I’ve spent a lot of time cooking and writing about Indian food, and a lot of my Indian food writing time on why not to order, eat or even acknowledge chicken tikka masala. That’s right, with all due respect to bangers, mash and the people who love them, England’s inexplicably lofty population of Indians won out. Chicken tikka masala takeaways are among the most popular dinner options in England.
But, sorry to break the news, it’s not really Indian food.
It translates well enough: “chunks of chicken in a curry environment.” Masala itself is hard to define. It does mean “spice,” but the underlying context can designate something else entirely. When I do gripe about chicken tikka masala, it’s about how Westernized it is, not how it tastes (which is absolutely delicious). So to everyone who ever demolished a container of delicious lo mein right out of the box and called it Chinese, I recommend knocking out a batch of chicken tikka masala and touting your exotic new skills with a fake British accent.
For the marinade
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons garam masala
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
For the masala sauce
- 1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 1-inch piece peeled ginger root, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons clarified butter or ghee
- 3 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 whole red chili, crushed slightly with the back of a knife (optional)
- 2 large ripe tomatoes, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 cup heavy cream
- salt to taste
- Mix all marinade ingredients and pour over chicken in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight.
- Cook chicken in a large pan over high heat until nearly cooked through, then transfer to a plate and set aside. You'll want the chicken to finish cooking in the sauce. Discard the remainer of the marinade.
- Combine onion, garlic and ginger in a blender until smooth. Heat the clarified butter in a medium saucepan, then pour in onion mixture. Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. If you want yours on the spicier side, throw in a whole red chili.
- Add garam masala and tomatoes, lower heat slightly and cook until tomatoes cook down into the sauce, about 15 minutes.
- Add chicken, and cook for another 15 minutes.
- Add heavy cream, remove from heat, fish out the whole chili, taste for salt and allow to stand and thicken for 5-10 minutes.
- Serve with basmati rice, chopped cilantro, yogurt and lime wedges.