Easy and Exotic: Quick(er) Chicken Tikka Masala

Craving something exotic for dinner but don't feel like ordering takeout?

click to enlarge Easy and Exotic: Quick(er) Chicken Tikka Masala - Katie Machol Simon
Katie Machol Simon
Easy and Exotic: Quick(er) Chicken Tikka Masala

Craving something exotic for dinner but don't feel like ordering takeout? Then look no further than this easy-to-prepare version of Chicken Tikka Masala. This creamy, spiced Indian comfort food is worth the effort to make and much more rewarding (and healthier) than ordering takeout.

This adaptation of the beloved Indian dish, just needs one pan to be cooked in as, instead of broiling the yogurt- and spice-marinated chicken tikka beforehand, it is cooked in the same pan that the masala "gravy" sauce is prepared. Aside from the chicken needing at least thirty minutes to marinate, the sauce only takes about fifteen minutes to whip up. Best of all, this tikka is a little lighter than the original because I swapped the heavy cream out for the yogurt marinade that's stirred in at the end to thicken the sauce. As for the accompanying basmati rice, my suggestion is to get it started cooking while the chicken marinates, before the sauce is started — or just cheat and buy a brand that you can quickly cook in the microwave here (I won't judge).

Whether you've had some experience dabbling in Indian cuisine or if you've no clue what garam masala is, this recipe can be easily prepared in under an hour and you can find most or all of the ingredients at your grocery store.

Quick tips: 
-Finely mince the garlic and ginger with a knife; better yet, if you have a microplane or box grater, use that to grate them into a fine paste.
-No ghee? No problem. Simply use a high-heat cooking oil in its place. (Ghee is clarified butter where the milk solids are removed; has a higher smoke point than regular butter.)
-If you have them, I encourage you to use use whole spices (e.g.: cinnamon, cardamom pods) and toast them use. No time? Pre-ground spices will work just fine.
-Make it vegetarian/vegan: Sub tofu for the chicken and sub soy yogurt for the dairy yogurt.

Quick(er) Chicken Tikka Masala
Makes about 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into bite-sized pieces

3 cloves minced or grated garlic
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cup whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)
2 lemons, juiced
A large pinch of salt

High-heat cooking oil or ghee (clarified butter), as needed
1 white or yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more or less, to taste; substitute Indian chili powder)
3 cloves minced or grated garlic
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 large (28 ounce) can of diced or crushed tomatoes, undrained
3/4 cup chicken broth or water
1½ teaspoons garam masala
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
Salt, to taste

For garnish and serving
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Cooked basmati rice


Whisk together all marinade ingredients to combine in a large bowl. Add in the chicken, thoroughly coating all of the pieces, wrap or place in a food-safe container. Let the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes to overnight, stirring occasionally.

To cook, heat enough oil or ghee in a large saute to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Set over medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off excess (reserve the rest in the bowl for later). When the oil/ghee is hot, add the chicken pieces to the pan, making sure that no pieces overlap. Let them fry for about two minutes, until they can be easily lifted from the pan, then flip to the opposite side and cook for another minute. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside; lower pan heat to medium.

Add the onion, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne, and stir to coat everything with the oil. Add more oil or ghee if the mixture seems too dry. Let the onion and spices cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to soften. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute or two, stirring often.

Pour in the tomatoes with their juices and the broth or water, stirring to combine and scraping the bottom of the pan. Lower heat to medium-low and let simmer for at least 5 minutes, then add the chicken back to the pan and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in some or all of the reserved yogurt marinade and simmer for another few minutes to cook off the raw chicken juices in it.

Season with garam masala, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot garnished with chopped cilantro and cooked basmati rice.