Fail safe crowd pleaser: Chicken Tikka Masala

It was April 2015 and my brother was about to get married. I left my daughter and wife, who was in the hardest rotation of her medical training, to fly for 3 days to South Africa to be there. It was absolutely worth it on account of a lot of things. I have secretly always dreamed to be there the day my brother said his vows in front of the people he cares about. They both looked so happy. The only 2 things missing were 3 days flight away back in Canada. But I kept busy to dissociate how much I miss them.

This recipe definitely came to mind, as comfort food is one of three things that tames my mood from anything to happiness. I needed a boost, since the jet-lag and the longing for family wasn’t helping.

André, my about-to-be-wed brother, and two of his best friends, were all together at my parents’  home in Stellenbosch for the few days leading up to his wedding. We had a great time tasting wine and enjoying each other’s company. I wanted to contribute something special to the crowd, and in a way thank everyone for coming together for these few days despite also sacrificing their time in their busy lives much like I sacrificed being with my family in Canada.

The results were as predicted: Everyone loved the dish! It brought happiness and cheer all around the table and through the rest of the evening. What’s more, the wedding turned out a huge success. I got reunited with my wife and daughter a few days later. And sadly had to leave my other family members behind, albeit with bellies full of delicious curry! Enjoy.

This one is for you André.

Chicken Tikka Masala



For the chicken marinade:

  • 1 level teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 level teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 heaped teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
  • 2 heaped teaspoons garam masala
  • 3 lemons
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 6 heaped tablespoons natural yoghurt
  • 800 g skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 3 fresh green or yellow chillies

For the sauce:

  • 2 onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1–2 fresh red chillies
  • 30 g fresh coriander
  • olive oil
  • 1 level tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 level teaspoons turmeric
  • 6 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 2 x 400 g tins of plum tomatoes
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 2 x 400 g tins of light coconut milk


Put the cloves, cumin and 1 heaped teaspoon each of paprika and garam masala into a small pan and toast for 1 minute to bring them back to life, then tip into a large bowl. Finely grate in the zest of 1 lemon, squeeze in all its juice, crush in the garlic, peel and finely grate in the ginger, and add the yoghurt and 1 teaspoon of sea salt. Cut the chicken breasts into 5cm chunks, then massage all that flavour into the meat. Skewer up the chicken chunks, interspersing them with lemon wedges and chunks of green or yellow chilli, but don’t squash them together too much. Place on a tray, cover with clingfilm and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

For the sauce, peel the onions and garlic, then finely slice with the red chillies and coriander stalks (reserving the leaves for later). Put it all into a large casserole pan on a medium-high heat with a lug of oil and cook for around 20 minutes, or until golden, stirring regularly. Add the ground coriander, turmeric and remaining 1 heaped teaspoon each of paprika and garam masala. Cook for 2 minutes, then add and toast the almonds. Pour in the tomatoes, crumble in the stock cube and add 300ml of boiling water. Simmer for 5 minutes, then stir in the coconut milk. Simmer for a final 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, then season to perfection.

When you’re ready to cook the chicken, drizzle it with a little oil, then grill on a hot barbecue, in a screaming hot griddle pan or under a hot grill, turning until it’s very golden and gnarly on all sides. Slice the chicken off the skewers straight into the sauce, reserving the lemons. Simmer for 2 minutes while you use tongs to squeeze some jammy lemons over the curry, to taste. Swirl through some more yoghurt, sprinkle with the coriander leaves, and serve with parathas or fluffy basmati rice.




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