This easy chicken tikka masala is the perfect recipe for when you are craving bold and strong flavors on a weeknight! Tender pieces of chicken thighs marinated in yogurt and ginger and then simmered in a flavorful creamy tomato curry with coconut milk. Make sure to have extra naan on hand to sop up the delicious sauce!
This easy chicken tikka masala recipe is full of bold flavors and easy enough to make on a standard weeknight. Chicken thighs are marinated in yogurt and ginger then simmered in a rich creamy tomato and coconut milk curry.
The results are savory and rich, this dish begs to be dipped into with some naan. I highly recommend serving with a chilled glass of mango lassi and fragrant basmati rice to sop up the luscious sauce. My favorite basmati rice is from India Gate.
🥘 What is Chicken Tikka Masala?
Chicken tikka masala is a curry dish with marinated and cooked pieces of chicken that are simmered in a rich tomato based sauce. The word tikka means pieces, and masala is the flavorings, or the sauce.
As popular as chicken tikka masala is here in the U.S. and Britain, it is not nearly as popular in India. The dish has Indian influences through its spices but was actually created in the United Kingdom in the 1950's.
The story is said that a British General was dining at an eatery and complained that the chicken was too dry. The Indian chef scrambled around the kitchen and simply poured some tomato soup and spices over the chicken and ta-dah, chicken tikka masala was born! And since, has become one of Britain’s most popular dishes.
- Chicken Thighs: Boneless and skinless chicken thighs is ideal for chicken tikka masala. Chicken thighs have more fat making the meat more tender compared to chicken breast.
- Plain Yogurt: Yogurt tenderizes the chicken and gives it a great tangy flavor. Use a plan yogurt without any added flavors. Either Greek style yogurt or regular yogurt will work.
- Aromatics: Shallots, ginger and garlic are used in the sauce. The ginger and garlic is also used in the yogurt mixture to marinate the chicken.
- Chopped Tomatoes: To keep this recipe even easier, use canned chopped tomatoes and for added smoky flavor, use fire-roasted chopped tomatoes.
- Tomato Paste: I like using tomato paste that comes in a tube when you only need a few tablespoons. Saute the tomato paste into the oil to give the whole dish a touch of sweetness.
- Spices: Turmeric, paprika and garam masala are the spices used to make the tikka masala so flavorful. A pinch of cayenne is optional but adds a nice touch of heat.
- Coconut Milk: Instead of heavy cream, which is traditionally used in garam masala, coconut milk is added. Look for full fat coconut milk which will have more fat and flavor than lite coconut milk.
- Sugar: Adding sugar is optional but as you taste the sauce, you may want to add a touch of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the other ingredients. Use a teaspoon of brown sugar or white sugar.
⏲️ How to Make Easy Chicken Masala
Marinate and Cook the Chicken
- Add the chicken thighs to a bowl along with yogurt, ginger, garlic and garam masala and mix to combine so all of the chicken pieces are evenly coated. Marinate while you prep the other ingredients or for at least 30 minutes.
- Bring a wide skillet over medium-high heat and sear the chicken pieces until golden brown on both sides, then set aside.
Make the Masala Sauce
- In the same skillet, saute the chopped shallots, ginger and garlic until fragrant.
- Add the tomato paste and spices and saute for another minutes.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and water and mix to combine. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and taste for seasoning. Add sugar is you prefer more sweetness.
- Pour in the coconut milk and sir to combine. Then add the cooked chicken back in and stir so all of the chicken is coated with the sauce.
- Continue simmering for another 2-3 minutes then remove from the heat.
- Garnish the tikka masala with chopped herbs and serve with cooked basmati rice and naan.
📍 Recipe Tips
- If you have the time, marinate the chicken overnight, the longer, the better!
- Use Greek yogurt to keep the mixture thick and creamy.
- Look for whole coconut milk, which is thicker and creamier than lite coconut milk.
🌶️ Substitutions and Variations
- For added heat, add chopped serrano to the shallot and ginger saute.
- Use crushed tomatoes for a smooth sauce instead of chopped tomatoes.
- Fire roasted tomatoes offer a smoky favor but if you prefer more sweet, use regular canned chopped tomatoes.
- Skinless, boneless chicken breast can be used instead of thighs, but I would recommend marinating for as long as you have to tenderize the leaner meat.
- For a vegetarian tikka masala, use chickpeas, spinach and chopped zucchini.
Yes, you can make the entire recipe up to 3 days ahead of time and will taste even better the next day.
Serve chicken masala with cooked basmati rice and naan or roti.
More Indian Recipes to Try
Easy Chicken Tikka Masala
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil or ghee
- 1 small shallot finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped or grated
- 1 inch piece of ginger grated or finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne optional for added heat
- 14 ounce canned chopped tomato fire-roasted for added smokiness
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar optional, for additional sweetness
- ½ cup full-fat coconut milk or heavy cream + more for garnish
- Fresh cilantro leaves or parsley chopped, for garnish
- Basmati rice
Marinate the Chicken
- Add the chicken thighs to a bowl along with yogurt, ginger, garlic, lemon juice and garam masala, salt and pepepr and mix to combine so all of the chicken pieces are evenly coated.
- Marinate the chicken while you prep the other ingredients or for at least 30 minutes.
- Bring a wide skillet over medium-high heat and sear the chicken pieces until golden brown on both sides. Once fully cooked through, remove and set aside.
Make the Masala Sauce
- In the same skillet, sauté the chopped shallots, ginger and garlic until fragrant.
- Add the tomato paste and spices and sauté for another minute to break up the tomato paste.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and water and season with salt and pepper. Stir everything together and simmer for 5-10 minutes and taste for seasoning. Add sugar if you prefer the sauce to have more sweetness.
- Pour in the coconut milk and stir to combine. Then add the cooked chicken back into the sauce and stir so all of the chicken is coated with the sauce.
- Continue simmering for another 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat.
- Garnish the tikka masala with an extra drizzle of coconut milk and top with chopped herbs. Serve with cooked basmati rice and naan.
- Saute chopped serrano for added heat along with the shallots.
- This is a great recipe to make ahead and tastes even better the next day!
- If you have the time, marinate the chicken overnight.
- Recipe adapted from Food Network