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Chicken Tikka Masala vs. Indian Butter Chicken
Chicken tikka masala and Indian butter chicken are both popular Indian restaurant menu items. A big distinction lies in their names:
- Butter chicken utilizes more butter in its execution. (Learn to make Indian butter chicken here.)
- Tikka masala leans heavier on the spice blend, or masala.
While Indian butter chicken can trace its roots to pre-partition India, chicken tikka masala is a product of 1960s Britain (even though its now a staple of the Punjabi region of Northern India). Though the true origins are unclear, the agreed-upon history is that Britain’s love of meat and gravy influenced one (or many) restaurant’s decision to serve a savory curry with the traditional Indian grilled tandoori chicken. It was famously referred to as a “true British national dish” in 2001 by then-foreign secretary Robin Cook in a speech about diversity and national identity.
Chicken Tikka Masala vs. Tandoori Chicken
Chicken tikka masala is nearly indistinguishable from tandoori chicken. The key differences include:
- Whole chicken versus boneless, skinless chicken bits. Tandoori chicken is roasted whole. The word tikka means bits, or pieces, and refers to the bite-sized cuts of meat in the signature chicken tikka masala dish.
- Served roasted versus in a yogurt marinade. Tandoori chicken is served off the grill, sans sauce. Chicken tikka masala features an essential yogurt marinade that adds a creamy, curried dimension.
Healthy Substitutes in Chicken Tikka Masala
Finishing with heavy cream gives chicken tikka masala its signature silky texture. To alleviate dairy allergies or make a diet-friendly chicken tikka masala, try the following healthy alternatives:
- Coconut milk. Swap the coconut milk for the heavy cream for an equally creamy finish.
- Skip the yogurt. While the plain yogurt in the marinade is best left as is, those with dairy allergies can skip the yogurt for a lighter tomato sauce.
How to Make Chicken Tikka Masala in a Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker
To make chicken tikka masala in a pressure cooker or a slow cooker, combine the chicken, yogurt, and half of the spice mixture in a slow cooker and stir. Fry up the onions, tomato paste, and remaining spices as outlined above, including the tomatoes and their juices, then add to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours. Stir in heavy cream and cilantro, and season to taste. If sauce isn’t thickened to your liking, simply leave uncovered and cook on high for another 30 minutes.
Easy Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe
- 6 garlic cloves, finely grated
- 4 tsp. finely grated peeled fresh ginger
- 4 tsp. ground turmeric
- 2 tsp. garam masala
- 2 tsp. ground coriander
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1½ cups plain whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts or chicken thighs, halved lengthwise
- 3 Tbsp. ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 6 cardamom pods, crushed
- 2 dried chiles de árbol or ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, like San Marzano
- 2 cups heavy cream
- ¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish
- Cooked basmati rice (for serving)
- Mix garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, and cumin together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, add half the spice mixture to the yogurt, stir to combine. Add the chicken to the yogurt, and stir to coat. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours.
- Add ghee to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom pods, and chilies. Cook until onion is translucent, 5 minutes. Add the rest of the spice mixture and stir, cooking for another 4 minutes.
- Place the whole peeled tomatoes in a bowl and crush them with your hands, separating the biggest bits. Add tomatoes with juices to the skillet. When they come to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until sauce thickens, stirring often, about 8 minutes. The spices will begin to brown on the bottom of the bot; scrape them up as you stir as best you can.
- Add cream and chopped cilantro. Continue to simmer for another 30 minutes or so.
- Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Place a wire rack inside a foil-lined baking sheet, and arrange marinated chicken evenly on top. Broil until meat begins to crisp and blacken in spots but has not cooked through, 10 minutes.
- Remove from oven and cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add to sauce, and continue to simmer while the chicken cooks through, about 8 minutes. Season sauce to taste.
- Serve with basmati rice.