Chicken masala is a classic Indian dish that is loved by many. In generic Indian lingo, it simply means chicken cooked with spices. In this particular recipe, the chicken is cooked in a spicy onion-tomato masala base.
Chicken masala can be found in many different variations across the country. Some regions may use different spices or cooking methods, but the dish typically features a rich and flavorful sauce that is made with a blend of aromatic spices. While there is no single authentic way of making it, my recipe here is one of the most common and loved home-style masala chicken.
To make the base masala curry, onions and tomatoes are cooked down with a blend of aromatic spices. Once the masala is prepared, the chicken is sauteed in the masala and then simmered until it is cooked through. The result is tender chicken pieces coated in a thick, flavorful masala sauce that is both delicious and aromatic.
This is a very basic recipe that uses staple Indian spices. It does not use any cream, cashews, or other fancy ingredients, making it a simple and easy-to-make recipe that can be whipped up with very little effort.
Unlike the chicken masala that you find in restaurants, this recipe is a home-style dry chicken masala that is typically prepared in Indian households. It is a simple and comforting dish that is perfect for a weeknight dinner or for feeding a crowd.
Why you will love this recipe?
- Easy to make: This dry masala chicken recipe is simple and easy to follow, making it a great option for a weeknight dinner or for entertaining a crowd. It requires only basic ingredients that are readily available in most kitchens.
- Spicy, flavorful, and delicious: This recipe uses a blend of aromatic spices which give the dish a complex and delicious flavor. The chicken is cooked in a spicy onion-tomato masala base that is rich and flavorful. The sauce has a thick texture that coats the chicken pieces and adds depth and richness to the dish.
- Meal prep friendly: This dish is a great meal prep option as it keeps well in the refrigerator or freezer and can be reheated easily for quick and easy meals throughout the week.
- Crowd-pleasing: Masala chicken dry curry is a popular dish that is a great option for entertaining guests or bringing to a potluck.
My version of chicken masala
My version of masala chicken is a simple and delicious dish that is easy to customize to your taste preferences. Whether you prefer a dry or curry-style dish, and whether you like your chicken masala spicier or milder, this recipe is a great way to enjoy the flavors of Indian cuisine from the comfort of your own home.
- I make chicken masala semi-dry which is full of flavor. To make it dry, I allow the moisture to evaporate while cooking, but if I want a curry-style dish, I add more water and let it simmer.
- The only whole spice I use is cumin seeds as I prefer to keep it simple. However, if you prefer, you can use more whole spices to enhance the flavor further. Cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and green cardamoms are great options.
- I also use very little oil compared to a typical restaurant-style chicken masala recipe. This results in a healthier dish that still has a delicious and aromatic taste.
- I don't marinate the chicken for this recipe, but depending on your personal preference, you can do a brief marination to infuse the chicken with even more flavor.
Ingredients to make chicken masala
Chicken: I am using boneless skinless chicken thighs for this recipe.
Aromatics: We need onion, garlic, and ginger. Both red onions and yellow onions can be used for this easy chicken masala recipe.
Tomatoes: I am using fresh tomatoes as well as tomato paste. Tomato paste helps add a rich red hue to this chicken masala curry.
Spices: Cumin seeds, ground coriander, turmeric, red chili powder (or cayenne), and garam masala.
Yogurt: Whisked plain yogurt adds depth and body to the curry sauce.
Here are some easy ingredient substitutes you can do in this recipe:
- Fresh tomatoes can be replaced with tomato puree (tomato sauce).
- You can also use Greek yogurt instead of plain for a creamier texture.
- Make it spicier by adding green chilies along with red chili powder.
- I have used only whole cumin; however, you can add cumin powder too along with other powdered spices. For this recipe, you will need one teaspoon of ground cumin.
- Fresh ginger and garlic can be replaced by ginger-garlic paste.
Step 1: Heat ghee or olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and fry until they being to sizzle. Add the chopped onions and saute on medium-high heat until they turn golden brown (images 1 and 2).
Step 2: Add the minced garlic and grated ginger. Saute for one more minute (images 3 and 4).
Step 3: Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Also, add the salt and powdered spices (coriander powder, turmeric powder, and red chili powder). Mix well and let the tomatoes and spices cook until the oil beings to separate. This will take 7-8 minutes (images 5 and 6).
Step 4: Add the chicken and mix well with the onion-tomato masala. Saute on medium heat for 3-4 minutes (images 7 and 8).
Step 5: Add ½ cup of water. Reduce the heat and cook covered on medium-low heat until the chicken is tender and cooked through - about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally (images 9 and 10).
Step 6: Once the chicken is cooked, add the whisked yogurt and mix well. Simmer for 2 minutes, until the curry sauce thickens (image 11).
Step 7: Turn off the heat. Garnish with fresh cilantro (image 12).
Alternate cooking method
Instant Pot: Use the saute mode of Instant Pot and make the onion-tomato masala sauce as per this recipe. Add the chicken and saute in the masala for 5 minutes. Secure the lid of the pressure cooker and then pressure cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, then manually release any remaining pressure.
Slow Cooker: Make the onion-tomato masala sauce on the stovetop as per this recipe. Place the chicken and masala sauce in a slow cooker and cook on low heat for 6-8 hours, or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.
In this recipe, I am using boneless, skinless chicken thigh pieces. You can also use bone-in chicken thighs or chicken breasts. Alternatively, use whole chicken cut into even pieces. Make sure you adjust the cooking time according to the cut of the chicken.
Cut the chicken into even, bite-sized pieces. This will help ensure that all pieces of chicken cook evenly and thoroughly.
Whisk the yogurt thoroughly to ensure that there are no lumps present. If there are any lumps in the yogurt, it could cause the curry sauce to curdle and ruin the texture of the final dish. You can also blend the yogurt for a few seconds to ensure it is smooth.
Adjust the amount of spice you add based on your personal preferences. If you like your chicken masala spicier, add more red chili powder or cayenne pepper.
Let the cooked dish rest for a few minutes before serving. This allows the flavors to meld together and ensures that the chicken is tender and juicy.
Drizzle some lemon juice or lime juice to add a slight tang to this masala chicken curry.
Chicken masala variations
Make it dairy-free: Skip the yogurt in this recipe and use coconut milk or coconut cream to make this dish dairy-free.
Paneer masala: Replace chicken with paneer to make a vegetarian alternative to this dish. Follow this paneer sabzi recipe as a guide.
Palak chicken masala: Add a cup of chopped spinach to the dish once the chicken is cooked to make a spinach chicken masala. The spinach adds a fresh, green flavor and also boosts the nutritional value of the dish.
Change the protein: Use lamb, goat, or beef to make lamb masala, goat masala, or beef masala. Adjust the cooking time according to the type and cut of the meat selected.
Turkey masala: Follow this recipe and use turkey to make delicious turkey masala. Keep in mind that turkey is a leaner meat than chicken, so it may dry out quicker. To prevent this, marinate the turkey in yogurt and spices before cooking it. Also, adjust the cooking time to ensure that the turkey is fully cooked but not overcooked.
Storing chicken masala properly is important to ensure that it stays fresh and safe to eat. Here are some tips on how to store it in the fridge and freezer:
Refrigerator storage: If you have leftover chicken masala, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. To reheat, simply warm it up in a saucepan or microwave, stirring occasionally until it is heated through.
Freezer storage: Freezing leftovers is a good option for long-term storage. Transfer it to an airtight container or freezer bag, making sure to leave some room for expansion. Label the container or bag with the date and freeze it for up to 3 months. When you're ready to eat it, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat it in a saucepan or microwave, stirring occasionally until heated through.
Serve with plain rice: Chicken masala pairs well with plain steamed basmati rice or red rice.
Serve with flavored rice: Saffron rice and jeera rice are some delicious side dish options for this dish.
Accompany with bread: Serve it with bread like naan, roti, or paratha.
Add a side of salad or raita: A side salad like kachumber or onion raita can add freshness and crunch to the meal.
Pair with a refreshing drink: A refreshing drink like sweet lassi or buttermilk can complement the spicy flavors of chicken masala.
More chicken recipes
Both these dishes are similar in some ways, but they are not exactly the same dish. Chicken masala is a broad term that refers to any dish in which chicken is cooked in a spiced tomato-based sauce. The spices used can vary from recipe to recipe and from region to region in India. Chicken tikka masala, on the other hand, is a specific dish that is said to have originated in the United Kingdom. It is made by marinating chicken in yogurt and spices, then grilling or roasting it before adding it to a creamy tomato-based sauce.
The terms "chicken masala" and "chicken curry" are often used interchangeably, but they can refer to slightly different dishes depending on the region and cooking style. In general, chicken masala is a dish that is dry or semi-dry, which means that it has a base sauce that is just coating the chicken. Chicken curry, on the other hand, is a more generic term that can refer to a wide variety of dishes that are made with chicken and a thinner curry sauce or gravy.
Adding an acidic agent (like lemon juice) or a small amount of sweetener (like sugar) can help you fix a salty curry sauce. Boiled potatoes are also a great addition to soak up the saltiness of a curry. Also, remember that serving it with plain rice can balance the saltiness of chicken masala.
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- 2 lbs boneless chicken thigh cut into 1-1½ inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 inch ginger grated
- 2 large tomatoes finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala powder
- ½-¾ teaspoon salt adjust as per taste
- ½ cup yogurt whisked
- 2 tablespoon cilantro chopped for garnish
- ½ cup water
- Heat ghee or oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and fry until they being to sizzle.
- Add the chopped onions and saute until they turn golden brown.
- Add the minced garlic and grated ginger. Saute for one more minute.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Also, add the salt and powdered spices (coriander powder, turmeric powder, and red chili powder).
- Mix well and let the tomatoes and spices cook until the oil beings to separate. This will take 5-6 minutes.
- Add the chicken and mix well with the onion-tomato masala. Saute on medium heat for 3-4 minutes.
- Add ½ cup water. Reduce the heat and cook covered on medium-low heat until the chicken is tender and cooked through - about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Once the chicken is cooked, add the whisked yogurt and garam masala. Mix well. and simmer for 4-5 minutes, until the curry sauce thickens.
- Turn off the heat. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve hot with rice or naan bread.
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