Tikka means bits, or pieces, and masala is a blend of spices.
So, what is chicken tikka masala, exactly? Chicken tikka masala is chicken tikka,* chunks of chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, that is then baked in a clay tandoor oven, and served in a creamy, spiced masala sauce. The sauce is usually creamy and orange-coloured, although the particulars of the recipe can vary from kitchen to kitchen, and family to family.
The Indian tandoor oven dates back thousands of years, and the practice of marinating chicken or other meats in yogurt and spices (chicken tikka) goes back pretty far as well. But the addition of the orange, creamy, spicy masala to the chicken tikka is, curiously, not an Indian creation, ancient or otherwise!
Food for thought. If Tikka Masala isn’t technically a traditional Indian dish, what is it, anyway? Where it actually originated is something of a mystery, and fodder for much debate.
The Food Detective’s Diary blog posits that ‘Chicken Tikka Masala’ originated in an Indian restaurant, in Glasgow, Scotland, that was run by Bangladeshi chefs. This jives with a widespread belief that Tikka Masala originated in Britain, perhaps in the post-independence wave of Indian immigration to the UK in the 1950s and 60s. Glasgow, Birmingham, and London all have competing claims to the “Originator of Tikka Masala” crown.
Others, like author Lizzie Collingham, insist that the dish *did* originate in British-controlled India, where local cooks had to “cool down” the hot spices of Chicken Tikka with a tomato-and-yogurt sauce, in order to satisfy the bland tastes of the colonizers. She says that this Anglicized version is what was exported back home to the British Isles.
The spices in our own Tikka Masala Blend ($5.50 for 1/2 Cup jar) have a rich, peppery taste, and a complex aroma. Use this blend of cumin, pepper, honey powder, salt, tomato powder, paprika, onion, sour cream powder, and other spices to make your own Indian-by-way-of-Scotland dishes at home.
Mix Tikka Masala Blend with yogurt to marinate chicken before you simmer on the stove, or use the spice blend alone as a dry rub for dishes you can bake in the oven or cook on the grill.
Where many traditional Indian dishes are spicy-hot, much drier and have more vegetables/potato than meat in them, Tikka Masala dishes are a little more meaty, more “saucy”, and the spices are a little more mellow.
A tomato and coriander sauce is common, but not required for Tikka Masala dishes. Make the sauce uniquely your own with your preferred amount of Tikka Masala Blend with additional tomatoes (or tomato powder), yogurt, heavy cream, or coconut cream and spices.
The flavor of Tikka Masala Blend is also a good match with lamb, fish, vegetable proteins like tofu, or with paneer [a sort of Indian cottage cheese].
For a selection of recipes that use AllSpice Tikka Masala Blend, follow this link.
*[Chicken tikka is not the same thing as Tikka Masala; it is another delicious dish, this one made with chicken which is cooked on skewers or a grill, after marinating in yogurt and spices.]