Chef John's Chicken Tikka Masala


Chicken tikka masala is usually made with heavy cream, but I like to use coconut milk instead; its subtle sweetness works beautifully with the spices in the dish. Serve with steamed rice.

Prep Time:
25 mins
Cook Time:
45 mins
Total Time:
1 hr 10 mins


  • 1 ½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 2 teaspoons garam masala

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 2 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee), or more as needed

Tikka Masala Sauce:

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • ¼ cup tomato paste

  • 4 cloves garlic, finely grated

  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger, or more to taste

  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes

  • 1 (13 ounce) can coconut milk

  • ½ cup chicken broth, or as needed

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • salt and ground black pepper to taste


  1. Place chicken in a bowl. Drizzle vegetable oil over chicken; toss to coat.

  2. Whisk together salt, garam masala, cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cardamom in a small bowl. Sprinkle over chicken and turn to coat evenly.

  3. Melt clarified butter in a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Cook chicken thighs in hot butter until browned on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. When cool enough to handle, cut chicken into bite-sized pieces.

  4. Make sauce: Place the skillet with chicken drippings over medium-high heat. Stir onion into the skillet; sauté until onion softens and turns translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until paste caramelizes, about 5 minutes. Stir garlic and ginger into tomato-onion mixture; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

  5. Pour crushed tomatoes into the skillet. Bring to a boil while scraping the browned bits of food off of the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon. Pour in coconut milk and chicken broth; bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors blend and sauce is slightly reduced, about 15 minutes.

  6. Stir chicken and any accumulated juices into sauce. Add cilantro and red pepper flakes; bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until chicken is cooked through and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.

    overhead view on a plate of rice topped with chicken tikka masala
    Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

Chef's Note:

You can substitute tomato purée for crushed tomatoes, if desired. You can also use 1 2/3 cups heavy whipping cream instead of coconut milk.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

625 Calories
48g Fat
19g Carbs
34g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 4
Calories 625
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 48g 62%
Saturated Fat 27g 136%
Cholesterol 122mg 41%
Sodium 1325mg 58%
Total Carbohydrate 19g 7%
Dietary Fiber 5g 18%
Total Sugars 5g
Protein 34g
Vitamin C 18mg 89%
Calcium 100mg 8%
Iron 7mg 41%
Potassium 985mg 21%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

** Nutrient information is not available for all ingredients. Amount is based on available nutrient data.

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a medically restrictive diet, please consult your doctor or registered dietitian before preparing this recipe for personal consumption.

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