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FoodThe Croft2023

History of Food: The Chicken Tikka Masala

We are back with another History of Food Collaboration with The Bristorian. Food Editor, Saiba, explores how to recreate the Chicken Tikka and the Chicken Tikka Masala in a home kitchen.

By Saiba Haque, Food Editor

The Croft Magazine// The Croft Magazine (Food Section) and the Bristorian Magazine (University of Bristol's humanities magazine) are back with another special collaboration article.

This collaboration article focuses on the History of the Chicken Tikka Masala and how it's a transformation of the Chicken Tikka . The recreation of both historical and present day recipes are provided in this article. To read a historical rundown of how the Chicken Tikka Masala came to be, click here to reach the Bristorian Website.

Chicken Tikka Masala, the National dish of the UK (yes you heard that right!) is made with Grilled chicken meat that has been marinated in spices. The meat is then cooked into a mild (sometimes sweet) tomato-based sauce. The authentic origin of the beloved UK dish, Chicken Tikka Masala  would  be Chicken Tikka. To clarify, Chicken Tikka and Chicken Tikka Masala are not the same dish! In fact, chicken tikka is the original menu item which got transformed into chicken tikka masala upon consumer demand. For an insightful explanation of the origin of Chicken Tikka Masala, click here.

Chicken Tikka is one of the most famous grilled dishes in Indian menu. Not to be mistaken for the Chicken tikka masala, which is the “gravied” version of Chicken Tikka. This means that you can make chicken tikka and then turn/transform it into a chicken tikka masala.

Part 1: The Chicken Tikka

The chicken tikka is a grilled chicken dish. Tikka simply translates to piece or chunk; where the chicken pieces are marinated in spices and then grilled in a tandoor oven. Even though you may be used to seeing chicken tikka in its alarmingly red colour, it usually isn’t cooked that way in India (so not a single drop of food colouring is required, spices used are relied upon for the natural colour of the dish).

To yogurt or not to yogurt? Many may argue that chicken tikka does not use yogurt for its marinade along with the spices, and that it uses vegetable oil instead. Some argue that using yogurt in the marinade is completely okay, as it results in a more moist meat from grilling in high temperatures. For this recipe I choose to add yogurt to my marinade as I believe from testing that it results in a more moist meat. Although, if you don’t have yogurt you can definitely substitute for 1.5 teaspoons of vegetable oil instead.

Chicken Tikka is usually cooked in a large tandoor oven which renders the dish with smokey aroma and flavours. I also provide a DIY solution for you all to replicate that flavour in your home kitchen. In order to get to the finality of the chicken tikka masala you would have to first make the chicken tikka. So here's your recipe:


600g Chicken Thighs

1 tbsp garlic paste

1 tbsp ginger paste

2 tsp chilli powder

2 tsp cumin powder

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp coriander powder

1/2 a lime (for lime juice)

3 tbsp plain yogurt

2-3 tsp salt (up to preference)

3 tbsp ghee

6 wooden skewers

3-4 small lumps of coal + a bit of aluminium foil (optional)


  1. Chop up your chicken though into bite size pieces. Vegetarians are welcome to use Paneer instead.
  2. Add in all the listed spices, garlic and ginger paste, yogurt, lime juice and salt to a large mixing bowl with the diced chicken. Mix thoroughly with hands, cover and set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes. It can also be left overnight in the fridge.
  3. After the marination is done, an extra step you can do to replicate the similar smokey flavours and aroma in your kitchen is to make a small parcel out of aluminium foil, fill it with a few small pieces of black coal. drizzle in some melted butter or ghee and place it in the middle of the bowl of marinated chicken. then light up the coal  near a well ventilated area. Let the coal burn and then blow away the fire and cover the bowl with a pan lid. smoke from the coal will certainly make this dish closer to tasting like it’s fresh out  of a Tandoor oven and I use this technique a lot! (Shown in photos)
  4. Soak your wooden skewers in water for 10 minutes just so that they don’t burn off in the oven. Preheat the oven to 220’C or 250’C (Depending on what’s highest in your oven)
  5. Pierce in about 5-6 pieces of chicken into your skewers and aim to put the close to the middle (like shown in photos)
  6. Get a deep dish tray and line it with foil and then place the skewers in a way where all the meat is exposed (Like shown in photos). This will ensure very even and fast cooking as all parts are exposed to heat.
  7. Brush or drizzle a bit of ghee or melted butter on the chicken skewers. Place the tray on the highest shelf in your oven or the grill and let it cook for 15-20 min (depending on thickness of meat). You can turn them over once, but the world won'r end if you don't.

 8. You want to make sure it develops some charring. When it’s done cooking you can either serve this as an appetiser with some yogurt or Raita. You can also save some as leftovers for later to make Paratha or Kati Rolls, or even flavourful sandwiches.

 9. Alternatively, you can use this dish to transform it into Britain’s National Dish, The Chicken Tikka Masala. Make sure to save all the drippings or juice from the chicken tikka that was collected in the deep dish tray, it adds an extra depth of flavour to the gravy.

Part 2: The Chicken Tikka Masala

The Chicken Tikka Masala is the result of a transformation on the Chicken Tikka. The transformation takes place through a creamy tomato-based gravy. The dish is meant to be sweeter  than the usual curries, which makes me less inclined to order it at a restaurant. Personally, if I wanted to eat a mild tasting curry, I would opt for Murgh Makhni; which people would call Butter chicken. But I understand that many Brits may prefer the safer, milder and sweeter option in the menu that they are accustomed to!

For this recipe transformation, I add in a few extra  ingredients to make the dish more flavourful. But if you want the easy way out, you can just heat up some tomato passatta or canned chopped tomatoes and add in some chilli powder, turmeric powder, salt and sugar to it, along with double cream or yogurt, then that's up to you! But here's how you can elevate it for a flavourful and satisfying outcome:


2-3 tbsp of ghee or vegetable oil

1 large onion of choice

1 tsp cumin seeds

4-5 cloves

1 large bayleaf

2 cardamom pods

1/2 tbsp garlic paste

1/2 tbsp ginger paste

2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 can chopped tomatoes (canned)

250ml double cream (can add more if more mildness is preferred)

1-2 tsp sugar (or to taste)

Salt to taste

Drippings from the Chicken Tikka tray.


  1. In a pan or sauce-pan with medium-high heat add in some ghee or vegetable oil, add in your diced onion, cumin seeds, cloves, bayleaves and cardamom pods. Sauté for 2-3 min.
  2. Add in your ginger and garlic pastes and cute for another 2-3 min. (you can take out the bayleaf, cloves, and cardamom pods after this so that you don’t accidentally bite into them when eating.)
  3. Add in your chilli powder, turmeric powder and cumin powder. Fry up these spices well with the onions. Add in tomato paste, Sauté it more so the harsh tomato taste is cooked off.
  4. Deglaze the pan with the juices and drippings from the chicken tikka.
  5. Add in the chopped (canned) tomatoes or tomato passatta if you prefer more smoothness, mix everything in.
  6. Add in the double cream and salt and sugar to your taste. Let it simmer for 2-3 min and then add in your pieces of Chicken Tikka. Simmer for 4-5 more minutes on medium heat.
  7. Serve with either Paratha/Porota, Rice or Naan (we call it Naan, not Naan bread because Naan bread means “bread bread”).

For the historical rundown and details on the origins of the Chicken Tikka Masala, click here to visit the Bristorian Magazine site.

In Collaboration with The Bristorian

Featured Image by Saiba Haque

Do you prefer Chicken Tikka or Chicken Tikka Masala?