Chicken tikka masala is one of the less spicy dishes that you will find on any Indian restaurant menu. But just because it's a mild curry doesn't mean it has to lose out on flavour. This recipe for chicken tikka masala packs a mighty flavour explosion.
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A milder chicken curry
Chicken tikka masala is one of the milder Indian curries and is normally my choice when eating out at my local Indian restaurant. I have to admit I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to hot spicy food. I love the flavours of all the different curries, but I don't like food that hurts! That's why I normally make my own curries at home. I can experiment with all the different tastes, as in these recipes for beef madras curry recipe or chicken bhuna, and adjust the chilli to my own liking.
This recipe that I'm sharing today, for chicken tikka masala, is a mild curry, with just a touch of heat. It is made with a creamy tomato-based masala sauce which is flavoured with coconut and almonds. The chicken is marinated in a mixture of yoghurt and spices and popped into the oven to bake before being mixed with the sauce.
All in all, it takes a little over an hour to make, but once you've got the prep done this dish practically cooks itself.
Quick and easy steps
This is an overview of the steps involved in making chicken tikka masala
- Make the masala paste
- Marinate the chicken in a mixture of Greek yoghurt and 3 tablespoons of the masala paste for half an hour.
- Bake the chicken for 30 minutes until nicely charred.
- Make the sauce and stir in the chicken.
Some variations of chicken tikka masala use chunks of vegetables (onions, and sometimes red peppers) in the sauce; I like to blitz my vegetables in a food processor first before adding them to the sauce to get a smoother consistency. I have used a small quantity of dried chilli flakes, for a mildly spicy flavour, but I have deliberately left out any whole chopped chillies. If you like a spicier curry, feel free to throw a chilli pepper into the food processor with the other vegetables.
There is a lot of sauce in this curry, so be sure to have plenty of white rice and naan bread on hand to mop up all the deliciousness.
**Get the complete list of ingredients and full instructions for making chicken tikka masala on the printable recipe card at the end of this post**
- Prep time - 20 minutes
- Marinating time - 30 minutes
- Cooking time - 30 minutes elapsed
- Chicken - 30 minutes
- Sauce - 30 minutes (but you can make the sauce while the chicken is cooking
- Main equipment
- Food processor
- wok or large frying pan for the sauce
- wooden skewers (optional) and a baking tray for the chicken.
- Calories - 456 per serving
These are the ingredients you will need for chicken tikka masala. I've grouped them into ingredients for the masala paste and for the chicken.
For the masala paste
- Onion and red pepper/capsicum - I haven't included it in the photo, but if you want extra heat you can add a bird's eye chilli.
- Tomato paste - this is highly concentrated tomatoes, normally bought in a tube or a can. Not to be confused with tomato ketchup!
- Lemon juice - I use bottled juice for convenience but you can use a freshly squeezed lemon if you prefer.
- Garlic and ginger - you can use fresh finely minced garlic and ginger, or for convenience, you can use ready-minced from a jar.
- And the spices:
- Ground almonds
- Chilli flakes - these are dried chilli flakes and you can increase or decrease the heat of the curry by adjusting the amount of chilli flakes you add. I find that for my taste ½ a teaspoon is more than enough.
- Ground cumin
- Garam masala
- Ground coriander
- Brown sugar - to cut through the tartness of the tomatoes.
- Salt - optional
For the chicken
Chicken breast fillets - you can substitute with skinless, boneless chicken thighs if you prefer. I allow 1 chicken breast (4oz or approximately 120g) per person
- Greek yoghurt or natural thick yoghurt - use plain yoghurt, not the fruit-flavoured varieties. This is used for the marinade.
- Cream - single or double - it doesn't really matter.
- Tomato passata - this is made from tomatoes which have been skinned and had their pips removed. If you can't find it in the shops you can substitute it with a can of tinned tomatoes.
- Coconut milk - you won't need an entire can, but you can freeze any leftover coconut milk and use it for another meal. It freezes for months in a plastic bag - to use it, just tip the frozen coconut milk into the sauce - it will defrost quickly.
- You will also need Sunflower or canola oil for frying the masala paste when you make the sauce.
Step 1 - make the masala paste
- To make the masala paste, peel the onion, and remove the seeds and membranes from the red pepper and cut them into large chunks.
- Peel the garlic and ginger. Remove the seeds from the chilli (if using).
- Place the onions, peppers, garlic, ginger and chilli (if using) into a food processor fitted with a metal blade, along with the rest of the ingredients for the masala paste and blitz until it all forms a chunky paste.
Step 2 - Marinate the chicken
- Combine one cup of Greek Yoghurt and 3 tablespoons of the masala paste in a mixing bowl.
- Cut the chicken into approximately 1" pieces and mix into the yoghurt.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to marinate.
- If you are going to thread the chicken onto wooden skewers to cook it (see step 3 below), now is the time to soak the skewers in cold water so they don't burn in the oven.
Step 3 - Bake the chicken
- After half an hour, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and arrange the pieces in a single layer on a baking tray lined with tinfoil (images 1 and 2 below).
- The tinfoil stops the chicken from sticking to the baking tray, which makes cleaning up afterwards so much easier.
- When you take the chicken from the marinade let any excess marinade drop back into the bowl before you place the chicken onto the baking tray.
- Reserve any marinade to add to the sauce.
- Alternatively, you can thread the chicken onto wooden skewers that have been soaked in water to prevent them from burning in the oven.
- Rest the chicken skewers on the edges of a baking dish so that the chicken is suspended above the dish (images 3 and 4 below).
- Whichever method you choose, bake the chicken in a hot oven (200C / 400F) for 25 minutes until the chicken starts to brown.
Step 4 - Make the masala sauce
While the chicken is baking you can make a start on the masala sauce.
- Heat a tablespoon of sunflower in a frying pan and add the remaining masala paste.
- Stir fry gently for 3 minutes, until the spices start to release their aroma.
- Stir in the reserved marinade, the tomato passata, and the coconut milk.
- Cover the pan with a lid and allow the sauce to simmer for 30 minutes on low heat until the onions and peppers have softened.
- Stir in the cream, then add the chicken to the sauce. If you've cooked the chicken on skewers, remove it from the skewers first.
- Leave on the heat for 5 minutes to allow the chicken to heat through.
- Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.
- Garnish with coriander and serve with white rice, naan bread and mango chutney.
- I like to serve this dish with a tomato and onion sambal. You can make this by finely dicing equal quantities of tomato and onion and mixing with a tablespoon of chopped coriander and a teaspoon of white vinegar. Add a pinch of salt to taste.
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Other ways to cook the chicken
You don't have to cook the chicken as I've described above. Here are a few other suggestions:
- Grill the chicken skewers on an outdoor grill or barbeque. Place the chicken at the sides of the grill, away from the direct heat, and grill for 5 - 7 minutes per side, turning occasionally and basting with the marinade.
- Stirfry the pieces of chicken in a frying pan, with 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil. Lift the pieces of chicken individually out of the marinade, hold them above the bowl so that the excess marinade can drip off, and then place them carefully in the hot oil. Stirfry on a high heat for 5 - 7 minutes until the chicken is browned and cooked through. Don't overcrowd the pan or the chicken will draw moisture and boil rather than fry. If you have a large number of chicken pieces, fry them in batches.
Yes, this dish freezes well.
Transfer the cooled chicken and sauce into suitable freezer containers and freeze for up to 3 months.
To use, defrost in the refrigerator and then reheat in a saucepan or in the microwave until hot.
Yes, the cooked dish can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Reheat either on the stove or in the microwave.
If you have a lot of sauce left over, don't throw it away. Transfer it to a freezer container, label it as chicken tikka sauce, and freeze.
Next time you fancy a quick curry, just cut up chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces, stirfry them in a little sunflower oil until nicely browned, and add them to the defrosted sauce. Leave to simmer for a few minutes to give the chicken time to cook through. It won't have quite as much flavour because the chicken won't have been marinated first, but you'll have supper on the table in 15 minutes!
Serve with white rice and naan bread.
You can use any protein you like in this dish, including prawns or shrimp. Of course, the cooking time may be different cuts of meat.
Prawns - use raw peeled and deveined prawns, either fresh or frozen. Cook the prawns in the oven in the same way as the chicken but reduce the cooking time to about 10 minutes.
Lamb - use chunks of lamb leg as this will be the most suitable for cooking on skewers. Cook the lamb skewers in the oven for 30 minutes.
Beef - use thinly sliced frying steak such as rump or sirloin. Cook in the oven, but check for doneness after 20 minutes. Depending on how well done you like your beef you may have to leave it in the oven for a few minutes longer.
Originally chicken tikka was prepared as a dry curry, with pieces of marinated chicken being skewered and then cooked in a tandoor. Allegedly, in the mid-1970s, a chef in Glasgow added a sauce to the dry chicken, and the chicken tikka masala as we know it today was born.
Tikka is a Punjabi word meaning pieces, so chicken tikka literally translates as chicken pieces. It only becomes chicken tikka masala when the masala sauce is added.
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If you like the look of this recipe for homemade chicken tikka masala, you might also want to try some of my other curry recipes.
- Tandoori lamb chops with saag aloo and garlic naan
- Kashmiri chicken and prawn curry with lychees
- Spicy ground beef curry and rice
- Fish curry in a tomato and onion sauce
- Easy lamb curry
- Easy saag aloo (spinach and potato curry)
- Potato and onion bhajis
- Beef samosas with peas and potatoes
- Easy butter chicken
Homemade chicken tikka masala
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- Baking tray or deep baking dish
- Wooden skewers optional
- 1 lb / 450 grams chicken breast fillets
- 1 cup / 250 ml Greek yoghurt
- 2 cups / 500 ml tomato passata
- ½ cup / 125 ml single or double cream
- ½ cup /125 ml coconut milk
- 1 large onion
- 1 large red pepper
- 1 medium red chilli optional
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 inch ginger
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste/puree
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes or to taste
- 2 tablespoons ground almonds
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil for frying
- Peel the onion and remove the seeds and membranes from the pepper. Cut them into large chunks. Peel the garlic and ginger. Remove the seeds from the chilli (if using).1 large onion, 1 large red pepper, 1 medium red chilli, 2 cloves garlic, 1 inch ginger
- Place the onion, pepper, garlic, ginger and chilli into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the remaining masala paste ingredients and blitz until it all forms a chunky paste. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl.2 tablespoons tomato paste/puree, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, ½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes, 2 tablespoons ground almonds, 1 tablespoon garam masala, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, ½ teaspoon salt
Marinate the chicken
- Cut the chicken into large bite-sized pieces.1 lb / 450 grams chicken breast fillets
- Combine one cup of Greek Yoghurt and 3 tablespoons of the masala paste in a mixing bowl and add the chicken pieces.1 cup / 250 ml Greek yoghurt
- Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for half an hour to marinade.
Bake the chicken
- Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F
- Arrange the pieces in a single layer on a baking tray lined with tinfoil. The tinfoil stops the chicken sticking to the baking tray, which makes cleaning up afterwards so much easier. When you take the chicken from the marinade let any excess marinade drop back into the bowl before you place the chicken onto the baking tray.
- See notes below for cooking the chicken on wooden skewers.
- Reserve the leftover marinade to add to the sauce.
- Place the chicken into the preheated oven for 30 minutes until it turns brown, with slight char marks.
- Once cooked, remove the chicken from the oven and set it aside until you are ready to add it to the sauce.
Make the masala sauce
- While the chicken is baking you can make the masala sauce.
- Heat a tablespoon of sunflower in a frying pan and add the remaining masala paste.1 tablespoon sunflower oil
- Stir fry gently for 3 minutes, until the spices start to release their aroma.
- Stir in the remaining marinade, the tomato passata and the coconut milk.2 cups / 500 ml tomato passata, ½ cup /125 ml coconut milk
- Cover the pan with a lid and allow the sauce to simmer for 30 minutes on a low heat until the onions and peppers have softened.
- Stir in the cream, then add the chicken to the sauce (remove from the skewers first if you cooked the chicken this way). Leave on the heat for 5 minutes to allow the chicken to heat through.½ cup / 125 ml single or double cream
- Garnish with chopped coriander and serve with white rice, naan bread and mango chutney.
- Grill the chicken skewers on an outdoor grill or barbeque. Place the chicken at the sides of the grill, away from the direct heat, and grill for 5 - 7 minutes per side, turning occasionally and baste with the marinade.
- Stir fry the pieces of chicken in a frying pan, with 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil. Lift the pieces of chicken individually out of the marinade, hold them above the bowl so that the excess marinade can drip off, and then place them carefully in the hot oil. Stir fry on a high heat for 5 - 7 minutes until the chicken is browned and cooked through. Don't overcrowd the pan or the chicken will draw moisture and boil rather than fry. If you have a large amount of chicken pieces, fry them in batches.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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