingredients in the dish that made the color the way it was.

    Unknown said...

    It's actually more likely to be Glaswegian (Scotland) in origin. Not everything UK based originates in London.

    FlavorFool said...

    Hello @Unknown, thanks for pointing out my error which has now been fixed. Yes, you're correct that not everything having to do with the UK is related to London, and that's my mistake for assuming that. What I was trying to say in my post was that most people aren't aware that chicken tikka masala did not originate in India or in that part of the world, but instead in Europe which actually still surprises me to this day.

    Chels said...

    This was delicious! Has anyone tried this with paneer instead of chicken? I am thinking it would be great to dip the paneer in the yogurt mixture and brown it for a bit in the oven.

    FlavorFool said...

    Hi @Unknown, I'm glad that you love the America's Test Kitchen recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala. I have never used paneer in place of chicken for this dish, but it's definitely worth trying. That's what's great about cooking! There are no rules and and it's always fun to change things up and experiment with different ingredients and flavors to adjust to your taste.

    Anonymous said...

    I found this recipe to be lacking in background flavor...mine turned out a sick pinkish color (recipe followed exactly) and very unlike other Tikka recipes I had made that were delicious... Your photo has a golden color that looks like turmeric, yet this was not an ingredient in your recipe. I wish there were a way to "fix" the leftover.

    FlavorFool said...

    Hello @Anonymous, sorry to hear that the America's Test Kitchen's recipe for chicken tikka masala failed to live up to expectation. If you find this recipe lacks a bit of flavor, by all means adjust the recipe to your taste. Definitely adjust the recipe and add additional ingredients to make it work. If the dish still can't be salvaged, then just go with the other chicken tikka masala recipes that you've found success with for next time. That's what's great about cooking - there are no rules.

    Anonymous said...

    I’ve made this recipe atleast five or six times in the last year and some tips I’ve done to make it even more delicious are: add about a cup of water to the sauce and let it simmer for about an hour( this lets the flavors really get to know each other) and add a half stick of butter or ghee to the sauce to make it creamier and then blend.

    FlavorFool said...

    Hi @Anonymous, thanks for the tip! Adding more water and letting it simmer longer can never hurt and will be sure to make the flavors come together better. You know, I've actually already started adding butter to my chicken tikka masala the past few times I've made this recipe. Half a stick of butter (or 4 tablespoons) is about the amount I put it. I started doing this when I came to realize that chicken tikka masala and butter chicken are almost identical to my taste buds except that the butter in butter chicken does indeed make it more creamy which I do like. More butter means more flavor!

    Anonymous said...

    This is a great recipe but an entire large can of tomatoes dilutes too much of the spices. Next time I’m going to use half as much tomato’s

    FlavorFool said...

    Hi @Anonymous, thanks for your feedback on the recipe for chicken tikka masala from America's Test Kitchen. You have a valid point regarding the amount of tomatoes used because I've noticed the same thing when trying various chicken tikka masala recipes out there. Often times it calls for too much tomatoes that the tikka masala gravy becomes far too tomatoey that the flavor profile more resembles an Italian marinara sauce instead of an Indian dish. Having said that, lessening the amount of tomatoes definitely helps. Sometimes I've added more cream as well.

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