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the distances are not so great

Recipe: chicken tikka masala

It used to be that I would measure a mile by the number of times (four) around the track. Then it became segments of a route through a lush residential neighborhood during field hockey practice runs. When Jeremy and I met and began hiking and backpacking together, I loved to stand on a high point and look back at where we had started. A short six miles could wind up a valley, around a mountain, over a ridge, and climb to a pass. It’s one thing to read it on the topo map and understand this in a cerebral sense. It’s another thing entirely to behold the majesty of the landscape before you.

golden grasses and rocks mantle the peaks and ridges

We had not hiked Mount Audubon since my birthday almost four years ago. Back then, Kaweah was still strong enough to summit with us and I was unaware I had cancer. A lot can happen over the course of four years and yet the trail was as we remembered it, more or less. When we ski in the backcountry, we’re always looking up and around us. When we hike, we’re usually scanning the trail ahead. I remember that cairn, that split boulder, that bifurcation of the trail, that stream crossing, that trail junction. I know where to expect to see families of marmots, pika, and ptarmigans. I like to think of the mountain structures changing on their geologic time scales – that is, they seldom change in our lifetime – and the mountain environment changing with diurnal or seasonal cycles due to avalanche, rock slide, fire, rain, vegetation, freeze and thaw, wind.

this pika is harvesting plants for the long winter ahead

adolescent ptarmigan in hiding

another pika checking us out at 13,000 feet

jeremy on summit

New trails are exciting, but familiar trails are comforting for me. I suppose it’s like that for cooking or anything for that matter. As far as food goes, my usual progression is to like a dish that has been served to me and then crave it such that I want to learn to make it myself. Except with Indian food. I had this mental barrier. Despite most of the ingredients being things I’ve used or at least heard of, I just didn’t know where to begin. My good friend, Manisha, has been so patient with me. I ask her the same stupid questions over and over and she patiently replies over and over and yet I still didn’t have the guts to make my own Indian food… until last week. It’s such a westernized Indian dish, but it is a favorite to be sure. I had to make chicken tikka masala.

chicken, yogurt, lime, garlic, oil, and spices

mince the garlic, juice the lime, dice the chicken

Everyone says it’s easy to make. They’re right. It is. It’s just a pain to make it for the first time and shoot it too. I tripled the batch to make up for the time investment (hey, you can freeze it). First marinate the chicken in a mix of plain yogurt, lime juice, oil, garlic, and spices. The range was 1 hour to 24 hours. I like the idea of marinades, so I went for 24 hours. Booyah!

put it all in a bowl

mix well then refrigerate

When the chicken is ready, you can either bake it or grill it. I chose to grill it. Just skewer the cubes without packing them too tightly together (because you want the chicken to cook evenly) and grill or bake until they are cooked. Turn them over half-way through the cooking time. On our grill it took a total of seven minutes: four on one side and three after flipping the skewers. Lovely.


grill (or bake)

When the chicken is cooked, you can stop here and refrigerate the chicken for a few days or freeze it for a month or so until you are ready to use it. Mine went straight to the sauce. It was begging to be made!

the chicken, butter, seasonings, cream, oil, onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, lime

dice the tomatoes and onions, mince the garlic, grate the ginger

I grew up learning to cook one way – the Chinese way. That is, I learned the basic ingredients that make up the fundamentals of Chinese cooking like soy sauce, sesame oil, sherry, vinegar, garlic, green onions, and ginger (to name a few). It’s that way with Indian food too, I just wasn’t aware until Manisha explained it to me in her kitchen. And now that I’ve done it, I get it. Sort of. It’s new to me, but it’s delightful. Manisha tells me her Chinese food always ends up tasting like Indian food and I think it must be those basic building blocks that we’re so used to that we keep reverting back to – the familiar, right?

add tomatoes to the sautéed onions, garlic, and ginger

when the tomatoes are soft, pour in the spices

The sauce doesn’t take much time to make aside from all of the chopping. But you know, chopping is good when it comes to vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables. Let it cook down to a soft mush and then purée the whole thing in a blender or food processor to get a smooth and brightly colored masala.

a brilliant orange color

place in blender to purée the sauce

Pour the masala back into the pan. The final steps involve adding butter, cream, cinnamon, lime, and water to round out the sauce. When the sauce is ready, add the chicken and heat it through. And that is your chicken tikka masala.

ah yes, butter – but we’ll add some cream to cover all the bases

stir in the chicken

This homemade chicken tikka masala was much better than most of the restaurant versions I’ve had. My version is almost entirely organic and I can taste how fresh it is. I was elated, as was Jeremy. In the end, the magnitude of the difficulty in making Indian food was all in my mind. Turns out, it’s not such a big distance to bridge. It’s always good to know how to do things.

sitting down to dinner

goes well with raita and garlic naan

Chicken Tikka Masala
[print recipe]
from New Asian Cuisine (now defunct)

1/2 recipe chicken kebabs (see below)
3 tbsps vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
2 tsps minced garlic
2 tsps peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
1 fully ripe tomato, chopped
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground red pepper (cayenne)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsps sugar
1 cinnamon stick (approx 1-inch or 2.5-cm)
2 tbsps butter
1/2 lime, juice of (about 1.5 tbsps)
1/4 cup (65 ml) heavy cream
3 tbsps water

chicken kebabs
1 lb. chicken breast or chicken thigh, boneless and skinless
4 tbsps vegetable oil (or 3 tbsps if grilling the kebabs)
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 lime, juice of
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground red pepper (cayenne)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsps plain yogurt

Make the chicken kebabs: Cut the chicken into 3/4-inch (2 cm) cubes. Mix 3 tablespoons of the oil and the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl or ziploc bag. Add the chicken cubes and mix well to ensure even coating. If in a bowl, cover the chicken with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 1 day (I let it marinate for 24 hours). When done marinating, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. If baking the chicken then preheat oven to 450°F and spread the remaining tablespoon of oil over a baking sheet. If grilling, clean and lightly oil the grill, then fire it up! Skewer the chicken with pre-soaked bamboo skewers or as I prefer to use, stainless steel skewers. Try not to squash them too closely or they won’t cook evenly. If baking, set the skewers on the baking sheet and bake 8 minutes, turn and bake another 7 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle. If grilling, grill over high heat for 4 minutes, flip the skewers and grill another 3 minutes until done. Remove the chicken from the skewers. At this point you can refrigerate the chicken for a few days or freeze it for up to a month.

Make the masala: In a medium saucepan (or a large one if you double or triple the recipe), heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until the onions become golden brown, stirring frequently for about six minutes. [Mine never got to golden brown, they got to translucent yellowish slightly brown.] Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the chopped tomato. Cover and simmer for a few minutes until the tomato softens, stirring occasionally. Mash it with the onions until it becomes a sort of mushy paste. Stir in the cumin seeds, coriander, paprika, red pepper, salt, black pepper and sugar. Let the masala simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour the sauce into a blender (take care not to burn yourself as it will be hot) and purée until smooth.

Put it all together: Return the masala to the saucepan and stir in the cinnamon stick, butter, lime juice, heavy cream and water. Set on high heat. Let it come to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Add the chicken and let simmer 5 minutes. Stir it every minute or so. Serves 3 to 4.

59 nibbles at “the distances are not so great”

  1. Chaitali says:

    My Chinese food ends up tasting like the Indo-Chinese food I grew up with. I guess it’s the copious amount of red pepper flakes and soy sauce.
    Great recipe btw. Love the idea of grilling the chicken before saucing it.

  2. Manisha says:

    Wait, Jeremy ate Indian food?! *thud*

    And, I am so proud of you! But you do know that this is often called the national dish of Britain, right?! ;-D

  3. Angela says:

    That looks absolutely mouthwatering! I feel exactly the same when it comes to cooking Indian food but since you’ve made it look so easy with this post, I’m going to attempt this myself this week. Thanks!

  4. Wendy says:

    Can we expect you to now educate us about toasting spices for masala…and at what precise moment the tumeric must be added? Thanks for branching out and making it look so beautiful. I have found that the pleasure of Indian cooking increases exponentially with the number of friends and family in the kitchen to chop and stir.

  5. Miss Adriennely says:

    Homemade indian food will always taste better than the ones we eat outside restaurants!

  6. Debs says:

    Looks truly amazing, well done.

  7. Jacqueline says:

    This looks incredible. I have found a new love for Indian food this past year after swearing I hated it for so long. Now, I can’t get enough of it. Can’t wait to try this recipe at home. And your photography step by step is just beautiful. Thanks for the post!

  8. Nan says:

    This looks so good! You’re lucky to have Manisha in your life to teach you so patiently. And, Tikka Masala is one of my daughter’s absolute faves! I shall be adding this one to the list to make soon.

    Great shot of Jeremy at the summit! You climbing-types fascinate me. I’m a bit in awe and a bit confused. Extreme climbing terrifies me (read one too many Krackauer-esque books) and bewilders me (again, too much Krackauer). But, I admire your grit and determination. I love a good hike at much lower altitudes. The most adventurous we get is our annual New Year’s Day hike in the snow with the dogs and a thermos of hot soup. Our summit is a bluff that overlooks the frozen lake… Your summit is really a summit!

  9. Bev Weidner says:

    Tikka masala is my faaaavorite, so I’ve just gone blind at the greatness and may never be the same again.

  10. Kim says:

    Wow! Tikka masala demystified! I live ’round the corner from an Indian restaurant, so I eat this a fair amount. But making it at home…I’ve done tandoori (on the grill) and am planning a saag paneer, but I might just throw this one into my to-do list as well. Thank you for sharing this recipe. The pix make it seem more do-able.

  11. Debi says:

    Ah … this is the one Indian dish I’ve always failed at making … never tasted quite right. I’ll have to try this recipe. Thanks Jen!

  12. Melanie says:


  13. Radhika@foodfor7stages says:

    Have never seen a tikka masala prepared so well. Beautifully done and love the step wise pics.

  14. Connie says:

    Hi! I’ve only started reading your blog recently, and I just dropped by to say that I love your photos. So beautiful and breathtaking, especially the scenic ones. The food photos are gorgeous as well.

  15. Sasha @ The Procrastobaker says:

    Ive been wanting to try making tikka masala for soooo very long, a favourite of mine indeed, so this looks absolutely fabulous. So so beautiful photos also :)

  16. na says:

    You managed to make indian food look gorgeous :-)

  17. lisa says:

    One of our Wine & Dine groups had outings twice in this local Indian resturant, Newab. Everyone loves it. I ordered tikka masala both times. I just love it. It looks that it is doable at home. It will definitely be one of my Inian cookings besides curry chicken (I love this) or curry shrimps that I often cook.

  18. Erin says:

    Thank you so much! I made Chicken Tikka Masala for the the very first time last week, and though it was good… it wasn’t what we were looking for!

    Your’s looks more what I am looking for, so I am going to give it a try!

    Thank you thank you thank you! I know what I’m making next week!

  19. The Culinary Chase says:

    Yum! Preparing and cooking Indian food can be tedious and time consuming but done right it’s well worth the effort!

  20. Jessica says:

    I cannot tell you how excited I am to see this recipe! I recently discovered the cans of Masala sauce at Whole Foods and I like it but I know it would be better homemade. I was just too scared to try it by piecing recipes together. I can’t wait to make it! Thanks Jen!

  21. Catherine says:

    What a beautiful post! I found your blog from the Pinch of Love facebook page, and I’m so glad I did! My fave picture is the cooked chicken on the skewer mmm! Well done, I’m sure all the effort paid off tremendously!

  22. Shelley says:

    My mind goes on overload when I look at long lists of ingredients…this one looks daunting. Perhaps I will try it on a Saturday or Sunday and I too can get over my fear of cooking Indian food/recipes with long ingredient lists.

  23. Allie says:

    YUM-TOWN… The ingredients list is long, but they’re all fairly easy ingredients that you could find at a grocer. This looks amazing and I’ll definitely try it.

  24. Dianne says:

    You have inspired me once again. I can’t wait to try this. My husband claims not to like Indian food. There’s not one ingredient in this recipe that he does not like. I am making it and not telling him what it is! I bet he’ll love it. He was just a victim of a bad restaurant meal. I’ll just tell him it came from your blog and he’ll eat it. Your recipes carry a lot of weight in my house!

  25. Margie says:

    I am desperate to install an app that will not allow me to view your lovely posts past 7 p.m. (This post caused my Smell-O-Vision meter to dial past, EXTREME!)

    Indian food rocks! Spice, spice and more spice. Absolutely magnificent cuisine. I encountered it for the first time, ten or twelve years ago, and I have only taken the plunge into handcrafting it a handful of times. My greatest fear is that I will disappoint myself. It isn’t easy convincing oneself that they can out-do a master. Kudos to you, Jenzie. Beautiful, as always.

  26. Mrs Ergül says:

    Chicken Tikka Masala has been on my mind for the longest time. Now that you have posted THE recipe, there is no more holding me back! Geez! That makes me hungry!

  27. barbara says:

    Looks wonderful Jen. I did not realise the chicken is grilled first .

  28. zingara says:

    join the club, jen…i grew up in an italian home, therefore, everything ethnic i cook tastes italian! can you picture indian, chinese, german food w/ mozzarella, pecorino, oregano, basilico?!? URK! buon appetito! [j.j.] just joking!

  29. Shannon | dinnerordessert says:

    Chicken tikka masala is my favorite Indian dish. So flavorful and healthy! I’ve made it a couple times but your recipe looks great. Thanks for sharing, I’ll be trying this very soon.

  30. Kristal says:

    This looks wonderful! I will be trying this recipe later this week! Do you have a recipe for Butter Chicken?

  31. Sono says:

    Reminds of that ‘Indian Currys’ cooking book in my shelf.

    Anyway, looks really great. I think I’ll be cooking this in a few days.
    Thanks for giving me the idea.

  32. jenyu says:

    Chaitali – I think we all do something to this extent ;)

    Manisha – he likes it, but he just orders the same thing if we ever eat out in the restaurants :) I know the murky backstory of CTM, but I love it so that I still wanted to make it first. However, I’ve made many other dishes since! You’d be floored ;)

    Angela – it really is easy. Lots of ingredients, but none of them are hard to find or difficult to use.

    Wendy – Manisha does the toasting thing and I’m never sure when to do it. They pop and jump out of the pan which is simultaneously scary and exciting. Ha ha!

    Miss Adriennely – yes!

    Debs – thank you.

    Jacqueline – I never hated it, although it took me so long to get the guts up to make it myself. Hope you enjoy it!

    Nan – I am VERY lucky to have Manisha in my life. She’s one of my dearest friends. Oh, hiking a mountain at 13,000+ feet is nothing like climbing a 29,000 foot mountain. Trust me! And Jeremy is very smart and safe in the backcountry – he used to be search and rescue.

    Bev Weidner – ha ha ha!!

    Kim – lucky girl. We actually live down the street from a place that serves this. In fact, our neighbors run the joint, but their food is… restauranty. They use fatty cuts of meat and probably too much fat and such. I like my organic homemade better :)

    Debi – hope it works!

    Melanie – :)

    Radhika – thank you!

    Connie – so sweet of you, welcome!

    Sasha – thanks :)

    Na – this is something we always talk about – how to make it pretty. I think if you’ve had the dish before, it automatically triggers good associations in the brain, no? ;)

    lisa – very easy to do!

    Erin – yay!! :)

    The Culinary Chase – absolutely agree.

    Jessica – you’re so welcome.

    Catherine – yes yes and yes!!

    Shelley – well, the long list is just that, a list. Most of them are spices that you measure and dump into a bowl. It’s quite simple to put together if you’re organized and do your mise en place (prep) before you start cooking.

    Allie – you got it!

    Dianne – aren’t men funny like that? And by funny, I really mean… oh well ;) I hope he likes it!

    Margie – I have similar fears, but that’s the path of cooking, isn’t it?

    Mrs. Ergül – This should be a cinch for you to make!

    barbara – I didn’t know for the longest time either. That’s why I love food blogs – they explain so much!

    zingara – ha ha!

    Shannon – thank you :)

    Kristal – I do not, but my friend Manisha does! I’ve had it before and it’s WONDERFUL.

    Sono – sure thing!

  33. joey says:

    This is one of the first things I cooked for my husband when we were still dating…but all from a bottled sauce. We love Indian food but to this day I am still hesitant if I can pull it of at home from scratch. So thanks for this! You’ve really made it sound simpler (that how it sounds in my mind!) and it looks awesome!

  34. Joy says:

    what a wonderful recipe.

  35. Rita says:

    This was fabulous. My first Indian dish. Thank you.

  36. Madi @ Sit Down and Eat Your Peas! says:

    Oh no! I have delicious tilapia tacos waiting for me at home (puttin it on my site tonight) and now I’m craving Indian! What’s a girl to do?! This looks fantastic and one day I’ll really have to “Lady Up” and do it! Wow, beautiful pics, gorgeous site-you’ve really got it all!

  37. Monica says:

    Thank you so much for this AMAZING recipe!! All of my friends raved about it and some even asked from what restaurant I ordered this dish from!. I was wondering if you could knew of a good recipe for Chicken Shahi Korma, this is one of my favorite dishes and I’ve yet to find a good recipe for it.

  38. Chicken Tikka Masala | Catsue. Bless you. Let's eat! says:

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  39. jenyu says:

    Monica – Sorry, I don’t have a Chicken Shahi Korma recipe that I’ve tried yet. Maybe this winter!

  40. Angie says:

    Great recipe! Thanks for sharing–I whipped it up for my boyfriends kids and they absolutely loved it! Shocker!

  41. Saar says:

    I veganized this!
    It was gorgeous!

  42. ailo says:

    Yum yum yum! There was an Indian place in Ithaca with my favorite CTM, and ever since, every time I try a new Indian place it just never lives up. I am so excited to have this clear protocol! I may just eat this every day for the next month. I’ll be orange, but happy.

    I’ve also never been successful at making naan myself. I’m hoping it’s on your list of things to shoot and share :D

  43. Chicken Tikka Masala | Celiac Safe says:

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  44. Kristen says:

    I LOVED this!!! I just made it for dinner tonight and I’ll be making it again soon :)

  45. Marcy says:

    I made this last night and it was wonderful!! My husband and daughter just raved about it. I made your Garlic Naan to go along with it and they stuffed themselves on both dishes. They’ve asked me to add it to our weekly dinner rotation, an honor to be sure. I have started cooking with my iPad in a picture easel so I can see the photos that are on websites like yours. Your photos were great and I loved the step-by-step help.

    Of course, I didn’t make it exactly as you directed because I either didn’t have the ingredient available or I misread the directions. I cut up about 2.5 lbs of breast in one serving of the marinade, but I ended up letting the chicken sit in the marinade for 3 days. I baked the chicken, covered, at 350 in a small baking pan for about 30 minutes (so long because it was crowded.) I used a can of petite diced tomatoes because fresh ones are gross right now. I had no cinnamon stick so I used 1t ground cinnamon instead.

    Even with all my mistakes and substitutions, this dish was great!

  46. Cindy {Jenkins Kid Farm} says:

    Chicken Tiki Masala is my very favorite dish on the planet! If made right! Your recipe looks just like my favorite from a restaurant in Provo, Utah….The Bombay House….that is now 700 miles from where I live. I’m so excited to try your recipe so I don’t have to pine over it anymore. :)

  47. Cindy {Jenkins Kid Farm} says:

    Oh, PS, I did a search for CTM on Pinterest, and VOILA! There you were! Thought you’d be interested to know. :)

  48. WHOLE FOODS March 2012 Menu | OAMC from Once A Month Mom says:

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  49. Ellen says:

    I am going to try this next week. I just learned how to make Naan, so I am excited to find this recipe. You explain it so very well! Thanks for your yummy recipes!

  50. Chicken Tikka Masala « Now Stir It Up says:

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  51. Shannon says:

    This was incredible. I used a can of tomato sauce (since tomatoes are still out of season here) and added a tsp of garam masala. Delicious, and the chicken was so great right off the grill that we’ll use this as a kebab marinade in the future too. Thank you!

  52. Adriana says:

    I tried this recipe two days ago and it was delicious!!! Thank you so much. After looking at so many recipes I loved that yours was made completely from scratch and the picutures. Being that it was my frist time trying anything other than Mexican food the visuals helped a lot. One thing that I’m glad my boyfriend caught was that the recipe to marinade the chicken is for one pound and the recipe for the tikka is for half a pound, otherwise it would have been a mess :-D Thank you!

  53. jennifer says:

    I made chicken tointe and letting it marinate overnight. Can’t wait until tomorrow!!! Loooooooove your site and your pictures and all of your great recipies! :)

  54. 10 Kid Friendly Around the World Recipes | Inspired By Family Magazine says:

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  55. Ginger K says:

    I am now marinating the chicken so we can have this tomorrow night for dinner. I cant wait. It already smells delish (the marinate that is) thank you for sharing this! I will update how it turns out

  56. Jess W says:

    I just made this and it was wonderful! I’m dairy-free right now, and sub’ed plain coconut yogurt for the yogurt, coconut oil for the butter, coconut cream for the heavy cream. Even with all that coconut, the coconut taste didn’t come through much at all. Just in case anyone else out there is hesitating on this one because of the dairy…

  57. Chicken Tikka Masala Curry says:

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  59. Supriya Kutty says:

    I tried the Chicken Tikka Masala recipe from Use Real Butter, and it was absolutely fantastic! The flavors were rich and authentic, making it one of the best versions of this dish I’ve ever had. The detailed instructions were easy to follow, ensuring a delicious outcome. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful recipe!

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