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Wednesday Food: Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala has a widely disputed origin.  It is claimed by chefs in Scotland and England, as both a signature dish and an improvisation to appease a customer.  Whether we should call it culinary fusion or the colonial bastardization of indigenous cuisine is for someone else to decide.  Owing to creativity or conflict, it is simply delicious.

Tikka refers to both the cut of meat and the spice-dahi (yogurt) mixture in which it is marinated.  Masala is a South Asian spice blend that varies depending on the region from where it comes– India, Bangladesh, Pakistan.  In this recipe Garam Masala, which includes but is not limited to cumin, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves, is added to a sauce of tomato and cream.  The resulting dish is incredibly warming from the spices, but also tangy and rich from the tomatoes and cream.  The chicken benefits from marinating for at least an hour, and is then broiled to produce a slight char.  Served with rice and beer this is a perfect February meal, and improves immensely overnight.

Beer Pairing: I found an intense match to this dish in Old Rasputin, from North Coast Brewing.  Without competing, the spiciness of both food and beer seemed aligned and the bitter espresso flavor and alcohol warming of the beer cut through some of the heat and creaminess in the sauce.  A brown ale like Newcastle, would prove satisfying but more mellow.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Serves about 6

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (thighs if you prefer dark meat)
  • 1 tbs coriander seeds, ground (I used my coffee grinder)
  • 1 tbs ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup plain, non-fat yogurt
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 piece of ginger, 1″ x 2″, peeled and grated
  • 2 tbs Garam Masala
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half (the original recipe is heavy cream, but I would experiment with substituting milk or yogurt)
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • large handful cilantro (about two cups)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • juice of 1-2 lemons

Sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt, coriander, and cumin.  Coat the chicken on both sides with yogurt and marinate at least one hour.

Line a cookie sheet with foil and set a wire cooling rack inside/over it.  Place the chicken on the rack, and set about 8-10 inches below a broiler, cook both sides 6-8 minutes until slightly charred on the outside.  Set aside.

Melt two tbs butter in a large skillet or dutch oven over med-high heat.  Add the onion and sauté until translucent.  Add the minced garlic, grated ginger, and 1 tbs salt and cook until fragrant.  Add Garam Masala* and cook another few minutes.  Add the can of tomatoes and sugar, simmer about 5-8 minutes.

Make your rice using a rice cooker or following package instructions.  After the rice is cooked, add peas, and if desired, 2 tsp turmeric or yellow curry for color.

While the rice is cooking dice the chicken into large chunks. Add the cream (or milk or yogurt) to the tomato sauce.  Next add the chicken and lemon to taste, and simmer on low heat until warmed through.  Chop a handful of cilantro for both the rice and the chicken masala.  Remove everything from heat and serve.

*The original recipe called for 3 tbs, but I used 2 1/2 and thought the spice was a bit too heavy.


February 17, 2010 - Posted by | Wednesday Food


  1. I’d not considered making Tikka Masala on my own — i.e., not using a jar purchased from Trader Joe’s, or some such place. Thanks for the recipe.

    Off-topic … just wanted to let you know that the Barleywine Festival at Toronado was quite delicious. Beers enjoyed included: Rough Draft 2008 (Juneau, AK); Brass Parachute (Santa Rosa, CA); Old Godfather (San Francisco); Barrel of Monkeys (Belmont, CA — ABV at a whopping 17%!!); and Old Thunderpussy 2009 (San Francisco). Highlight of the night, though, was when my wife misordered the latter as “Old Pussy Master.” Earlier in the Beer Week, I got a rare opportunity to enjoy Pliny the Younger, and it was all that it is cracked up to be. Exquisite. Worth the year-long wait.

    Comment by Brad Johnson | February 17, 2010

  2. Stop making things and NOT SHARING!

    Comment by Vanessa | February 17, 2010

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