Chicken Tikka Masala + a History Lesson

My introduction to Chicken Tikka Masala came from a Lean Cuisine. For many months I skipped over that frozen dinner at the supermarket. I had no idea what it was. However, I finally took a chance on it one day and fell head over heals. Now it’s my absolute favorite go-to for lunch and sometimes even supper when I’m counting calories. 😊 I wowed myself the first time I made it from scratch! It tastes fantastic by itself, but add some warm naan and/or basmati rice and it’ll take your tastebuds on a delightful culinary trip straight to…Scotland! LOL Not what you expected to hear, right?

A Little History

According to Wikipedia, it originated in Glasgow, Scotland and is among the United Kingdom’s most popular dishes. It’s so loved that a government minister proclaimed it a British national dish in 2001. The origin of the dish is disputed, but historians of ethnic food, Peter and Colleen Grove, have concluded the dish was invented in Britain, probably by a Bangladeshi chef.

A version of the Scotland explanation tells how a Pakistani [I’m assuming he was from Bangladesh] and proprietor of a restaurant in Glasgow invented chicken tikka masala by throwing together a sauce made from cream, spices, yogurt, and adding tomato. In 2013, his son told the story on a BBC show of how his father came up with it:

It sounds like a fun Middle Eastern dish, but that’s not where it started. 😁

“On a typical dark, wet Glasgow night, a bus driver coming off shift came in and ordered a chicken curry. He sent it back to the waiter saying it’s dry. At the time, Dad had an ulcer and was enjoying a plate of tomato soup. So he said why not put some tomato soup into the curry with some spices. They sent it back to the table and the bus driver absolutely loved it. He and his friends came back again and again and we put it on the menu.”

Most importantly, I’m glad I took a chance on a frozen low-calorie entree no matter where it originated. I love it and I think you might, too. 🙂

The ingredient list and directions may look daunting, but it all comes together pretty easily. Cut this recipe in half if you’re not cooking for a crowd. On the other hand, you’re going to want leftovers. 😎

Firstly, gather all your ingredients to make it easier on yourself. Secondly, put away the containers in batches of 3 or 4 at a time to get them out of your way in stages. This makes the work flow rather than becoming tedious.

Chicken Tikka Masala

For the chicken marinade:

  • 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, partially frozen
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil + more for browning
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 heaping tsp. jarred minced garlic or 2 cloves, minced

For the sauce:

  • 2 tbsp. garam masala*
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • 28 oz. can puree or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp.pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or 1 tbsp. dried

*Garam Masala is a combination of spices that lends a distinctive flavor to Indian cuisine. You can find it already prepared in the spice aisle of most grocery stores. Or you can blend your own batch. There are many different amounts and combinations of these basic ingredients. This is only a basic guideline. The bottle I purchased didn’t have cloves or nutmeg.

  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a tightly lidded container. Shake vigorously to thoroughly incorporate.

For serving:

Naan (Indian flatbread) and/or cooked basmati rice

Marinate the chicken:

While the chicken is still partially frozen, stand each piece on its side and carefully cut through with a sharp chef’s knife, as if butterflying, to create 2 pieces. Use a fork to prick the chicken breasts all over on both sides.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together sour cream or yogurt, 1 tablespoon olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Add the chicken breasts and stir around to thoroughly coat. Set the chicken aside while you make the sauce.

Make the sauce:

In a Dutch oven or large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until light brown and caramelized, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium then stir in the garam masala, nutmeg, paprika, and ginger. Add the tomato, water, heavy cream, salt, and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil then reduce the heat to gently simmer. Stir occasionally.

Heat a skillet on medium-high and add 2-3 tbsp. olive oil. Working in batches, brown the chicken on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board as cooked. Cut all the chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to the pan to continue cooking for a few minutes then add to the simmering sauce. Continue cooking for 5-10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in cilantro. Serve over a bed of rice, if desired, or eat with naan. Pita tastes great with it, too.

Another easy super saucy chicken dish is Zac’s Keto Green Chile Chicken! Not too spicy and tastes incedible on a bed of pasta, rice, or riced cauliflower.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid to try new things! I have no idea what “tikka” means and “masala” sounds like “marsala” like the wine. But there’s no wine in this dish! I had never tried Naan before either, however, I love it a thousand times more than pita (which I love!). With Chicken Tikka Masala, it’s just plain amazing.

Happy eating! 😊

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