Chicken Tikka Masala- The Ultimate Guide (Origins, Ingredients & More!)

Wondering what chicken tikka masala is? Here’s everything you need to know about this Indian dish, including its origins, ingredients, and more!

There’s nothing quite like sitting down to a piping hot plate of chicken tikka masala. This world-renowned dish, with countless regional variations, can be found in Indian restaurants around the globe. Although its origins are hotly contested, the creamy, spiced curry and tender chicken can be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere. So, what exactly is the story behind this popular entrée? Let’s start with digging into its origin.

Chicken Tikka Masala Origins

As we’ve eluded to, the origin story of the chicken tikka masala is the stuff of legends. Many think it originated in Glasgow, Scotland, as it is considered by many to be the national dish of the UK, embracing both the multicultural and ancient heritage of the islands. However, there is considerable debate around this topic. Due to its difficult-to-trace history, its widespread adoption, and its variety of preparation, the dish’s exact beginnings may never be fully known.

No discussion of chicken tikka masala history is complete without the story of the Ali family. Legend has it (and the tale is still often told by members of the family today) that on a dark and stormy Glaswegian night in 1971, an off-duty bus driver stopped in at a local Indian restaurant for a plate of chicken curry. The chef, one Ali Ahmed Aslam, delivered his dish, but the bus driver was displeased and sent it back for being too dry.

In a pinch, Ali used what he had on hand – a simmering, creamy tomato soup – to moisten the dish. The bus driver enjoyed his new plate so much that he returned regularly for years, bringing his friends and family to enjoy Ali’s new creation. Thus, the chicken tikka masala was born.

Of course, there are those who doubt the veracity of this tale. Some food historians claim that the dish is simply a toned-down version of similar, spicier dishes in the Punjab regions of India. Their take on the dish has its beginnings far earlier, perhaps even originating in the 1940s. And there are also those who say that while the dish indeed has its beginnings in Britain, it was Bangladeshi chefs who devised it as a means of pleasing the milder Scottish palate with their traditional, spicier dishes.

Whatever the case, nearly everyone agrees on a few key points. First, that the dish involves chicken tikka (with some variation in spices making up the tikka), and a creamy tomato masala (again, with spices that vary regionally and preferentially). And second, of course, that chicken tikka masala is now a delicious, worldwide favorite among the offerings of Indian cuisine.

So, while the very first taste of chicken tikka masala may have been sometime between the 1950s and 1970s, somewhere in Britain or in India, today, the meal is celebrated in nearly every corner of the globe. Indian restaurants from North America to Asia prepare it as a feature dish, and some of the world’s top chefs offer it on their menus.

Along with vindaloos and butter chicken, it is likely the most well-recognized Indian dish on Earth. And that brings up the much-debated question of what really the difference between chicken tikka masala and butter chicken is.

Butter Chicken vs Chicken Tikka Masala

chicken tikka masala in large bowl next to fresh herbs and naan bread

Funnily enough, even many Indians get confused when asked to distinguish chicken tikka masala from butter chicken. And, well, we don’t blame them. Bearing a strikingly similar orange tinge, these two curries not only make for look-alikes, but are also the top contenders in the ‘most popular Indian curry’ category.  Moreover, the countless regional variations make it harder to tell the difference. Wondering what really sets these two dishes apart?

Simply put, butter chicken, as the name implies, is rich in butter. This ingredient is added in plenty to make the tomato sauce creamier and, its addition, in turn, lends a certain sweetness to the palate. Chicken tikka masala, by comparison, is the spicier variant, carrying more nuanced flavors.

Also, unlike chicken tikka masala, the origins of butter chicken are far from disputed. It is universally acknowledged that butter chicken is the invention of Kundan Lal, the founder of the famous restaurant, Moti Mahal in New Delhi, India. Upon realizing that a lot of his tandoori/roasted chicken was getting wasted because it eventually became too dry, Kundan found a solution with the creation of this curry-based recipe. Little did he know then that his utilitarian recipe was on its path to becoming a global delicacy, one that’s recognized as ‘butter chicken’ today.

Whether your taste buds make you swing toward chicken tikka masala or butter chicken, what’s certain is that you’re one of the privileged few who understand the difference between the two varieties. And now that you’re up to speed on the history of chicken tikka masala, these questions must be on your mind: What goes into it? What makes it so delicious? How can I get some of my own?

Easy Chicken Tikka Masala

bowl of rice and chicken tikka masala on wooden tray with naan bread

Chicken Tikka Masala can be found at your local Indian restaurant, prepared at home with a recipe, or bought prepared from Sukhi’s.

Wondering how to make tikka masala with chicken? It’s simple: you start with a good chicken tikka (boneless chunks of marinated chicken), broil it, and serve it poured over with a masala/spiced curry. The most important element of the dish, as its history teaches us, is keeping the chicken tender and moist. The mixture of yogurt and spices that goes into a chicken tikka before it is baked helps achieve this.

Chicken tikka masala is also not complete if it isn’t served hot over warm basmati rice and with a side of freshly prepared naan bread. While these sides may cost you a little extra in the restaurant, they’re worth it. Alternatively, they come ready-made with Sukhi’s frozen chicken tikka masala.

If you are short on time but would love to indulge in this delicacy, consider using our tikka masala curry sauce. What’s better than having your chicken tikka masala ready in just 15 minutes!

If you swear by Instant Pot, we’ve got you covered. Chicken tikka masala, believe it or not, can taste finger-licking good even when prepared in the Instant Pot. Here’s an elaborate, step-by-step recipe for making the dish. For the health conscious, this variation of the instant pot chicken tikka masala is ideal. Sukhi’s curry sauces also work well with the Instant Pot!

Whichever way you choose to prepare your chicken tikka masala, the result is an iconic dish that is sure to please, whether you’re eating on the go or hosting an upscale dinner party.

Bon Appetit!

Now you know not only what goes into this delectable dish and how it’s made, but also its history, where it came from, and why it’s so loved. Use this knowledge to hone your skills in the kitchen or to impress your friends with the history of Indian food!

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about one of our absolute favorite meals, both to serve and to eat, here at Sukhi’s. Browse our products to try some for yourself or look through our other blog posts to learn even more about the cuisine we’re so proud to offer!

Have more questions about chicken tikka masala? Let us know in the comments below or reach out to us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook!

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