Chicken Tikka Masala (Stovetop + Instant Pot)
Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala is the epitome of good Indian food! It starts with a simple marinade, and you can cook it entirely in the instant pot or on the stovetop! Serve with steamed basmati rice or my personal favorite, garlic naan!
This is the mic drop of all instant pot meals!
Chicken Tikka Masala in the instant pot is my go-to recipe when I want flavorful Indian food in a flash without putting in a ton of effort!
So after months of recipe testing, I’m pleased to be bringing this meal to the blog. I love serving homemade chicken tikka masala with basmati rice. But if I’m feeling extra indulgent, I’ll also make a batch of homemade garlic naan. This is the perfect meal to make when it’s cold out or when you want good comfort food that’ll warm your soul.
Initially, when I shared this recipe, it was just the instant pot version. I received a ton of requests for directions on how to make it on a stovetop, so I tested the recipe, and now you have instructions for both, and no excuses not to try it. I wouldn’t say one version is better than the other; they do taste about the same. It just depends on how much time you’ve got and whether you own an Instant Pot.
Meals that are easy on the cook are my favorite kind.
It’s been a while since I shared an Indian recipe on the blog. It’s not something we make too often around here, although I often find myself wondering why that is because we both tend to enjoy them so much. My homemade butter chicken was an instant hit when I shared it years ago, both at home and on the blog. It’s an authentic recipe that was previously used in an Indian restaurant many years ago, and to be honest, we love it so much that I wouldn’t make butter chicken any other way.
In recent years I’ve also shared a chana masala with you. It’s super yummy and works really well with a dollop of yogurt to cool off all that spice. It’s a recipe I love whipping up when we’re going meatless! And for those of you that prefer a little protein, like hubby, there’s shrimp masala too.
What is the difference between murgh makhani, butter chicken, and chicken tikka masala?
Okay, so first – murgh makhani and butter chicken are the same thing! Literally translated ‘murgh’ means chicken, and ‘makhani’ means butter. It always makes me crack up when I hear people arguing that a recipe tasted more like murgh makhani than butter chicken!
Now, let’s address the difference between murgh makhani/ butter chicken and chicken tikka masala. So as we know, butter chicken contains butter. This isn’t always in the form of butter as we know it. Sometimes, it’s in the way of clarified butter or ghee, which is what I prefer to use in my butter chicken recipe. Butter chicken is also a tad bit sweeter (because of either sugar or sauteed onions) and milder concerning spices than chicken tikka masala. Chicken tikka masala packs more of a punch when it comes to spices, and may or may not contain any butter. I reserve the ghee for my butter chicken and opt for oil when I’m making chicken tikka masala. However, ghee would work lovely in place of the oil in this recipe should you choose to use it.
What do you need to marinate the chicken tikka masala?
- Chicken: I prefer to use boneless, skinless chicken tenders or breasts for this recipe, but thighs will also work. Make sure to chop the chicken into 1-inch cubes, so they cook evenly. For those that like dark meat chicken, the thighs are a better option here as they’re more flavorful and more traditionally used.
- plain yogurt: used as a tenderizer in this recipe to marinate the chicken
- lemon juice: used as a tenderizer in this recipe to marinate the chicken
- grated ginger: an aromatic to help flavor the chicken
- grated garlic: an aromatic to help season the chicken
- seasonings: both ground white pepper and garam masala are used to flavor the chicken
What’s in the chicken tikka masala gravy?
- Olive oil: we’ll use it to brown the chicken before simmering the sauce. We do use a bit more oil in the stovetop version than the one for the instant pot.
- Tomato puree: yu want to use a tomato puree that doesn’t contain anything but pureed tomatoes. Italian passata works really well! You don’t want to use whole tomatoes, diced, or crushed here. If that’s all you’ve got on hand, you can still use them, just run them through the blender, so it’s a puree before adding them to the instant pot. It’s important to do this, so our cream sauce doesn’t have chunks of whole tomatoes in it at the end.
- Grated ginger + garlic: the heart and soul of Indian cuisine
- spices: we’re using a ton here! That’s what gives CTM that flavor. I’ve got ground cumin, coriander, paprika, garam masala, fenugreek leaves, ground turmeric, and cayenne pepper all going into this.
- Heavy cream: be sure to use heavy cream for this recipe. I’ve tested it with half and half as well, and though it does work, I find the heavy cream balances and mellows out the spices better because of the higher fat content.
An important note about the garam masala:
I’m giving a range when it comes to the garam masala that’s added to the tikka masala because I find that garam masala varies tremendously from brand to brand. Authentic Indian/Pakistani brands provide a more potent masala than a brand that isn’t known for spices from a specific cuisine – think the store’s brand or a brand that explicitly sells spices. If it’s not an Indian brand, you’ll need anywhere from 1 ½ – 2 teaspoons in the tikka masala.
At home, I use a homemade garam masala that my mom makes and keeps my pantry well-stocked. Her recipe uses whole spices that she measures and grinds. I find her homemade garam masala to be way more potent than the garam masala you find in most grocery stores but about the same as garam masala bought from an Indian/Pakistani store. If you’re using a traditional brand, you’ll need 1 – 1 ½ teaspoon of garam masala. If you’d like to make this even spicier, feel free to up it to 2 teaspoons!
How to make chicken tikka masala in your instant pot:
- Start by marinating the chicken; this is the same for the stovetop and instant pot.
- Sauté the chicken in the instant pot for 2 minutes
- add all the remaining ingredients (except the cream)
- Pressure cook CTM and then do a quick pressure release to not overcook the chicken
- add the cream and serve warm!
How do you suggest serving this?
I like serving chicken tikka masala with basmati rice that I usually just boil. Basmati rice is cooked differently than traditional rice and my recipe explains all of that in full detail! You could also make something like my chana masala, 30-minute brown lentil dal or palak paneer to serve alongside the chicken tikka masala.
Homemade naan or garlic naan are a must with this!
- 1 ½ pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (tenders or thighs), cut into 1-inch cubes
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
- 1 teaspoon EACH: grated ginger (or paste) AND garam masala
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 ½ teaspoon grated ginger (or paste)
- 8 cloves garlic, grated or minced
- 2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves
- 1 teaspoon EACH: ground cumin, ground coriander, smoked paprika, AND garam masala (see notes for garam masala)
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 (15-ounce) can passata (tomato sauce or puree)
- ½ cup heavy cream
- cooked basmati rice + naan + chopped cilantro, for serving
- MARINATE THE CHICKEN: In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, ginger paste, garlic paste, ground white pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and garam masala. Add the diced chicken and mix; set aside for at least 20 minutes. If you’ve got time, I suggest covering with plastic wrap and letting it hang out in the refrigerator for 1-10 hours.
- STOVE TOP: Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a large dutch oven or sauté pan. When heated, add the marinated chicken (along with the marinade) and let saute for 5-7 minutes so the chicken cooks through, stirring as needed to cook chicken evenly on all sides. Remove the cooked chicken to a bowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet along with the grated ginger and garlic and cook for 1-minute scraping and removing any stuck-on bits. Then, add all the spices (including the fenugreek leaves,) and give it 30 seconds before adding the passata. Season with ½ teaspoon of salt and allow the sauce to reach a simmer, once simmering, add ¼ cup of water, lower the heat to low and allow the sauce to continue cooking for 14-18 minutes. Then, add the chicken back into the pan, stir to combine.
- INSTANT POT: Select the sauté mode on your instant pot when it’s hot, add the oil followed by the marinated chicken (along with the marinade) and let sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring so nothing sticks to the bottom. Add all of the remaining ingredients for the sauce (except the cream) along with ½ teaspoon salt and stir everything well. Cover with the lid, make sure it is set to ‘seal’, and let cook on manual high pressure for 9 minutes. Use the quick release lever to release the steam as soon as the timer goes off.
- BOTH IP + STOVE: Hit the sauté button on the instant pot or just kick the heat up to medium on the stove and drizzle in the cream; stir to combine. When the tikka masala reaches a gentle simmer. Turn off the stove/IP and taste. Adjust with additional salt or garam masala as desired. Serve warm with naan and cooked basmati rice.
- For the garam masala in the gravy or tikka masala portion of the recipe, you’ll need 1-2 teaspoons based on the type of garam masala you used. For authentic Indian brands, you’ll want to start with 1 - 1 ½ teaspoon, for all other brands, I suggest using 1 ½ - 2 teaspoons. Keep in mind that you can always adjust with additional garam masala at the end if it isn’t spicy enough for you!