Thursday, March 8, 2012

Recipe: Chicken Tikka Masala and Red Onion Raita

But nothing in India is identifiable, the mere asking of a question causes it to disappear or to merge in something else. – E. M. Forster

Purists will disagree with my method, but this version of tikka is amazing.
"Oh, my." That’s what I said after the first bite of this tikka. I don’t often get that excited about my own cooking, but this time…

This is the chicken coated with the spices.
It kind of looks like "Shake-n-Bake," doesn't it?
There’s really nothing like making your own Indian food from scratch, and this dish is no exception. There’s something about the melding of all the spices and other flavours that is indefinable and indescribable.

Masala is a generic term that means “a mixture of spices.” So I suppose you can call pretty much call anything that meets the criteria a masala. It is used in things as varied as main courses and chai tea. It all depends on what's in the mixture as to its use.

This dish doesn’t fall into the strict definition of tikka. I didn't have a lot of time so I made some "departures."

Real tikka is a dish of marinated chicken pieces that are grilled or roasted in a tandoor oven and then added to a spicy orange-coloured sauce. It always (or nearly always) has tomatoes as a base, hence the orange colour. My concoction does have tomatoes as the base, but I didn’t have time to marinate, so I had to improvise.

Brown on medium high to lessen your chances of burning
the spice. The fat will render out. No need to add any.
My main improvisation was that I combined the tikka spices into a dry rub (sorry, my Indian readers…), pan browned and then baked the chicken in the oven. I tried to get as much spice flavour into and onto the chicken as I could. The chicken was then put back in a tomato yogurt sauce to finish cooking. Not really proper, but with really stellar results.

My sauce still has the right ingredients, just “rearranged” to keep the recipe to about 1 hour to make with no marinating. The term “right” in itself may be being used a little loosely. There’s countless variations of this wonderful dish.

Chicken tikki masala is a popular restaurant dish around the world and a recent British survey rated it the most popular restaurant dish, not just Indian restaurant dish, but “restaurant.”

This recipe is a little involved, but Indian food from "scratch" is well worth the slight extra effort. Serve it with the red onion raita and piles of steaming hot basmati rice. It’s certainly worthy of family or company – or both!

This is the tomato sauce before adding the yogurt.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Total time: about 1 hour  |  Serves 4
8 chicken thighs, skin-on and bone-in
for the rub
2 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp Garam masala
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp salt
for the sauce
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced (use other half in Raita)
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp Garam masala
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
2 large tomatoes, diced
juice of 1/2 lemon (other half in Raita)
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Combine all the rub spices in a small bowl. Place the chicken thighs in a sealable plastic bag (I use a grocery bag) and sprinkle the spice mixture on top. Seal the bag and shake the spices and chicken to coat well. It may not take all the spice.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

Heat a dry deep sided wide sauce pan or frying pan. Place the chicken skin side up and let it fry on medium high heat. The chicken will release easily when it’s ready to turn. Cook on the other side until the chicken releases.

Place the browned chicken in an oven-proof dish and let bake while for 20 minutes. This will nearly finish cooking the chicken.

While the chicken cooks, make the sauce.

Add the onion and jalapeno to the chicken fat and let soften, stirring often. Add the cumin, Garam masala, paprika and salt and cook for a further minute.

(Heat the water for the rice you’ll be serving with the meal.) Add the chopped tomatoes and let cook until they begin to break down. Then add the lemon juice. Let cook on low for the remaining time for the chicken.

Stir in the yogurt, remove the chicken from the oven and nestle in the sauce. Let the chicken simmer on medium-low while the rice cooks. Scrape the bottom of the pn under the chicken periodically so the sauce doesn’t stick and burn.

Sprinkle coriander on top of each serving.

Red Onion Raita, cool and delicious.
Red Onion Raita
Time: 5 minutes
1/2 large red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped coriander
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup plain yogurt
pinch of salt and pepper.

Combine all in a bowl and mix well. let sit for 30 minutes or more before serving. Can be made slightly ahead and refrigerated.


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  1. Looks awesome...Love tikka! Looks better than the jar of Patak's Tikka I had for lunch today. ;\