Ajay’s Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe

Chicken Tikka Masala

Uncle Sam’s Immigrant Cafe founder Ajay Ravindranathan shares his recipe for Chicken tikka masala. Chicken tikka masala is one of the most popular, if not the most popular Indian dishes in the Western hemisphere. Succulent chunks of grilled chicken, ever so slightly charred, swimming in a rich, fragrant sauce redolent with fenugreek and warming spices.  The origins of chicken tikka masala is highly contested, with some claiming that it is not an Indian dish at all, but one that was invented in the UK by Bangladeshi chefs. That said, the spices used are very Punjabi or North Indian in style rather than traditional Bengali or Bangla dishes.  The dish is similar to the Indian butter chicken, which primarily differs in the use shredded tandoori chicken (or whole bone-in tandoori chicken) rather than chunks of tandoori chicken breast (tikkas).

Most of the specialty ingredients used in this recipe will be available at your local Indian store or off of Amazon. Also, this is not a low calorie dish by any stretch of the imagination…it is a rich, unctuous special occasion dish and is well worth the caloric splurge!

Ajay's Chicken Tikka Masala

Uncle Sam's Immigrant Cafe founder Ajay Ravindranathan shares his recipe for Chicken tikka masala. Chicken tikka masala is one of the most popular, if not the most popular Indian dishes in the Western hemisphere. Succulent chunks of grilled chicken, ever so slightly charred, swimming in a rich, fragrant sauce redolent with fenugreek and warming spices. 
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Marination Time2 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: chicken tikka masala, ethnic food, indian food
Author: Ajay Ravindranathan

Equipment

  • 9x13 Casserole Dish
  • Wire Rack
  • Wooden Skewers
  • Dutch oven

Ingredients

For the chicken tikkas

  • 2.5 lbs skinless boneless chicken breasts cut into one-inch pieces
  • 4 Tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp chickpea flour (besan)
  • 3 Tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 green chilli
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (deggi mirch)
  • 1 tsp garam masala powder
  • 1 Tbsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1/4 tsp saffron crushed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • Butter for basting
  • Juice of a lemon

For the tikka masala sauce

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 10 green cardamom pods lightly crushed
  • 1 black cardamom lightly crushed
  • 2" cinnamon stick
  • 10 cloves
  • 1 large onion finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 green chillies slit lengthwise
  • 2 tsp kashmiri chilli powder (or substitute part with smoked paprika)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp garam masala powder
  • 9 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 pint whipping cream
  • 3 tsp honey (or to taste)
  • 1.5 Tbsp Kasoori methi/fenugreek leaf
  • 1.5 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • chopped cilantro

Instructions

For the chicken tikkas

  • Crush green chilli in a mortar and pestle (or finely dice).  Transfer to a large bowl. Add the ginger-garlic paste and add the chickpea flour.
  • Add the yogurt, a spoon at a time, and mix to form a thick paste-like consistency.
  • Mix in the paprika, chilli powder, garam masala, coriander powder, cinnamon, saffron and salt.
  • Mix well ensuring that every piece of chicken is coated in the thick marinade. Add the oil and mix again.
  • Leave to marinate for a few hours or even overnight if you prefer.
  • Soak wooden skewers in water. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • Shake off the excess marinade and thread the chicken pieces onto the skewers and place them on a wire rack over a 9X13 inch casserole dish to catch the drippings.
  • Cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Turn the skewers and cook for 10 more minutes.
  • Turn the oven to broil, baste chicken with melted butter with melted butter until the chicken is slightly charred around the edges.
  • Remove tikkas from the skewers and squeeze lemon juice over them. Tent loosely with foil until sauce is ready.

For the tikka masala sauce

  • Add butter in a Dutch Oven with high sides; I use a dutch oven to prevent splatters.
  • Add black and green cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
  • Saute for 1 min and add the onions. Fry over medium heat for 7-10 mins on until they
    are softened and light brown colour.
  • Add the ginger-garlic paste and green chillies. Fry for a further minute and add the chilli powder and 1tsp garam masala powder along with the tomato paste. Stir well and cook for a couple of minutes.
  • Transfer the onion tomato mix to a blender, add ¾ cup water and puree till smooth.
  • Add the double cream stirring continuously to mix the spiced puree with the cream. Simmer and cook for 5 min on low.
  • Crush the fenugreek leaves between your thumb and forefinger to pulverize.  Wear gloves or use a Ziploc bag so your fingers don’t smell of fenugreek for hours after! Don’t ask how I know…
  • Stir in the honey and the fenugreek powder. Check the sweet-salt balance. Now add the cooked chicken pieces and simmer the curry on a low heat for 8-10 minutes.
  • Garnish with cilantro and sprinkle the rest of the garam masala and give the dish a final stir. Serve with basmati rice or naan. This dish tastes better the next day after the spices meld in the refrigerator.

Notes

There are 2 basic steps to the recipe: the first involves making the marinated chicken tikka and the second, making the sauce. My recommendation is to follow the recipe without any substitution or changes the first go-round. The basic recipe can then be altered as per your taste for future iterations.
The resulting dish is spicy, but not overpowering.  If you prefer less spice, substitute some of the red chilli powder (cayenne) with smoked paprika.
All spices and ingredients are available at your local Indian store or online from Amazon.

 Spicy Zest Restaurant

In a nondescript strip mall in Farmers Branch, a suburb of Dallas, sits the state of Texas’ first Sri Lankan restaurant, Spicy Zest. It is a very small restaurant with bright walls, festive wall hangings and just a few tables. It feels almost as if you are eating in someone's home due to the hospitality and cozy feel of the restaurant. Sri Lanka is a picturesque island nation in the Indian Ocean 40 miles from India, known for very flavorful and spicy dishes unfamiliar to most Americans.

Chef-owner of Spicy Zest Nimidu Senaratne is a Sri Lanka native with a very interesting background. Chef Senaratne’s uncle owned small resorts and he grew up working in these resorts. He received a diploma in Hotel Management from the Swiss Lanka Hotel School in Sri Lanka, and subsequently, obtained an advanced diploma in Food & Beverages conducted by City & Guilds Institute in the UK. Senartne then left Sri Lanka at the age of 22 to move to Singapore and work at Sentosa Island Resort and to study hospitality. He was responsible for very large banquet catering there as well as studying for the Advanced Diploma in Hotel Management at Bristol Business School. His future wife Chamari Walliwalagedra, also from Sri Lanka, was studying in the US and would eventually get her PhD in Chemistry from Cleveland State University.  Chef Senaratne moved to Cleveland to further his education and received a degree in Food and Restaurant Management. While studying for his degree, he also worked extensively for the Hilton and Marriott corporations.

Chef Senaratne moved to Dallas in 2013 and he and his wife started Spicy Zest first as a home based catering business, a passion-project he had always wanted to pursue. As the business grew, he then opened his own restaurant in 2016 in Farmers Branch, first as a take-out only spot without any tables. Senaratne concentrated on Sri Lankan traditional specialities and his own “fusion” takes on the food from his childhood. He uses imported spices from Sri Lanka, no preservatives, fresh ingredients and antibiotic free meat. Word of mouth and local press spread the word of the tastiness of the food, and in 2016 he added tables to become a full sit down restaurant. While Senaratne struggled to pay the overhead the first year, he refused to compromise on quality of ingredients to make his delectable and unique food.

The first several years Senaratne struggled to make Spicy Zest a successful venture. He was working long hours seven days a week and barely getting by. Staffing was a big issue and it was often hard to cover the bills. Despite his struggles, Chef Senaratne was committed to his vision of bringing Sri Lankan food to the United States while maintaining his incredibly high standards for his food. Over time, his staffing issues have improved and he has hired another Sous Chef from his native Sri Lanka. More recently, he also has added business lunch catering that has been very popular and helped the business to become more profitable. Chef Senaratne is not afraid of criticism and welcomes opinions and ideas to help make his business more successful. His extensive hospitality background makes him a chef who is able to look at both the culinary and the business part of owning a restaurant.

When you walk in to Spicy Zest you feel very welcome right away. Frequently, either Chef Senaratne or his wife will walk you through the menu and the types of Sri Lankan dishes to be sampled. On a very hot Tuesday night in August, we were one a few tables occupied but there were many others coming in for take out. We started with fresh baked buns out of the oven stuffed with Seeni Sambol (onion confit) and others stuffed with fish. Don’t forget to try the egg hoppers if available as a starter. This staple of Sri Lankan cuisine is like a savory thin crepe with a soft boiled egg in the middle. It is served with condiments on the side and is eaten like a taco. The mutton Kottu is a favorite of mine. It is a traditional Sri Lankan dish of tender cubed mutton, Sri Lankan roti flatbread, carrots, onions, eggs and a curry spice blend. It is savory and spicy comfort dish. The lamprais is a generous mixture of rice, vegetables and meat rolled into a banana leaf and steamed. We opted for the pork lamprais and it was outstanding and filling. Also very popular is the deviled beef, which is seasoned & marinated for 48 hours then pan fried till crispy with vegetables and a sauce that is spicy, tangy and a little sweet.

Due to his time in Singapore, Chef Senaratne also offers the Indonesian fried rice with seafood and pineapple called Nasi Goreng. You must leave room for a little Watalapppan at the end of your meal. Watalappan is a rich Sri Lankan flan-like custard with notes of cardamom and nutmeg. If you can’t decide on what to try, then I recommend the weekend buffet which has an array of menu items to tempt your palate.

Senartne’s hope is to expand to a larger location in the near future. His goal is to have as many people as possible experience the incredible flavors of his native cuisine. WIth the amazing and unique flavor profile of his dishes, hopefully more will be able to discover the hospitality that Sri Lankan cuisine and Chef Senaratne has to offer.

Visit:
Spicy Zest
Location: 13920 Josey Ln suite 107, Farmers Branch, TX 75234
Phone: 469-629-9191
Hours: Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat 11:00 AM - 9:45 PM,
Sunday 11:00 AM - 6:30 PM
Closed: Mon & Thur

About the Author:

Liam Conner is a junior in high school at Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas. He has a lifelong love of learning about other cultures, especially exploring cultures by trying their native food and learning about their food customs. Liam went to Taiwan in March of 2019 on a cultural exchange and made a podcast about the food of the Night Markets. Liam plans on majoring in International Studies in college with a concentration in South & Southeast Asia and continuing to try any new ethnic restaurant he can find along his way.

Saffron

In the small town of Twin Falls, Idaho, a refreshing respite from the usual chain restaurants has opened on the ever-regenerating old main street in the historic downtown. Yellow, red, and orange paint with gold accents adorn the walls, suggestive of the warm smells of spice lingering in the air. Wafts of cardamom, cinnamon, and anise engulf you as you enter Saffron, the first standalone Indian restaurant in Twin Falls.
Sanu, from Kolkata, India and Rosemary, his wife from Peru form the dynamic duo running the restaurant. Both Sanu and Rosemary immigrated to the U.S. on work visas within the last 5 years. They met in Sun Valley, Idaho while working at different restaurants in the area and bonded over their mutual love and passion for food.


Sanu and Rosemary

Sanu grew up learning about cooking under the tutelage of his Mother, who he says was a very good cook, but didn’t start thinking about cooking as a career until he was 22. After completing a 3-year degree in Hotel and Hospital Management, he cooked at various 5-star hotels in India. Dreaming of bigger and better things, he heard of an opportunity from a consultancy group for a job cooking in Sun Valley, Idaho and jumped at the opportunity.

Vegetable Curry, Karahi Chicken, Chicken Korma

Rosemary moved to the U.S. four years ago on a work visa to join her family who owns a group of local burrito shops in Southern Idaho called KB’s. In her spare time, she pursued her degree in Business Management from the local community college.
After dating over the course of a few years, they moved to San Francisco and worked in an upscale Indian restaurant, honing their culinary and restaurant chops. During their time in San Francisco, Rosemary’s mother called and asked her if she and Sanu could come help manage and cook at the Pocatello KB’s restaurant to help the family. Rosemary was hesitant as they were really enjoying their time in San Francisco, but she knew she had to help her family, so she agreed.

Chicken 65 Appetizer

After a few months of managing and cooking at the restaurant, although they enjoyed the business, they realized that they longed for something more. Sanu was dying inside to get back to his Indian roots and express his true culinary self. They dreamed of owning their own restaurant, making their own dishes with their own spices in their own way. One night, Rosemary and Sanu were spending time with Sanju, Sanu’s brother who had owned an Indian restaurant in Pocatello. After sharing some laughs, they had a sudden thought- why don’t we open a restaurant?  That night they started looking for available spaces in Twin Falls where they might open a restaurant. As fate would have it, they found that the KB’s burritos in downtown Twin Falls had just closed and was available to lease. Although it was 9 at night, they called the realtor and set up a meeting to see the property the next day. The next day, they showed up at the restaurant and 30 minutes later signed the lease and Saffron was born.


Lunch special with assorted dishes

With the help of Sanju and other family members, they started rapidly painting, decorating, and just 3 months later, Saffron was open for business. With Rosemary running the business side and greeting customers with a smile and Sanu cooking his creative and comforting food, Saffron has taken off. Dishes like chicken 65, an appetizer named for its 65 different spices that go into the flavorful curry, are part of a delicious and adventurous menu. Community members were packed in on the first night I visited, excited to welcome something new and authentic into their town. As I take the first bite of the chicken karahi, flavors of ginger, garam masala, tomato, chiles, and cinnamon warm my palate. The Naan is chewy, buttery and crispy. The rice is fragrant and fluffy. Sanu comes out to eagerly ask how everything is, satisfied as we rave about all the dishes we are eating.


In the back of the kitchen are Renuka, Kal, Krishna, and Ran, immigrants from Nepal and Bhutan, laughing and enjoying each other’s company as they chop onions, garlic, peppers, and ginger. They say they are all one big, happy family. Sanu says that he is most excited when other Indians come in and give positive compliments to the dishes. He says that Indians can be quite critical of Indian food, so when they give their seal of approval, it means a lot. Sanu says that he prides himself on not cutting corners, spending hours simmering the curries, toasting and grinding his own spices, and roasting the vegetables to build the bold, complex flavors that go into each of his dishes. He says that he is constantly experimenting with new dishes, testing them out as specials, and if the customer reaction is good, he will put It on the full-time menu.


Rosemary says that it took her a while to learn all the nuances of Indian food- all the spices, the dishes, and flavors that were very different from her Peruvian roots. She is also learning to speak Hindi, while Sanu is slowly picking up Spanish. Sanu jokes that Peruvian food doesn’t taste like anything, to which Rosemary shoots back asking why he asked her to make Peruvian Ceviche on their day off? Sanu laughs and admits that he has grown to love Peruvian food, but Indian food will always be first in his heart. This beautiful combination of cultures seems to be the secret ingredient to the delicious flavors and inviting ambience of Saffron, making it well on its way to becoming a staple in Twin Falls for years to come.

Visite:
Saffron
117 Main Ave E,
Twin Falls, ID 83301
saffronidaho@gmail.com
Tel: 208-933-2580

About Author: Porter Long

Porter Long is a food scientist by day, food fermentation experimenter by night, and a food enthusiast always. He lives in Twin Falls, Idaho with his wife, two dogs, and four chickens.