Keeping the Flavor of Chicken Tikka Masala

An introduction to one of the most popular dishes in Indian cuisine: chicken tikka masala.

It is a dish that hearkens back to the days of the British Raj, a twist on a traditional North Indian dish made palatable for Englishmen domiciled on the Indian Subcontinent. India may no longer be a British colony, but chicken tikka masala continues to be one of the most appealing items on many Indian restaurant menus in the United Kingdom as well as other locations across the globe.

However, for many chefs, keeping this dish flavorful and balanced can be a challenge. Common mistakes include over-seasoning, under-seasoning, meat that is disappointingly dry under the masala sauce, and sauces that are either too thick or too thin.

Here are some pointers for serving up a chicken tikka masala that is deliciously moist and full of flavor.

1. Dark Meat Trumps White Meat

Most chefs would go with chicken breast for a tikka, but thigh fillets and drumsticks can be a more cost-effective and flavorful choice. In a dish where the meat is cooked over (or in) high heat, these parts that have dark meat tend to stay moist. Keeping the chicken skin on also prevents the meat from drying out.

2. It’s All in the Marinade

For chicken tikka to have lasting appeal with diners, it needs to be richly spiced. In this case, a proper marinade is a key point to consider.

A cutting board topped with spices and garam masala.

Standard preparations of the dish often include yogurt which – like buttermilk – soaks into the meat to make it tender. The spice mix may include any or all the following:

  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Ground Cumin
  • Ground Coriander Seed
  • Ground Turmeric
  • Garam Masala
  • Red or Green Chilies

The addition of a flavor booster like Knorr Chicken Powder also goes a long way in amplifying the taste of the meat and keeps it from getting drowned out by the spices in the sauce.

3. A Good Sear Goes a Long Way

While there are some chefs who prefer to simply brown the chicken and toss it in with the sauce, searing the chicken properly before adding it to the masala gravy is another way by which one can amplify its flavor and seal in its juices.

Paratha with curry and rice.
Traditional Indian flat breads, such as naan or paratha, will complete the chicken tikka masala dish. (Photo: Shutterstock)

4. Accompanied by Chutney and Pickles

The complete chicken tikka masala menu is commonly served with either rice or traditional Indian flatbreads, such as naan or paratha. The addition of sweet and sour chutneys and pickles, as well as spiced salts, served alongside the dish allows diners to create a more flavorful gustatory experience as they can season the chicken to their liking.


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