Creamy Chicken Tikka Masala

During our summer road trip, Elliott and I had the opportunity to eat at some really great restaurants. Our favorites included a brewhouse in Colorado, a tapas restaurant in New Mexico, and a pizza parlor in Wyoming. However, our all-time favorite restaurant was a small Indian place just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Their Lamb Tikka Masala was so good, that it inspired me to start making my own at home. Tender pieces of lamb were served in a super-creamy and flavorful sauce. I think I would have been just as happy drinking a pitcher of the sauce by itself.

Chicken Tikka Masala

The spicy, orange-colored sauce is primarily made of tomatoes, cream, and a few spices. If you often find yourself intimidated by the long list of spices in many Indian dishes, this is the perfect dish for you. Other than garam masala, you will most likely already have the other spices in your pantry.

Chicken Tikka MasalaChicken Tikka Masala

I’ve made this dish several times and it’s pretty forgiving when it comes to substitutions. For example, if you have two cans of diced tomatoes in your pantry, use those instead of the roma tomatoes (just leave out the water). I’ve also used jalapeños instead of serrano peppers and used lamb and chicken breasts instead of the thighs.

Even with all of the substitutions, this dish is easily a family favorite!

Creamy Chicken Tikka Masala
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 3-4
  • ⅓ cup garlic cloves
  • ⅓ cup fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 2½ lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
For the Sauce:
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 serrano peppers, minced
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 10 Roma tomatoes, chopped*
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream, or more to taste
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tbsp honey (optional)
  • rice or naan for serving
  1. Place the garlic, ginger, and canola oil into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth and set aside.
  2. Cut the chicken thighs into large, bite-sized pieces. Place the pieces into a large zip-top bag and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, salt, pepper, and 3 tablespoons of the garlic-ginger paste until smooth. Pour the yogurt mixture into the zip-top bag with the chicken. Marinade the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
  4. Once the chicken has finished marinating, prepare the sauce. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large dutch oven or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the remaining garlic-ginger paste and cook until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion, serrano peppers, and tomato paste and cook until the tomato paste starts to turn a darker red, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garam masala, paprika, and cayenne pepper and cook for an additional minute.
  5. Add the water and Roma tomatoes and cook for about 30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Once thickened, turn off the heat and allow the sauce to cool for a few minutes. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until smooth and no lumps remain (alternatively, carefully transfer the sauce to a blender and blend until smooth). Then, bring the sauce back to a simmer in the dutch oven.
  6. While the sauce is reheating, heat an indoor grill over high heat. Once hot, add the marinated chicken pieces in batches and grill until each side is seared and browned. The center of the chicken thighs don't need to be cooked through. Add the chicken pieces to the sauce and cook for 10 to 15 minutes over medium heat.
  7. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the heavy cream and chopped cilantro. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings as necessary. If the sauce is a little too acidic, add a drizzle of honey to balance the flavors. Serve immediately with rice or naan.
*You may substitute 2 15-oz. cans of diced tomatoes for the Roma tomatoes and water.

Inspired by Aarti Sequiera