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Chicken tikka masala is a popular restaurant dish made up of chicken tikka -- or bits of yogurt-marinated chicken baked in a clay oven called a tandoor -- that are smothered in a creamy masala, or spice mix, sauce before serving.
Though chicken tikka has its roots onthe Indian subcontinent, chicken tikka masala is said to have been created in an Indian restaurant in the United Kingdom. Some say it was Pakistani chef Ali Ahmed Aslam who first developed the dish at his restaurant in the west end of Glasgow, while others claim the dish originated in Birmingham or Newcastle. Regardless of where it was born, the deeply rich and spicy chicken dish, similar in taste to butter chicken but with less emphasis on the butter, has become a popular item throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the U.K., and the U.S., among many other places.
There is no set recipe, but the heavy-cream-based sauce usually incorporates tomatoes and spices like coriander, turmeric, garam masala, and paprika, all of which help to give the sauce its signature orange tint.
This recipe, adapted from Bon Appétit, uses several spices in both the marinade and the sauce before finishing with cardamom and chiles de árbol for brightness and heat. While the original recipe calls for chicken breasts, we love incorporating thighs for that succulence that only dark meat can provide. Make sure to serve it with thick and fluffy grilled naan so you can sop up every last bit.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Ingredients serves 6
6 cloves garlic, finely grated 4 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated 4 tsp ground turmeric 2 tsp garam masala 2 tsp ground coriander 2 tsp ground cumin 2 tsp paprika 1½ cups whole-milk yogurt (not Greek) 1 tbsp kosher salt 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken (we like a mix of breasts and thighs), fat-trimmed 3 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil 1 small onion, thinly sliced 1/4 cup tomato paste 6 cardamom pods, crushed 2 dried chiles de árbol or 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes** 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes 2 cups heavy cream 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish For serving: steamed basmati rice and grilled naan
**This will bring you to a mild-medium spice level, so feel free to add more chile if you like it extra hot.
In a small bowl, combine garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, cumin, and paprika.
In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, salt, and half of the spice mixture. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover and chill 4-6 hours (or up to overnight). Cover and chill remaining spice mixture.
Heat clarified butter or oil in a large heavy pot set to medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and chiles. Cook, stirring often, until onion has softened and tomato paste is a deep red, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining half of spice mixture and cook, stirring often, until the bottom of the mixture begins to brown, about 4-5 minutes.
Add peeled tomatoes along with the juices, crushing them with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from the bottom, until sauce thickens, about 8-10 minutes.
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Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 30-40 minutes. Taste and season with salt or more spice as needed.
Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack on the sheet. Arrange chicken on rack in a single layer. Broil until chicken begins to blacken, about 10 minutes. The chicken will not be cooked all the way through -- this is okay.
Cut the broiled chicken into bite-size pieces, then add to sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. Serve with rice, grilled naan, and cilantro sprigs.
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