Chicken tikka masala—grilled boneless chicken in a spiced, creamy tomato sauce—is the quintessential Anglo-Indian comfort dish. For our version we reached out to Indian-American chef Preeti Mistry of Juhu Beach Club, a modern Indian restaurant in Oakland, California (which closed in 2018, though “The Juhu Beach Club” cookbook remains a hot ticket and is a great addition to your collection). At Juhu Beach Club, chicken tikka masala was on the kids’ menu, a testament to how approachable and easy to love this dish is, two factors that also make it a great threshold recipe for Indian-cooking novices.

What to buy: For marinating the chicken, Preeti uses extra-tangy Greek yogurt from Straus Family Creamery. If using another brand, up the acidity by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to the yogurt in the marinade. See more of Mistry’s tips for the best chicken tikka masala.

You can use a commercial garam masala spice blend for this recipe, but Mistry strongly suggests making your own, using black cardamom pods (these are smoked over charcoal, so they have an earthy, smoky flavor—if using a garam masala blend, up the smoke and spice by adding 1/2 teaspoon each smoked paprika and cayenne pepper). Check out our garam masala walk-through for more.

  • Yields: 3 to 4 servings
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Total: 1 hr 35 mins, plus at least 3 1/2 hrs marinating time 

Ingredients (22)

For the chicken:

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1 medium lemon)
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, preferably from Straus Family Creamery (see the What to Buy note above)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger (from about 1 [3-inch] piece)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon homemade garam masala (if using commercial garam masala, add 1/2 teaspoon each smoked paprika and cayenne pepper)

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 1 black cardamom pod (or you can substitute 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika)
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 4 pieces
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger (from about 1 [2-inch] piece)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 7 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup heavy cream

To assemble and serve:

  • Vegetable oil
  • Basmati rice


For the chicken:

  1. Remove the tenders from the chicken breasts and cut off the thinner triangular bottom pieces. Split the remaining thick ends in half. You should end up with about 8 pieces, 1/4 to 1/3 inch in thickness. Toss in a bowl with the salt and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.
  2. Make the marinade by combining all the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Use a whisk or immersion blender to mix well.
  3. Drain the chicken (discard the lemon juice) and add it to the yogurt marinade, coating the pieces well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or as long as overnight.

For the sauce:

  1. Toast and grind the spices: Combine the cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, green cardamom pods, and black cardamom pod (if using) in a small saucepan. Toast over medium heat, tossing or stirring occasionally, until the spices are fragrant and hot, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and process until fine. Transfer to a small bowl and add the smoked paprika (if using in place of the black cardamom).
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy 1-1/2-quart saucepan over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, add the ground spices and cook for 1 minute. Add the ginger, garlic, and salt and cook until the butter foams again, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the tomato paste, using a small whisk to blend it into the butter mixture. Add the water in 2 additions, whisking until smooth. Simmer until the mixture is a pale brick red, about 3 minutes.
  3. Whisk in the cream and simmer until shiny and the volume of the sauce has reduced by a quarter, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To assemble:

  1. To cook the chicken, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and lightly brush it with vegetable oil. Remove the chicken from the marinade, let any excess drip off, and place the pieces in the grill pan (you will probably have to do this in batches). Cook until the chicken has dark grill marks and the juices run clear, about 6 minutes on the first side and about 3 minutes on the second. Remove to a platter until all the pieces are cooked and cool enough to handle.
  2. Bring the sauce back to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cut the chicken into 3/4-inch squares and add it to the sauce, along with any juices from the platter. Simmer until the sauce is shiny and has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Serve with basmati rice.