Chicken tikka masala
Chicken tikka masala is an Indian dish consisting of marinated pieces of chicken breast that are first strung on a skewer and then roasted in a tandoor oven until they are crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. The pieces of chicken are then braised in a creamy tomato sauce with paprika.
Chicken tikka masala owes its origins to the world famous dish tandoori chicken as the dish was conceived as a way to make a meal out of leftovers. Since tandoori chicken is served in India without sauce, the next day the meat is usually tough and dried out. However, by stewing the chicken in a creamy tomato sauce full of spices, Indian chefs got the leftovers juicy and tasty again. Chicken tikka masala is actually the sister dish of butter chicken, which was also designed to preserve tandoori meat and keep it tender.
This leftover dish became so popular that people stopped using the leftovers and started using fresh chicken instead. The marinade used for chicken tikka is the same as for tandoori chicken and other dishes from the tandoor oven.
East vs west
Chicken tikka masala is one of the most popular dishes in the UK. It is so popular, in fact, that in 2001, government minister Robin Cook declared that it was “a true British national dish”.
Did you know...?
The word tikka refers to the way in which the pieces of meat are cut. Tikka dishes have small pieces of meat or vegetables, marinated in a particular spice mixture. Besides chicken tikka, there is also lamb tikka and paneer (cheese) tikka.
Pieces of chicken without skin or bone (usually chicken fillet) are marinated in a mixture of yoghurt, citrus juice and a tandoori masala spice mix, then strung on skewers and roasted vertically in a tandoor oven. Twenty minutes later they come out cooked: Crunchy, smoky and with oh-so-tasty scorch spots.
For the sauce, onion, garlic and ginger are sweated, then spices, such as coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder are added to the pan. From this flavour base, a thick sauce is made with tomato, yoghurt or cream, and garam masala.
Chicken tikka masala is served with naan or basmati rice.
Butter chicken is a similar dish, with only minimal differences in the preparation and sauce. Almost all dishes in Indian cuisine have a tasty, often creamy, sauce. If you want something different, try one of the few dry Indian dishes: Tandoori chicken.