The origins of chicken tikka masala are not agreed upon, but most accounts claim that it has been there for centuries. Regardless of its origin, it is now a popular dish in Pakistani restaurants in within and outside the country.
What is chicken tikka masala?
We can break this down a bit. Chicken tikka is chunks of chicken which are skewered and marinated in yogurt and spices. Traditionally, the skewers are cooked in a tandoor oven. Tandoor ovens are common in middle eastern and west Asian cooking, and were originally clay pots heated with wood or charcoal.
Modern versions now look more like our ovens from the outside, but they are still lined with lined with clay, which imparts flavor and gives tandoor chicken its signature orange color.
To take this dish from chicken tikka to chicken tikka masala, we must add the masala sauce. It is typically some combination of yogurt, tomato, and spices, but recipes vary greatly. The end result is a delicious, flavorful and very multicultural chicken dish.
Don’t have a tandoor oven? Not to worry! There are plenty of easy adaptations which make it possible for anyone to make a delicious chicken tikka masala.
How do I make chicken tikka masala?
Before embarking on preparing this dish, you may need a few things:
- minced garlic
- garam masala
- canned diced tomatoes
This dish can be prepared in many ways, but it always starts with chicken. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs are typical and must be cut into pieces that will fit nicely on skewers. Speaking of skewers, make sure to soak them in the water ahead of time. Recommendations range from a few hours to a full day. This prevents the wood from catching fire during cooking.
Before skewering the chicken, it must be marinated. The marinade consists of full-fat yogurt, plenty of garlic, ginger, paprika, cumin, and salt. These ingredients are found in dozens of different proportions in chicken tikka recipes, so the specifics are largely up to preference.
Next, the chicken is marinated. This is best done covered, in the refrigerator, for at least 4 to 6 hours. Many prefer to marinate overnight, but it can be done in as little as 45 minutes in a pinch.
Once the chicken has soaked up all of that delicious flavor, it can be cooked. If you happen to have access to a tandoor oven good for you! If not, your chicken can be sauteed, grilled or roasted. Grilling mimics the high heat of a tandoor oven and a charcoal grill can impart flavor. Roasting is easy and will result in a delicious chicken tikka as well, but sauteing has one added benefit. If the chicken is sauteed, the curry can be made in the same pan with all of the flavors left behind by the chicken.
Now, it’s time for the curry. Adding coriander, garam masala, garlic, cayenne, turmeric, ginger and paprika to a base of sauteed onions creates an intensely flavorful base for a curry. Adding yogurt and diced tomatoes transform this base into a delicious masala sauce. Salt and pepper to taste, of course.
Cayenne pepper can also be added to taste. Since cayenne is what gives masala sauce its kick, it can be adjusted to suit a wide range of spice preferences.
Garam masala is the only spice here that are not found in most kitchens. It can be found online or in specialty grocers, but it won’t hurt to check your local grocer. This spice blend has a great depth of flavor and often contains black peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg, and green cardamom. Garam masala can’t be skipped when making masala sauce, but you could make your own.
Simmering the sauce mixture for at least a half hour will allow the flavors and textures to meld together. Once you are happy with your sauce, you can turn the heat way down and add the cooked chicken. A thorough stir will coat the chicken and allow the sauce and chicken to trade some of their spectacular flavors.
This dish is often served with rice and garnished with cilantro for a little freshness.
Chicken tikka masala is an impressive and versatile dish to add to your recipe repertoire. It can be made quickly or given lots of time and attention. It can be combined with rice for a well-rounded meal or eaten alone for low carb lovers. Spicy or mild, with dark meat or light, it is a healthy and delicious journey into Pakistan’s rich food culture.