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Chicken Tikka Masala | by djwtwo
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Chicken Tikka Masala

Dinner tonight: home-made Chicken TIkka Masala, an Indian-by-way-of-England dish that is essentially a mild curry in a tomato and cream sauce. I use a recipe from the folks at America's Test Kitchen for this, with a few minor tweaks, since the heat level in the base recipe is pretty good for my wife (who picked up a taste for this on a trip we took to London), but can be amped up a bit pretty easily.


I don't usually shoot a lot of savory dishes, and I'm rarely happy with what I have shot, but I think this one turned out well. I find most savory stuff harder to style, since I'm usually cooking it to eat it, and don't want to play some of the food styling tricks one might play if it's not destined for dinner. For the same reason, I only ever get a few shots in, since I want it hot when it's served. When I've had success, it's because I've staged the shot in advance and mostly dialed in lighting and composition with stand-ins, which I did here.


Nikon D7000 w/Nikkor 18-200mm @ 120mm, 1/250s @ ƒ/8, ISO100. Single SB-700 camera left in 43" octabox, 1/2 power, 85mm zoom; white reflector camera right. Post processing in Aperture.




2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts (or a mix of breasts and thighs)


For the dry rub


1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. garam masala

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper


For the yogurt marinade


1 c. plain whole milk Greek-style yogurt

3 cloves minced garlic

1 tbl. freshly grated ginger

2 tbl. vegetable oil


For the sauce


1 medium onion, diced small

3-4 tbl. vegetable oil

3 cloves minced garlic

1 tbl. freshly grated ginger

1-2 Serrano chiles, seeds and ribs removed, diced fine

1 tbl. garam masala

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tbl. tomato paste

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 tbl. sugar

2/3 c. heavy cream

1/4 c. chopped cilantro




Combine the dry rub ingredients, and rub well into the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the yogurt marinade in a separate bowl, and set aside.


In a large pot (I use an enameled cast iron dutch oven) heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, and cook until softened and starting to brown, 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, chiles, garam masala, salt, and tomato paste, and cook for just a minute or two until very fragrant. Add the tomatoes and sugar, bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer 15-20 minutes.


While the sauce is simmering, start the chicken. Dredge the chicken pieces in the yogurt marinade; you'll want a thick coating. Cook the chicken, either on a wire rack in sheet pan lined with foil under a broiler, or on a hot grill, until the outside of the chicken is starting to get some nice char and the interior reaches 160°F. This will take anywhere from 8 to 20 minutes, depending on your setup. Allow the chicken to rest 5 minutes after removing it from the heat.


Finish the sauce by stirring in the heavy cream and bringing just back to a simmer. Add the cilantro and remove from the heat. Cover to keep it warm until the chicken is ready.


Cut the chicken into 1" pieces, stir into the sauce, and serve over basmati rice.


When I'm feeding the guys and not the wife and kids, I up the heat a bit by increasing the cayenne in the dry rub, adding an extra Serrano or two, and leaving the seeds and ribs in the chiles. The dish is supposed to be fairly mild as curries go, so I try not to go overboard, but I do like a bit more heat in the dish than the original recipe called for.

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Taken on January 5, 2013