Camille’s pretend-Chicken Tikka Masala

I’m not really sure what to call this dish.

Actual chicken tikka masala is basically a dish of chicken bits with sauce. Chicken tikka refers to marinated chicken that is roasted. The masala part entails the whole spicy, rich sauce that accompanies it. You can find it at every other Indian restaurant here in the States, despite its British origin, and tastes different at every place as well.

So why the hesitation?

Well, I don’t roast the chicken, at least not for this particular recipe. There is no marinating, no chicken tikka to eat. But I don’t want to call it a curry, because chicken curry just sounds so pleeb, so boring. I want something spicy, something mildly exotic, something that sounded more than the usual weekday dinner.

I present to you, a lazy, bastardized (can I say that? I think I can say that) version of chicken tikka masala, just like my adobo recipe is a lazy version of the actual thing.

I’ve been cooking for my family for quite a while and still do when I come home. With this dish, I could quickly crank out a full meal for my brothers and me, and then set off to rehearsal or to my books for the night (part of the deal is that someone else would have to do the dishes). Planned correctly, this dish can be made easily in under an hour (even less, if you have a good stove). If you start cooking the rice and your veggies when you begin boiling the chicken, then you’ll have a full meal.

Despite its identity crises, this is definitely a go-to weekday dinner. Most of the ingredients are pantry staples for my house. The spice list is long, but definitely worth it. To make up for bland boiled chicken, the sauce is fairly spiced (not so spicy, but that’s according to my tongue). I like to shred the chicken to maximized surface area — more nooks and crannies where the meat can mingle with the sauce. In the end, you get very tender chicken in a spicy and tangy stew.

This is also a very forgiving dish if you decide to experiment. The ingredients are flexible. Want more spicy? Go hard with the red pepper flakes. Want a more creamy sauce? Add a splash more of coconut milk. Don’t have a can of coconut milk at the ready? I don’t suggest cow milk as a replacement, but a cup of heavy cream will do nicely.

I’ll work on the whole name thing at some point. But for now:

Camille’s pretend-Chicken Tikka Masala

Serves 4-5 people comfortably

1 ½ pounds chicken pieces (I usually use three large or four medium-sized chicken breasts)
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Quarter of a medium onion, diced
3 tablespoons butter (unsalted or salted doesn’t matter)
½ teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¾ teaspoon garam masala*
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons table salt
¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
One 13-ounce can coconut milk
Juice from one lemon

*I use a particular blend from a local oriental store. No luck with finding garam masala? Try ¼ teaspoon ground coriander, ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves, ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg, and an additional ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Before you even start measuring or chopping anything, place the chicken along with one garlic clove in a pot with enough water to cover about three-quarters of the meat. Crank up the heat to medium-high and cover with a lid.

Heat another large pot on medium heat.

Add the butter, garlic, and onion to second pot and cook for about 15 minutes or until the onion is soft and lightly browned. In a small bowl, mix together the paprika, ground cumin, garam masala, ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, salt, and ground cinnamon. Add in the spices and cook for another minute with constant stirring. Make sure every bit is covered and all.

Add in the tomato sauce and coconut milk. Stir well, making sure to scrape all the browned spice bits. Turn the heat down to medium-low once the sauce starts to bubble a bit. Taste the sauce at this point and see if it needs anything. If it’s not salty enough, wait until the end for additional salt (it might need the acid from the lemon instead).

At this point, your chicken may be done cooking (it depends on how good your stove is). To check, take a piece out and cut into it. If the juices run clear and the meat is pliable and white, you’re good to go. Remove the chicken from its broth and shred thoroughly with two forks (or chop with a knife, up to you). Trash the boiled garlic glove.

Add the shredded meat to the curry gravy and stir to coat. Add the lemon juice as well. Let simmer the stew simmer on medium-low for at least 15 minutes (perhaps as you wash the cooking utensils and set the table) for optimal flavor

Serve with freshly cooked rice and roasted vegetables of your choosing for a quick, well-rounded dinner. Any leftovers will be good for a few days in the fridge.


See? Super simple! These two–

–combine to give you…

Chicken Tikka Masala

Delish. Now, where’s the rice?…