Wallflower Chicken Tikka Masala

In 2005, I was a sophomore in high school. I'd recently changed schools, I was bashful, and I'd yet to make many good friends. By default, I spent most of my Friday nights at home, cooking elaborate recipes and watching hours of Veronica Mars. Earning my driver’s license was fairly inconsequential then, except for the fact that it allowed me to freely travel back and forth from the Safeway across town. My 16-year-old palette told me that the supplies from this grocery store were far superior and much more gourmet than those available at the super center near my house.

I don’t think it’s being overly dramatic to say that this unlikely outlet saved me from what otherwise would have been a mostly lonely period of my teenage years. I spent my lawn-mowing money on lamb chops and cardamom, and I had more lively conversations with the head cashier than with most of my classmates. When I was home for Thanksgiving this year, I want back to Safeway to buy a bottle of prosecco, and there she was; we were instant friends again.

Preparing this chicken tikka masala took me back to 2005. I’d discovered Indian food, and it very quickly monopolized my Friday night schedule. The exotic ingredients made me feel sophisticated, and the flavors were comforting and warm. That makes this recipe perfect for winter and perfect for sharing with friends (if you've managed to emerge from your awkward stage and make a few). In fact, if you add a dozen bottles of beer and pick up some ice cream for dessert, this recipe is practically a complete dinner party.

I know the internet will tell you to pair an IPA with Indian food, but keep in mind this is not strictly an Indian dish—more of an Indian-English hybrid, invented in a London curry house. The sauce is delicately flavored and rich, warranting a milder beer: a Belgian or another ale.

This tikka masala is from the April 2013 Bon Appétit, and it’s a good one. The only significant change I made was to broil the chicken for nearly twice as long as the original recipe states in order to get just the faintest hint of char. I think it’s worth tracking down the chiles de árbol. I got mine from the Mexican grocery store near my house, an experience which made my inner 16-year-old feel very cosmopolitan. A huge bag set me back less than two dollars and added incredible depth and flavor to the sauce. 

Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves 6


6 garlic cloves, minced

4 tsp finely grated peeled ginger

4 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

1 1/2 cups whole-milk yogurt

1 tbsp kosher salt

2 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts

3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup tomato paste

6 cardamom pods, crushed

2 dried chiles de árbol

28 oz whole peeled tomatoes

2 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Steamed basmati rice (for serving)


Combine garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, and cumin in a small bowl. Whisk yogurt, salt, and half of spice mixture in a medium bowl; add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and chill 4-6 hours. Cover and chill remaining spice mixture.

Heat ghee in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and chiles and cook, stirring often, until tomato paste has darkened and onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add remaining half of spice mixture and cook, stirring often, until bottom of pot begins to brown, about 4 minutes.

Add tomatoes with juices, crushing them with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until sauce thickens, 8-10 minutes.

Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 30-40 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack inside sheet. Arrange chicken on rack in a single layer. Broil until chicken starts to blacken in spots (about 10 minutes on each side).

Cut chicken into bite-size pieces, add to sauce, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Serve with rice and cilantro sprigs.