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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:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Worker Bee! Nice recipe! Just got through making this and it was great! Thank you for sharing. I will definitely be making this again! I do have one question though. When the chicken was done from the oven, there seemed to be a large amount of liquid. I wasn’t sure whether to add it all to the sauce. I ended up adding about 2/3rds of it. Came out great, just curious.

    Thanks again!

    Joe wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  2. Indian food addict here–anxious to try this recipe but will have to cut in half d/t unlikelyhood of other takers and lack of freezer space.
    Rice addict, too–had farewell-for-awhile trip to favorite Indian buffet for lunch today; only to end up w/ a 2hr blood sugar of 369.
    Have done the cauliflower rice before w/o the food processor; once I cooked it lightly and then let it cool I was able to get it to a perfectly good texture just crumbling it w/ my fingers.

    shrimp4me wrote on November 1st, 2013
  3. Made this with the tomato paste and crushed tomatoes called for. Next time, I’d start with no tomato and add them in very gradually. For a family that isn’t accustomed to Indian food, maybe it works. But for me, I was disappointed with the odd combination of spaghetti tasting chicken chunks with a distracting Indian spice flavor. I absolutely love Indian food, but this version just didn’t do it at all for me. The tomato was very overpowering.

    T wrote on January 16th, 2014
  4. I made this tonight. It came out wonderfully. I noticed that I could have stopped with just what came out of the oven….that tasted wonderful. But I finished the recipe and loved it. I will make this often, I’m sure. Thanks so much!

    Maya wrote on January 21st, 2014
  5. Dear Sir,

    I made this with my husband today along with Against The Grain Cardamom Rice.


    Please devise a Primal Aloo Paratha and I will love you even more.


    victoria wrote on February 16th, 2014
  6. After spending a couple of hours making this, It ended with me eating a chicken curry that was very spicy (not in a good way) , lacked body and had a tomato taste but was too acidic. Perhaps the rave reviews here got my hopes got me excited but I don’t feel this is anywhere close to the taste of a Chicken Tikka Masala.

    Mark wrote on April 21st, 2014
  7. This question has been asked more than once, with no definitive answer. Do we add the liquid the chicken was cooked in to the sauce?

    Jennifer C. wrote on June 26th, 2014
    • I always add it because I think there wouldn’t be enough of that yummy sauce without it, it also kind of dilutes it a bit since it has a lot of tomato in it, and that tomato paste really thickens it up. Besides, that liquid is SO GOOD, I always leave a little behind just so I can eat it.

      Paulina wrote on December 4th, 2014
  8. Made this, it was good.

    Stephanie wrote on July 31st, 2014
  9. I made this tonight with some lamb! It was delicious! I didn’t want the lamb to dry out so i baked it for about 45-50 minutes. My fiancé said “I always feel so big and tired after eating this at indian restaurants, i wonder what the difference is” I think it’s the lack of naan bread lol

    I also added cauliflower to the sauce when it was cooking. Big hit in my house!

    Erin wrote on September 9th, 2014
  10. I’ve made this 3 times already and the first time I didn’t have ginger on hand. I bought some ginger because I really think it gives it a special kick, although it was still good without it. This is extremely good, and although it does take a while the max amount of time you’ll be waiting for stuff to cook is 1 hour and 30 minutes, and that’s if you don’t time stuff correctly. I find that putting the chicken in the oven and slicing the onions right after takes up a bit of time, I also pre-mix the spices for the sauce beforehand so I don’t have all my spices lying around. Once you put the onions in, and all the other ingredients, it’s 35 minutes left on the chicken, and by the time it bubbles enough to let it simmer it’s already 20 minutes left! Perfect! I always add the liquid of the chicken because that sauce could be eaten by itself, and I like to have lots of leftovers. I always have enough for one heaping plateful for myself, and one for my SO, then leftovers for the next 2 days or lunch + dinner for one day. It tastes absolutely amazing, I can’t get enough of it because it’s so good. Thank you so much for this recipe.

    Paulina wrote on December 4th, 2014
  11. I want to make this but use paneer instead of chicken (looking to add a few vegetarian meals to our repertoire). Would you recommend that we prepare the paneer (homemade) the same as the chicken? Would it cook in the sauce the same way? Maybe a longer marinating time? Any tips appreciated:)

    Leia wrote on January 23rd, 2015

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