This creamy chicken masala tastes BETTER than any Indian restaurant and comes together easily and quickly. Serve it over coconut rice for a cozy, comforting meal.
Chicken tikka masala was one of the first curries I learned to make when I first started traveling. Like tandoori chicken and chicken saag, It’s now a weekly staple in our house whenever my family craves Indian takeout!
Contrary to popular belief, chicken masala is not traditionally Indian. It’s more popular in Western countries and was derived in the United Kingdom. Regardless, it’s so easy to make and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
Table of Contents
- It has a rich, creamy sauce. Similar to paneer tikka masala and chana masala, the sauce is the true stand out of this dish with its rich, creamy aromatics.
- The chicken is ALWAYS juicy. This unique method of marinating chicken thighs in yogurt ensures the meat remains tender and moist. My family raves about how the meat falls of the bone.
- Perfect for meal prep. This dish pairs well with basmati rice, and I actually like to prep a big batch for easy work lunches.
- Incredible flavor. Like any good curry out there, the longer this sits, the more flavorful it becomes.
While you can make masala curry paste from scratch, I often default to a store-bought version to save some time. Here’s what you need to get started:
- Chicken thighs. Boneless skinless chicken thighs work best, but no stress if you only have skin-on thighs. Other cuts of chicken can also be used, like boneless skinless chicken breasts, chicken quarters, and chicken drumsticks
- Yogurt. Plain Greek yogurt forms the base of the marinade for this dish. It naturally tenderizes the meat.
- Salt. Just a pinch.
- Masala curry paste. A flavorful paste made with authentic spices and tomato puree. I prefer Patak’s, but there are several brands available, including Sharwood and Maya Kaimal.
- Curry leaves. To enhance the flavor that the masala paste has.
- Brown onion. Chopped.
- Garlic. Minced. I always use fresh garlic as the flavor doesn’t compare to the dried kind.
- Chili pepper. Seeded and chopped. If you can’t tolerate much spice, you can leave this out.
- Chicken broth. Homemade or store-bought.
- Heavy cream. For that rich and creamy gravy. If you’d like this curry to be dairy-free, swap it out for full-fat coconut milk.
- Tomatoes. Canned diced tomatoes.
- Tomato paste. Not to be confused with tomato sauce, I like to add this to balance out the richness of the gravy.
- Olive oil. To sauté the vegetables. Ghee or butter will work, too.
Homemade masala paste
For homemade masala curry paste, blend roasted coriander and cumin seeds with sautéed onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, turmeric, chili powder, garam masala, and salt. Adjust consistency with water.
How to make chicken masala
I’ve included step-by-step photos below to make this recipe easy to follow at home. For the full printable recipe instructions and ingredient quantities, scroll to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Step 1- Marinate the meat. Add the chicken thighs to a large bowl along with the yogurt and half of the tikka masala curry paste. Mix well. Cover the bowl and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for at least 10 minutes or up to four hours.
Step 2- Cook the sauce. Heat oil in a large skillet and cook the curry leaves until fragrant. Add the chopped onions, garlic, and chili, and cook for a few minutes. Add the remaining tikka masala paste, chicken broth, and diced tomatoes. Simmer everything on low heat for around 15 minutes until the sauce thickens.
Step 3- Cook the chicken thighs. While the sauce cooks, heat some oil in a different pan and cook the chicken thighs on medium-high heat until they are golden on both sides. Add the chicken to the sauce and simmer everything for around 10 minutes. Stir through the heavy cream and serve immediately.
Butter chicken VS Tikka Masala
There are a lot of similarities between these two dishes, including the use of chicken, tomatoes and cream. However, the main differences involve their origin and flavor.
Butter chicken or Murgh Makhani is known for its mild, buttery, slightly sweeter cream sauce.
Tikka Masala has British-Indian roots, as evidenced by its popularity in Western countries. It has a bolder and more robust flavor due to its use of spices and grilled chicken’s natural smokiness.
Alternative cooking methods
While I prefer using the stovetop, I know many of you have requested alternative cooking methods, so I’ve tested this exact recipe in the instant pot, and it only needs a couple of tweaks.
Instant pot method: Start by marinating the chicken. Next, saute onions, garlic, and chili in the instant pot with oil until fragrant. Now, add the chicken and the remaining ingredients and pressure cook for 5 minutes, then natural pressure release for 10 minutes. Finally, switch to saute mode, stir in the cream, and cook until it has thickened.
Recipe tips and variations
- Change your spices. Fresh ginger is another classic Indian flavor that you can add to chicken. You can also experiment with red chili powder, cayenne pepper and even paprika to create your own signature earthy spice profile.
- Marinate for longer. If you have time or want an ultra-flavorful curry, marinate the chicken in the yogurt and curry paste for up to 24 hours beforehand. The taste is on another level!
- Serve with traditional sides. Garnish this masala with slivered almonds for some crunch or fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice for some freshness. I like to serve it with basmati rice and naan.
- Make it dairy-free. You can use a coconut-based yogurt to marinate the chicken and full-fat coconut milk in place of the heavy cream if you are catering to a lactose-free diet.
- Make it super spicy. Chicken masala is mildly spicy, so if you LOVE your spice, add some cayenne pepper, red chili flakes, or fresh chili.
How to store leftovers
To store. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
To freeze. Freeze chicken masala for up to 3 months. Note that the sauce may undergo slight texture changes once you defrost it. Thaw frozen chicken tikka masala in the fridge.
To reheat. Reheat this dish on the stove over medium heat. Add a splash of heavy cream or chicken broth if needed.
More Indian recipes to try
- Chicken curry with coconut milk– My family’s go-to weeknight curry.
- Lamb Rogan Josh– The classic lamb curry that everyone raves about.
- Lamb vindaloo– The lamb is so tender and the sauce is so flavorful.
- Vegetable korma– Pack in all the vegetables in this meat-free favorite.
- Dahl– Healthy and packed with green goodness.
- Or more Indian recipes.
- 2 pounds chicken thighs cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup tikka masala paste divided
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 curry leaves
- 1 large brown onion chopped
- 1 small chili de-seeded and chopped
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 14 ounces diced tomatoes canned
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- In a large bowl, add the chicken thighs, yogurt, and half the tikka masala curry paste. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes (or up to 4 hours), to marinate.
- Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a non-stick pan and place over medium heat. Once hot, add the curry leaves and cook until fragrant. Add the onion, chili, and garlic and cook for two minutes or until translucent. Add the remaining tikka masala curry paste, along with the broth, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste. Reduce the heat to low and let everything simmer for 15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
- In a separate pan, add the remaining oil. Cook the chicken until golden and crisp on the outside. Add the chicken to the sauce and simmer everything together for 10 minutes.
- Stir through heavy cream and serve immediately.
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