Chicken Tikka Masala

As I was measuring out the third group of spices for this dish I thought to myself “this had better be worth it”. Although it took an overnight marinade, three groups of spices, and two pans to cook, this dish was well worth the effort.

Though we haven’t been able to expand our world through travel this past year we have been expanding our menu horizons. We’ve opened our taste buds to new flavors and it’s been fun cooking meals that are completely different from our standard palate. While on the search for a curry dish – we’ve had green and yellow and need to find a good red curry dish – I ran across this recipe from Nagi at Recipe Tin Eats for Chicken Tikka Masala. While not the curry recipe I had in mind, it looked delicious.

Back in April I made a chicken tikka masala dish in our slow cooker. It was good but not great. That recipe was a dump-and-cook slow cooker recipe which usually have problems: put everything in the pot at the same time and push the Start button. Especially where meat is concerned, we can get more flavor if we brown it first to get the benefits of the Maillard reaction. On top of that that recipe only calls for about a 20 minute marinade of the chicken. Nagi’s recipe fixes both of those problems.

The night before we prepare a yogurt based marinade for the chicken. The heavy punchers would be the garam masala, ginger, and paprika. I made up a batch of garam masala about 2 years ago when I made butter chicken. Fresher would have been more powerful, but this would due to see how the dish would fare.

Flavor bomb ingredients for the chicken marinade.

Here is the first combination of spices for the dish: garam masala, paprika, cumin, ground coriander, and salt.

Garam masala, paprika, cumin, ground coriander, and salt

We mix that with the yogurt along with some pressed garlic, grated ginger, vegetable oil, and lemon juice to create the marinade.

Chicken tikka masala marinade ingredients

I cut a little over a pound of boneless/skinless chicken thighs into large chunks and added it to the blended marinade. I debated adding a picture of that but decided against it; raw chicken has only so much appeal.

The chicken marinated overnight and I got started cooking the next day. The first step was to create the next blend of spices for the curry sauce: turmeric root, cardamom seeds, more garam masala, cumin, coriander, and paprika.

Curry spices

With this dish I knew I’d be crazy to use individual ramekins for each spice, so I put it all in one bowl.

Chicken tikka masala curry spice mix.

Nagi lives in Australia and I discovered some differences in ingredients. She calls for Tomato Passata and assured me that it is available in all the big chain grocery stores – maybe in Sydney, Austraila, but it took some hunting to find it here. While I actually found a shelf label for it at my local grocery store, the shelf was empty. I substituted strained tomatoes.

The following week, using Instacart, I found it in one other Beaverton grocery store and ordered it for our next time we make this dish. The strained tomatoes was the consistency of thick tomato juice whereas the Passata is thicker.

Tomato Passata for the next time we cook chicken tikka masala

It’s interesting that this Indian dish contains this ingredient that probably originated in Italy. It’s a small world.

I had one more spice set to pull together before I started cooking: ginger, garlic, and paprika. Using the same ingredients multiple times really helps build the flavor of this dish. I lined things up to start cooking.

Ready to cook chicken tikka masala

Did I mention this recipe also includes and butter? Nagi addresses the fact that this recipe has a lot of oil and butter in it and warns us not to skimp.

I sautéd the marinated chicken in two batches.

Sautéing chicken.

As I mentioned at the opening, this recipe requires 2 pans if you don’t have a cover for your skillet – which I don’t. I got so busy cooking I don’t have pictures of making the sauce. First we sauté onion, ginger, and salt in oil and butter. I had to stir constantly to make sure the ginger doesn’t burn. Then we add the garlic and paprika and mix in until we can smell the spices. Then add that second curry spice set and sauté another little bit for those spices to bloom. Add the tomato sauce and some water, bring to a boil then simmer for 15 minutes. I then used a stick blender to puree the sauce.

Then the sauce goes back into (the cleaned) skillet on medium low heat.

Tikka masala sauce

Then stir in 100 milliliters (a bit more than ⅓ cup) of cream and 50 grams (3 Tablespoons) of butter. Nagi includes both metric and English measurements which was helpful. It’s easier to measure out 100 milliliters than ⅓ cup + 1 Tablespoon.

Cream and butter added to the sauce.

Yeah, that’s a lot of butter. Add the chicken and simmer until it is cooked through.

Chicken Tikka Masala

It takes a bit of stirring to make sure all the fat in the butter and cream are incorporated.

Dinner is served – chicken tikka masala with a side of long grain rice.

Chicken Tikka Masala

The color of the dish was actually more yellow, like the 3rd skillet picture.

Rating: ★★★★.

The curry sauce is rich and filled with many layers of flavors thanks to all those spices and the ginger and garlic. It made enough for 4 servings with a bit of sauce left over. We gave the last bit of sauce and rice to our son and his wife and they loved it as well.

Looking back at that slow cooker recipe I see I gave it 4 stars as well – I’ll have to lower that one to 3. Carla and I almost gave this 5 stars but I feel like I’ve been a bit too generous of late – maybe because the taste of the dishes is so different from our usual fare. I’ll make this again using the passata instead of the strained tomatoes and that may push this up to the full 5 stars. I think the sauce will be a bit thicker.

Though not difficult, this recipe does take some time to make. But that effort more than pays off with a rich dish that you can be proud to serve to family and friends. I hope we’ll get to that time next spring or summer now that the COVID vaccines are being distributed.

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