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  • Writer's pictureChrysta

Chicken Tikka Masala--Quarantine Edition

Here in California, we have been on "Safer at Home" orders for about 2 weeks, but for a few reasons I've actually been at home since Sunday, March 8th. That's about 21 days, and like many of you, we are getting creative with what we are cooking.

I've been wanting to make Chicken Tikka Masala for a long time now--I've just been too busy. But it seems like now I have more time on my hands, but what I don't seem to have my hands on are all the ingredients that I need. Where I am in Los Angeles, the grocery shelves are unpredictable. And, I'm trying to limit my exposure to COVID-19, so the days of running out to the market for a few ingredients you need for a recipe are over.

Because one of my coping mechanisms is humor (and it isn't to make like of the seriousness of the Coronavirus by any means), I've been dubbing these as "Quarantine Recipes"--the kind of recipes you make with whatever you have on hand, with substitutions, with omissions, etc. Bottom line: it's going to be good, just make sure you taste along the way and know the lines that you need to stay in.

Back to Chicken Tikka Masala. For those of you don't know, this might be the most popular dish at an Indian or Pakistani restaurant, but it's not a traditional dish you would find on the subcontinent. It's mostly a British invention. That said, the first time I tried it, it was love at first bite. Tender and almost tangy chicken, in a sort of smoky, tomato-y, creamy, aromatic! And it's the perfect thing to slather over a bowl of fluffy rice for the perfect comfort food.

Now, before I get to the recipe, let me tell you why this recipe is the #Quarantine edition.

Sour Cream instead of Greek Yogurt: I did not have any greek yogurt (or any kind of yogurt) on hand. Yogurt is a common ingredient in Indian cooking for the tang and for the tenderizing it can offer for meats. Since I didn't have this for the chicken marinade, I used the next best thing and nearly perfect substitution: sour cream!

Jarred Garlic instead of Fresh: Fresh garlic has all of the fragrant essential oils and flavors that are diminished in the jarred garlic that has become so popular over the last 10 years. That said, in my local grocery store, there was not one bulb of garlic! So, I ended up buying a jar of garlic to tide me over until my next shopping trip. This actually worked fine in the recipe, but I just wanted to speak on the Jarred Garlic vs Fresh Garlic debate. Use fresh when you can, but jarred has its place and works fine, too.

No Fresh Ginger: There was actually plenty of fresh ginger at my local grocery store. I just didn't think about making this Chicken Tikka Masala until I had already done my shopping. Ground ginger worked in a pinch, but fresh ginger adds a nuanced spice and brightness that you just can't get from the dried. Again, this whole recipe is about "It'll have to do!"

Not Enough Onions: First of all, when I last went to the market, there were only 3 onions. So, I only took one and left the other two for someone else. But, in the 5 days that the onion sat around, it somehow got a mold bomb in half of it. Indian food needs onions like Southern Sweet Tea needs sugar. So, the first major omission was that this recipe only used half an onion. If you have a whole onion, by all means, use it! I only had 1/2 onion that I could use, sadly!

Let's Talk About Garam Masala: I happened to have garam masala in my spice cabinet. But, most people don't. If you have a good spice cabinet, you can make this popular Indian spice mix that translated means Hot Spice, though this isn't a hot spice mix at all. Here's a recipe for making your own garam masala. And, believe me, if you don't have all of the spices here, don't worry! This is the #quarantine edition. So, get at many ingredients as you have. The taste may not be exactly Chicken Tikka Masala, but it will be good, and you will have just invented your own recipe!

A Non-Purist-Dry-Spices-From-Your-Cupboard-Garam-Masala Recipe:

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I know that most people may only have the cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg in their cupboards. If that’s all you have, use the same measurements above but increase the cumin from 1 tablespoon to 5 teaspoons. Again, we are making do with what we have!

I truly believe that cooking from scratch is alchemy--a sort of ancient science-magic that takes ingredients, transforms them through heat and chemistry, and the secret ingredient: the love, care, and attention of the cook. aSo, even if your version of this Chicken Tikka Masala is even more stripped-down quarantine edition than the one I made, I'm sure it will be delicious! If you find that it tastes too sweet from the cinnamon/nutmeg, you can thin it out with water, cream or more tomato sauce. Or you can increase the heat profile by adding crushed red pepper, more paprika, cumin.

Now, the recipe!

Chicken Tikka Masala--Quarantine Edition


Chicken and Marinade Ingredients

3-4 boneless & skinless chicken breasts

½ cup light sour cream (or 1/2 cup greek yogurt)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tbsp jarred garlic (or 6 cloves minced fresh garlic)

2 teaspoons garam masala

2 teaspoons paprika

3/4 teaspoon dried ginger spice (or 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger)

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons ground cumin

Masala Tomato Cream Sauce Ingredients

3 tablespoons oil

1 /2 onion, finely chopped (use 1 whole one if you have it!)

1 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger spice (or 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger)

4 teaspoons of jarred garlic (or 8 cloves minced fresh garlic)

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 tablespoon tomato puree

3 cups tomato sauce

1 cup water

1 cup heavy cream


Step 1: Prepare the Chicken:

  1. Cut the chicken into cubes, set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken into the marine and combine until well-coated.

  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to 8 hours.

Step 2: Make the Sauce:

While the chicken is marinating, I like to make the sauce.

  1. Prepare your ingredients: First, dice your onion and then set it aside. Measure your spices, set aside. Measure your tomato sauce and cream, then set that aside, too.

  2. Get to Cooking!: In a pot (I used my Le Creuset), heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the onions for about 3 minutes, until softened. Then add the ginger powder and the garlic. Cook for another 3 minutes.

  3. Add Spices: Now add your spices, whatever you have, and stir for about 30 seconds—you are letting the heat open up the oils and flavors in the dried spices.

  4. Cook: Next, stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 30 seconds.

  5. Cook: Next, add the tomato sauce and water and bring it all to a boil. Cook at a boil for 5 minutes, then reduce to a simmer on medium-low heat. Simmer for at least 20 minutes to let the flavors open up.

***At this stage of the tomato sauce, we are ready to add the cream and the cooked chicken. Don’t add the cream until the chicken is cooked and you're ready for Step 4.

Step 3: Cook the Chicken:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Remove the chicken from the fridge.

  3. Place the marinated chicken cubes on a foil-lined baking sheet, making sure they aren’t overlapping.

  4. Cook chicken for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and flip the chicken over. Cook for another 8 minutes. When the edges are brown, it’s ready. You can also test for doneness by checking the internal temperature, which should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also cut the thickest piece in half to ensure it’s no longer pink inside.

  5. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Step 4: Finish The Sauce & Add The Chicken

  1. Bring the tomato sauce back up to a boil over medium-high heat.

  2. Add the cream. Cook for another 3 minutes over medium-high heat.

  3. Using tongs, remove the cooked chicken cubes from the baking sheet and add it into the tomato cream sauce.

  4. Let the chicken simmer in the tomato cream sauce over medium for 5 minutes.

Step 5: Serve

I like to serve the Chicken Tikka Masala over a bed of rice, with a garnish of lime or cilantro or greek yogurt. All I had the day I made this was a little lime juice, so that’s what I added.

Chicken Tikka Masala--Quarantine Edition

Verdict: I could tell this was not the exact same as the original. I was missing the onion and the punch of fresh ginger, but let me tell you this:
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