Most of you have probably heard of Chicken Tikka Masala, right? You sit down at the Indian restaurant mostly anywhere in the world and you’ll most likely see this delicious, creamy, tender dish on the menu. The chicken is infused with warming spice scented yogurt and it all sits in a supple, slightly sweet, tomato-ey sauce. This dish is a sure fire hit for most, whether you are familiar with the Indian cuisine or just trying it out for the first time. This recipe is our fun take on this classic, a “mashup” if you will. A guaranteed and fun way to make sure it’s always juicy and packed with that OG flavor.
Chicken Tikka Masala is one of those dishes that captures all the senses. From the aroma that floods your nose, to the bright orange color that catches your eye, to the nice warming spices that are counterbalanced with the tang of yogurt, and the bite of onion and cilantro. The dish is a bit of a mashup of some British muted flavors and the bright vibrant punchy flavors of India. The history of tikka is disputed. Some say it was created in Glasgow Scotland, others insisting that it was created in the Punjab region of Northwest India and still others saying it was a creation of Brick lane in East London. One thing we do know, we didn’t actually see it much in India! Most other countries have this marriage of tandoori chicken with a butter chicken style curry sauce and it was thought to give the Brits that Indian flare without too many chilies, or overpowering spices. Regardless, this is a dish that we love to make, eat, and put our own spin on…so we will let the food anthropologists figure all that out!
What is this mashup we keep talking about? The key to making this so tender, juicy and moist is to make the chicken into flavorful meatballs! Traditionally it is made with tandoori chicken, which is chunks of chicken cooked in a tandoori oven to give it a nice charred crunch on the outside. Our fun way of doing it came about when we were getting married. We were having a before-the-wedding party at our home for all our friends and family who came in from out of town (which was pretty much everyone because we were living in Colorado!) and wanted to think of something to serve that was packed with flavor but easy to eat and would be a hit for everyone and this hit all the marks! It was such a hit that they were gone just as quickly as they were served and that’s when we knew we had to keep this recipe in our pockets.
Since tikka isn’t really “authentic” Indian cuisine, we’re totally happy to flex our creative freedom to change this dish up a little. So, this chicken goes right through the grinder and we enrich the flavor even more by not just making plain chicken meatballs, but by adding in a ginger, garlic, cilantro and jalapeño paste and by adding tangy yogurt instead of milk. Not only will this kick up the flavor a million times, but, you can use these in South East Asian mash-up dishes too, like Thai Green Curry meatballs, in a Pad Thai instead of normal chicken breast, or in a crunchy Vietnamese baguette with fresh cilantro, pickled veggies and a nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) for a bahn mi. No matter what, we think you’ll love these tasty meatballs and all the flavor they pack!
Chicken Tikka Meatballs
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: about an hour
Ingredients for Meatballs
– 1.25 pounds ground chicken
– 1/2 cup yogurt (plain)
– 3/4 cup Panko/unseasoned breadcrumbs
– 1 small or 1/2 medium onion minced
– 2 large eggs
– 1 TB Garam Marsala or Madras Curry Powder
– 1 Tb of sea salt
– 1/2 tsp black pepper
Ingredients for Ginger/Garlic/Chili/Cilantro Paste
– 3” of fresh ginger, grated
– 3 garlic cloves, chopped
– 1 Jalapeño, Serrano or thai green chili, chopped (adjust to your spice level)
– 1/2 bunch cilantro, rough chopped
Ingredients for Tikka Sauce
– 2 Tb Ghee (clarified butter) or neutral oil
– 2 tsp Cumin seeds
– 1 large onion, diced
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 2 Tb of Garam masala
– 3 Tb of Madras Curry
– 1/2 tsp cayenne or Kashmiri chili powder (adjust this to your liking)
– 1 Tb sweet paprika
– 28 oz can tomato sauce
– 2 Tb tomato paste
– 1/2 cup ground toasted cashews or almonds (optional, but these really round out the flavor)
– 8 oz of whipping cream OR 1 cup plain full fat yogurt (make sure it is not vanilla!) OR Sour Cream
First up, let’s make the meatballs!
First things first, combine all of paste ingredients together in a food processor, and pulse until you get a nice smooth paste.
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, then fold in the yogurt, paste ingredients, spices and the breadcrumbs and stir this until it combines.
In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken meat, the minced onions, egg and yogurt mix from above. This is your basic mixture for the meatballs. Let this sit for about 10 minutes, this will help the breadcrumbs absorb liquid and firm up. *Note- if you are buying preground meat, the consistency may vary. Some mechanically separated meats will be more liquid, and may require additional breadcrumbs.*
Use a cookie scoop, our just eyeball about 1oz of the mix, and gently roll it into a ball. You want to be careful not to compact it too much, that will lead to them being dense, but you also want to form them enough that they look like meatballs.
Line the balls on a sheetpan, or plate and refrigerate until ready to use.
Now it is time to cook the meatballs as we like to par-cook our meatballs off first and finish the cooking in the sauce. Now, this may not be the status quo, but we like to drop our meatballs into the deep fryer! It forms a nice crust, cooks evenly, and will make all of the balls have a beautiful golden brown color. If you have a deep fryer, turn it on to 350, and drop 6-8 meatballs in at a time, fry them for about 3 minutes.
If you want to pan fry them, pour 3 Tb of neutral oil in a sauté pan, and turn the heat to medium. When the oil starts to ripple, carefully add your meatballs in, let them rest for a minute, then rotate, do this twice more for 3 total minutes of cooking time. If you’ve made them into 1oz balls, they should be about 80% cooked. If you’re making the sauce now, the balls are ok to hang out on a plate while you make the sauce. If not, these freeze great, or they can hang out, covered in your fridge. Just remember, these are partially cooked, so treat them like raw poultry.
Time to make the sauce!
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat your ghee/clarified butter over medium flame. First add in your cumin seeds. When they start to pop and snap, add in the other spices. We want to “toast” these spices to release their scent and flavor! Stir them around in the oil for 30 seconds or until the aroma starts to get intense.
Next up, add in the diced onions and garlic and stir in, you want the onion to be translucent, but also not burn the spices.
Next up, add in the tomato sauce and turn down the heat to medium low. Stir this around and then add in the tomato paste and stir to combine. You should have a lovely spiced tomato sauce now. Let this simmer away for 20 minutes so the flavors can marry. If you want that nice smooth velvety sauce, place the sauce in the blender with your yogurt/cream/sour cream. If you prefer a chunkier sauce, no need to blend, just stir in your diary instead. If you are adding the toasted nuts, now is the time. Blend this until it combines and turns into a velvety smooth sauce.
*PLEASE NOTE: If you’re blending hot sauce, you do not want to seal the blender with the top, you will want to use a towel to cover the blender vent hole. This will allow some steam to escape, if you do not do this, you risk a steam build up with an exploding top.*
As soon as the sauce is combined, drop in the meatballs as any juices that may have gathered on the plate. Let this heat through for 10 minutes on low heat. Make sure it is not boiling as that could cause curdling of the cream/yogurt.
Be sure to check your meatballs with an instaread thermometer, ensuring they reach 165 degrees F.
Serve over Basmati Rice, or stuff in some warm naan bread, or just serve as an appetizer. We hope you love our fun twist on Chicken Tikka Masala just as much as we do! Be sure to leave us a comment and let us know how it turned out!