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7 Apr

Primal Chicken Tikka Masala

There’s nothing better than successfully re-creating your favorite restaurant dish at home. Especially when your homemade Primal version tastes every bit as good as the less-healthy version on the restaurant menu. Mark’s Daily Apple reader Jillian McCabe spent years tweaking her Chicken Tikka Masala recipe so that it tasted just like the one served at her favorite Indian restaurant. When she and her husband Matt started the 21-Day Total Body Transformation, she found it surprisingly simple to turn the dish into Primal Chicken Tikka Masala. There’s no naan or rice served with her version (although you could serve it over steamed, grated cauliflower “rice”) and instead of cream or yogurt, she now uses coconut milk. “This dish will make your home smell divine,” says Jillian. And she’s right.

Chicken Tikka Masala is a staple in many Indian restaurants. Boneless chicken is typically marinated in spices and yogurt then baked, broiled or grilled and simmered in a creamy tomato sauce heavily laced with spices. The spices don’t necessarily make the dish spicy-hot, although they can. Jillian’s version doesn’t seem spicy at first, but a slow burn starts catching up with you by the end of the bowl.

This recipe is made in two steps. The chicken bakes in the oven while the sauce simmers on the stovetop, then the two are combined. If you’re tempted to start eating the chicken right when it comes out of the oven, it’s understandable. Incredibly moist, deeply flavorful and bathed in a shimmering coconut milk sauce, it could be a meal on its own. However, adding the chicken to the thick tomato-based sauce creates a bowl of rich, aromatic Chicken Tikka Masala that will have you coming back for more – which is fine, because this recipe makes a big batch. Plan to serve it to friends, or freeze some for another meal.

Chicken Ingredients:

  • 6-8 boneless/skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped (bottom stems cut off)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped or grated fresh ginger
  • Small pinch cayenne pepper (or more, for a spicier dish)
  • Generous pinch of salt (you can add more to the sauce later, if needed)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine all the ingredients in a large baking dish. (The spices can stain pans, so Jillian uses a disposable lasagna pan.)

Bake the chicken, covered, for 1 hour.

While the chicken is baking, make the sauce.

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced thinly
  • 6-ounces tomato paste (or less, for a less tomato-y sauce)
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 28-ounces canned/boxed crushed tomatoes in their juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (an Indian spice blend)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric


In a large, deep pan over medium heat sauté the onions in the olive and coconut oil until golden brown, about ten minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, mix well, and let simmer 20 minutes, stirring often.

When the chicken has finished baking, add it to the sauce on the stovetop. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Serve in bowls alone or over cauliflower rice.

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You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. Made this dish tonight, tastes really rich and creamy. A big hit, thanks for the recipe!

    Alex wrote on April 9th, 2012
  2. If you don’t have a food processor, try making the Cauliflower Rice with a potato masher after steaming. Dead easy.

    crunchycon wrote on April 10th, 2012
  3. This looks AMAZING!!!

    Chrissy wrote on April 10th, 2012
  4. Made this last night to rave reviews by my 14-year-old son. “Frickin’ delicious!” was his report. It is easy to throw together, too. I used a combo of chicken breast and thigh meat.

    Penny wrote on April 10th, 2012
  5. Wow. That’s all I can say as I slowly sip and and polish off bowl #2 of this recipe. Only thing excluded was the cilantro. I will definitely make this again. The only problem is… will it last so I can share it???

    Conor wrote on April 10th, 2012
  6. Nice recipe! Can’t wait to try this!

    Greg wrote on April 11th, 2012
  7. Yum! Anyone have a primal chicken korma recipe?

    Agi wrote on April 12th, 2012
  8. Here in India, Tikka is in fact referred to as ‘barbequed’ chicken bits. So if you had the chance to skewer those guys over some hot coal, the flavours would transform your dish. If not, you could put the skewers in the oven or microwave grill.
    Another indulgent addition to this dish is a dollop of butter!

    Carl wrote on April 12th, 2012
  9. Made this a couple nights ago. Delish! But it wasn’t quite as richly flavorful as the true Indian version and too watery. I’d advise:
    -double the spices in the sauce (turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, etc),
    -don’t add the water to sauce, and
    -marinate the chicken overnight before baking.

    Cauliflower was a much better ‘rice’ than I expected; it only lacked the absorption quality of rice, thus requiring me to spoon my watery sauce out. But too yummy to complain about small things!

    Toffler @WorldVitae wrote on April 12th, 2012
  10. Oh this is too funny! I just wrote a recipe for a Paleo/primal version of Chicken Tikka Masala last night. Great minds must think alike! I will have to try this one out and see how it compares!

    Stefanie wrote on April 12th, 2012
  11. This is in my oven/on my stove right now. My house smells so good I can’t even stand it!! I’ll probably burn my mouth trying to eat it as fast as possible 😉

    Carly wrote on April 13th, 2012
  12. This is a favorite recipe of ours! I served it over cabbage the other night and got great reviews :) (Sliced cabbage, cooked in butter and a little sea salt until wilted but still has a little crunch to it)

    Stephanie wrote on April 15th, 2012
  13. This is REALLY good. I didn’t need to serve it over anything. I added a little fenugreek powder to the chicken and to the sauce and that was super.

    Elissa wrote on April 16th, 2012
  14. My bf and I made this recipe last night. He ate it with rice, but I went strictly primal and loved it. Have plenty for leftovers and quite tasty, very much looking forward to lunch today.

    Lauren wrote on April 16th, 2012
  15. This recipe sounds delicious but it also sounds like it would take a LOT of ingredients that many people wouldn’t have lying around. Sounds really pricey for someone on a budget unless you already have all those spices..

    Colby wrote on April 17th, 2012
  16. Do you think I could set my oven to broil at 400 degrees instead of bake? The heating elements for the “bake” function currently aren’t working (but the broiler works).

    Mike wrote on April 17th, 2012
  17. This was sooo delicious!!! We ate the chicken and the sauce together with nothing else. I used my kitchen sissors to cut the chicken into bite sized pieces before I cooked it which worked really well. Next time I will chop the onions…didn’t like the long stringy onions. I had used my mandolin and sliced the onions whole. Even cutting the onion in half and then slicing it would have been better. Next time I will be making a cucumber yogurt sauce to go with it. This is definitely a keeper. I will be making this for family and friends.

    Anne wrote on April 18th, 2012
  18. Maybe with a side of sweet potato? I can’t wait to make this, it sounds wonderful. Thanks for all the hints and comments, it makes for easy cooking!

    Siobhan wrote on April 20th, 2012
  19. Just made this and tried a taste – FANTASTIC!

    I left the chicken in a little too long in the oven so the chicken didn’t have much sauce with it but this is great regardless. The spice has a GREAT kick to it and it tastes just like you’d get in an indian restaurant.

    The only thing I might change is I do love lots of veggies in my curry – so may add in broccoli, carrots, etc next time. Thanks for posting!

    Emma wrote on April 22nd, 2012
  20. Made it yesteday, and it’s hands down the best curry I’ve ever had!

    Stefan wrote on April 23rd, 2012
  21. Just tried this recipe out today and I liked parts of it – the chicken part was really good, but the sauce was way way too tomatoey. I’ve never noticed a tomato taste any time I’ve had this dish. It made a ton, and for once I am not looking forward to devouring my tikka masala leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

    Lindsey wrote on April 24th, 2012
  22. This looks like a great recipe. I have one question though. Is there much coconut flavor from the coconut milk? Don’t kill me :), but I really don’t like the flavor of coconut.

    Alternatively, would just using yogurt be okay?


    Kevin wrote on April 27th, 2012
    • Hi Kevin, There honestly is a bit of a coconut flavor. If you are a dairy eater, go with 2 cups of plain full fat Greek yogurt or 2 cups of full fat whipping cream in the marinade and then also in the sauce portion. So that would be 4 cups total you would need for the entire dish. Enjoy and let me know how it goes. 😉

      jillianmccabe wrote on April 27th, 2012
      • Thanks! Will be giving it a try and will let you know.

        Kevin wrote on April 29th, 2012
  23. Jillian, do you use freshly ground spices from whole or do you just use the powders in the jars? I’ve heard people swear by using the fresh/whole everything ( ), but that’s awesome if you can achieve the restaurant taste without it! Gotta try this.

    Michael B wrote on April 27th, 2012
    • Hi Michael, I use the dried ground spices in jars to achieve the taste in the recipe; I bet the fresh spices would be over-the-top amazing! What I do is buy my spices in bulk and then make little spice “kits” by measuring everything out – one for the marinade and one for the sauce. They make great gifts for friends when you add the recipe to them. :)

      jillianmccabe wrote on May 2nd, 2012
  24. Made this on Sunday and fed the family with it. It was awesome, with food like this my paleo journey should be a breeze!

    Simon wrote on April 30th, 2012
  25. How many does this feed?

    Conrad wrote on April 30th, 2012
    • I would say the recipe will feed 6 people comfortably with leftovers to spare. :)

      jillianmccabe wrote on May 2nd, 2012
      • Thanks :)

        Conrad wrote on May 7th, 2012
  26. Delicious Recipe! I Really love tikka masala! I’m so happy to have this recipe. Though, personally, I’ve avoided oily and healthy food . But using cauliflower rice is a good idea. And I definitely am a fan of recipes that make lots of leftovers!

    Macro Smith wrote on May 7th, 2012
  27. Wow,

    I made this the other day – though with chicken thighs – it’s fantastic – a new favorite and wicked leftover staple for us !!

    Thanks for posting !

    Sara wrote on May 8th, 2012
  28. I made this for dinner last night, and it was delicious! However, my Indian boyfriend laughed when I told him it’s chicken tikka masala, and said that it’s really not. But we both enjoyed it anyway!

    Rachel wrote on May 10th, 2012
  29. Made this yesterday. Had to improvise on the garam masala and just used curry powder with some clove and nutmeg. Definitely a keeper recipe!

    Rachel wrote on May 11th, 2012

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