chicken tikka masala

chicken tikka masala

This chicken tikka masala recipe is inspired by one of my favorite Bay Area restaurants, Zareen. A quaint hole in the wall just steps from Google’s main campus, Zareen is a Bay Area treasure serving quality Pakistani and India fare. Despite Google’s generous perk of free meals for employees, Zareen is always bustling with hungry engineers cheerfully parting with their money.

One taste of their chicken tikka masala and we understood why folks left free food to wait in line and pay for something so close to campus.

Tender pieces of marinated chicken thighs are grilled to perfection, with little smoky bits that are charred from the fire. Their tomato cream sauce has the perfect balance of fragrant spices and heat from chili peppers. We couldn’t stop dunking pieces of their warm naan into that sauce!

I usually prefer to eat meals at home but when we discovered Zareen’s chicken tikka masala we went back week after week for months! That dish became part of a new date night tradition. Every Wednesday we would share an order of the creamy chicken dish while happily sitting at picnic tables outside the tiny restaurant. We would then enjoy a movie at the theater that shared a parking lot with Zareen. A simple, fun date night filled with laughs and good food…exactly what we like!

I tried several times to replicate the delicately balanced chicken tikka masala at Zareen and this recipe comes really, really close! I marinade chicken thighs in buttermilk and spices. This keeps the meat juicy and tender while the milk solids char nicely under the broiler, imitating the effects of outdoor grilling. The tomato sauce is simmered over low heat to sweeten the flavors and marry the ginger, garlic, and spices together. A splash of heavy cream brings the sauce together and balances the heat from chili flakes.

This is a great weekend dish for your family or for company. Save this to your dinner boards on Pinterest and enjoy a taste of an amazing Silicon Valley restaurant!

chicken tikka masala recipe
The best gift for the special cook in your life! I use my Le Crueset dutch oven ALL the time!
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chicken tikka masala recipe

chicken tikka masala

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 2 reviews

  • Author: Sepideh Esmaili Campos


Broiler charred chicken thighs in a creamy, spicy tomato sauce. 

Revised on September 17, 2021 to make the chopping easier and the end result more tasty! 


  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • Kosher salt 
  • 2 inches fresh ginger, peeled, chopped into a few large chunks
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 Tablespoon ground coriander 
  • 2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 pounds chicken thighs, boneless, skinless 
  • 3 Tablespoons ghee (or canola oil)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1.5 – 2 teaspoons dried red chili flakes (based on your heat tolerance)
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1, 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
  • 1 ¼ cups heavy cream 
  • ¾ cups low sodium chicken broth 
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped 


  1. In a large bowl, combine the buttermilk and 1 teaspoon salt. 
  2. Place the ginger and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Note: if you have a small chopper or food processor, this is the time to use it. You can also mince the ginger and garlic by hand if you don’t have a food processor. 
  3. Add  ½ of the minced ginger and ½ of the minced garlic to the bowl of buttermilk. Set the rest of the ginger and garlic aside for the sauce. 
  4. In a small bowl, combine the garam masala, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon. 
  5. Add half of the spice mixture to the buttermilk. Stir the buttermilk to combine well. 
  6. Add the chicken to the buttermilk mixture, toss to combine well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a large plate and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight. 
  7. When you’re ready to cook the chicken, preheat the broiler. 
  8. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a baking rack inside the lined baking sheet. 
  9. Grease the baking rack with cooking spray and use tongs to transfer the chicken to the baking rack, letting excess marinade drip back into the bowl.
  10. Arrange a single layer of marinated chicken on top of the baking rack (use more than one baking sheet and rack set up or bake in batches if the chicken doesn’t fit in one layer)
  11. Place the chicken under the broiler until the chicken is “tandooried” and speckled with black roasted spots, 10-20 minutes depending on your oven. Set a timer and check the chicken every 10 minutes so it doesn’t scorch. 
  12. While the chicken is roasting, make the sauce. 
  13. Place the onion chunks in the food processor, pulse 10-15 times to finely dice the onion. You can also dice the onion by hand if you don’t have a food processor. 
  14. Heat the ghee in a large shallow dutch oven, or heavy bottomed sautée pan, over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. 
  15. Add the diced onion and 1 teaspoon salt to the oil, cook until the onions are translucent and soft, 5-8 minutes. If the bottom of the pan gets too dark at any point, add a splash of water and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Let the water evaporate completely. 
  16. Add the rest of the minced ginger and garlic to the pan, cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. 
  17. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the paste has turned dark brown, 3-5 minutes. 
  18. Add the rest of the spice mix along with the red pepper flakes to the onions and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. 
  19. Use a fork to remove the plum tomatoes from the can, leaving the sauce behind, and add the tomatoes to the onions along with ½ teaspoon salt. 
  20. Use a wooden spoon to break the tomatoes down into small pieces, cover the sautee pan, reduce the heat to low and cook the tomatoes for 30 minutes. Stir the sauce every 10 minutes to prevent scorching. Add splashes of water if necessary to prevent scorching. 
  21. Remove the blackened chicken from the oven and cut the thighs into 1 inch pieces. 
  22. Add the blackened chicken to the pan of tomatoes, along with the tomato juice that you left behind in the can to the chicken.
  23. Add the heavy cream and chicken broth to the pan, bring to a bubble and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Stir the sauce occasionally to prevent scorching. 
  24. Taste sauce and add more salt and red pepper flakes if necessary. Garnish with fresh cilantro and a drizzle of cream if desired. 
  25. Serve over cooked basmati rice alongside plain yogurt for a cooling treat. 


A few changes I’ve made the the original recipe: 

  • use a food processor to chop the garlic, ginger, and onions
  • roast the chicken on a baking rack to get more tandoori-like char on the surface
  • add low sodium chicken broth 
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  1. Super tasty, reminded us Zareen’s Chicken Tikka Masala. We added 1/2 Tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves at the end when adjusting salt and chili flakes.

    Thinking of blending before adding Chicken next time, to make it smoother and thicker, as it came out thinner than Zareen’s, but the flavor was amazing!

    Recipe is a keeper! Thank you Sepideh for reverse engineering this recipe!

    1. Hi Julia! I’m so glad you liked the recipe! I also like the blend the sauce sometimes for a less rustic finish. You can also use an immersion blender, if you have one, to blend the sauce smooth before adding the chicken.

      I’m excited to try the fenugreek addition you mentioned! Take care 🙂

  2. Excited to try this!! We LOVE us some Zareens. We live in Nor Cal closer to Oregon so we only get to enjoy when we are driving home from visiting family in SoCal. 🥹

    1. Awesome, Maddie! I hope you enjoy the recipe and that it helps you bridge the gap between visits to Zareen 🙂 We no longer live in the Bay Area so this has been my go-to when I’m missing a taste of Zareen in NYC

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