Easy Recipe for Chicken Tikka

Easy Recipe for Chicken Tikka

A little background on this easy recipe for Chicken Tikka.  When I started planning this blog I didn’t plan on cooking.  This was going to be a restaurant review blog, focusing on smaller “hole in the wall” restaurants.  One day I was at Ravi Kabob with a friend and made the comment, “If I could figure out this recipe, I’d eat this chicken every day.”  As the words came out of my mouth, I realized that the blog had to expand its scope.  I could tell the world about the greatness of Ravi Kabob, but unless they are in the Washington D.C. area, they’d never know what it tastes like.  At that point I decided, I’m going to figure out this recipe.  After multiple tries, I think I have something close.


One of my cooking commandments is to always use whole spices whenever possible.  You can use the pre-ground version of any of the spices in the recipe, but you’ll get more flavor out of the whole spices you toast and grind yourself.  Here is a tip, go to the international aisle, or better yet the international store to buy your whole spices.  You’ll generally get more spices for less money than you do from the regular spice aisle.

Toasting spices brings out their flavor, but they can burn if you don’t pay attention.  It only takes a couple of minutes, so don’t go anywhere.  This is not the time to try to multi-task.  When you smell the spices, they are done.  Let the spices cool on a plate for a couple of minutes and then grind them in a spice grinder (I use a cheap coffee grinder) or in a mortar and pestle.

Chicken Tikka is traditionally made without the skin.  I left the skin on, but I think I should have removed it.  The salt draws a lot of moisture out of the chicken, chilies, and cilantro, making the skin hard to crisp.  It’s not a big problem, but this is one of the few times where skinless chicken will be just as good, if not better, than skin on chicken.

Chicken Tikka is usually marinated with yogurt.  I tried it with the yogurt and without, and liked it better without.  The yogurt did add some tanginess that was nice, but I felt the spices flavored the chicken better without it.

This key to this recipe is the amount of time that you let the chicken marinate.  I whipped up the marinade on Friday night and cooked it for Sunday dinner.  Every bite of the chicken was spicy and flavorful.  This can be a weeknight meal, but it will be much better if you let it marinate overnight.

If you want your chicken to have that traditional bright red color you’ll need to add food coloring.  I personally didn’t feel the need, but while doing my research I saw recipes with as much as a tablespoon of red food coloring powder.   If the color matters to you use it if it doesn’t leave it out.  Honestly, if I had to do it again I’d probably use it.  It doesn’t add any flavor, but I think it would photograph better.

Easy Recipe for Chicken Tikka

Makes 6-8 servings
  • 2 lbs. chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, chopped
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon Chipotle chili powder (this is my secret ingredient.  It provides a smoky spiciness that works well with the cumin and coriander.  There is nothing less authentic than adding chipotle to a Pakistani dish, but it works.)
  • 2 serrano chilies finely chopped
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon of powdered red food coloring (optional)
  • ¼ canola oil


  1. In a small pan toast the cumin, coriander and black peppercorns over medium heat.   Once toasted, cool completely then grind into a powder.
  2. In a mortar and pestle, add about a ½ tsp of salt, the garlic, ginger, and the lemon zest. Pound the mixture until it is a homogenous paste.  Mash the paste together until the salt is dissolved, and there are no more chunks of garlic or ginger.   If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can do this on the smallest holes of a cheese grater.
  3. In a food processor add the garlic/ginger/lemon paste, the chilies, the spices (don’t forget the turmeric and chipotle powder), and the cilantro. Pulse until it forms a thick paste.  Add the food coloring if using. While the machine is running add a ¼ cup of canola oil to complete the marinade.  Use a spatula to make sure the marinade is loose enough to spread, if not add a little more oil.  If the marinade isn’t loose enough it won’t coat the chicken well.
  4. Salt the chicken on both sides and then add the marinade. Every piece of chicken needs to be completely coated with the marinade.  Put the chicken in the fridge and let it sit at least a few hours, but the longer it marinades the better it will taste.
  5. Light a full chimney of charcoal, but only put the coals on one side of your grill. You want a very hot fire, but the oil in the marinade will catch on fire if you cook directly over the flame.  Cook the chicken on the cooler side of the grill until 90% done.  Then move the chicken to the hot side to finish cooking on the hot side.  Keep an eye on it, you want a few good char marks but you don’t want it to burn.  Alternatively, if you don’t have access to a grill cook the chicken on a wire rack over a baking sheet at 450 degrees(The picture is taken from a batch cooked in the oven).

Did I use a tool that you don’t have?


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