Cheeky’s tips for cooking your Tikka Masala recipe perfectly!

Tikka masala; the words alone conjure up such beautiful emotions. Its heat, spice, and swagger all seem to be summed up in that melodic sound. Images of green chillies simmering with ginger immediately spring to mind, and not soon after arrives visions of bubbling tomatoes spitting up spices in a tikka-masala sauce.

An authentic tikka masala sauce is not hard to achieve. It only takes love, some knowledge, and a little practice. The love I’m sure you already have, the knowledge we can give you here, and the practice is the fun part! So read on to see how to make tikka-masala better than at the restaurants:

1. Cumin seeds go in tikka masala first

Cumin seeds give so much of the flavour to a tikka-masala, and it is crucial that they are cooked correctly. This means adding them first, when the oil is just hot, and cooking on medium-high heat for a few moments until you see that they have begun to change colour and darken (see our guide here with pictures). If not cooked long enough, they don’t release their nutty aroma. If too long… well, best to chuck this in the bin and start over!

2. Ginger, garlic and green chillies lift your tikka masala

The next ingredient to enter the mix is always your garlic/chilli/ginger combo, perhaps with a bay leaf added for good measure. Adding these to the hot oil will prevent the cumin seeds from frying further and stop them from burning. Therefore we add the spices just as the cumin has reached the perfect point. Then let everything sizzle, remembering to take in deep whiffs of the many wonderful smells. Cook a few moments until the garlic or ginger just shows signs of browning.

Home grown fresh garlic cloves

3. Caramelise the onions good n’ proper for perfect tikka masala

At this point you need to pour in your onions. In a masala, each new ingredient serves to halt the frying of the ingredient before, and here the onion will now stop the ginger and garlic from burning. Turmeric must be added with the onion as this spice needs a good frying to remove its bitterness. Fry the onion on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for at least 10 minutes, and aim to have your onions caramelised and golden-brown before you dare add the tomatoes. This is the trick for how to make tikka masala correctly.

So please don’t rush this step! Only with completely cooked onions will you achieve a true, thick gravy-style tikka masala sauce.

4. In an authentic tikka masala recipe, fresh tomatoes work best

If possible, use fresh tomatoes that you have chopped yourself instead of tinned. Tinned tomatoes result in a more homogenous and bland tikka-masala, where as freshly chopped add both flavour and texture. Add these to the onions when they are truly browned, but not a moment before, as the acid from the tomatoes will stop the onions frying further.

5. Get good spices for your tikka masala

The most sage advice I’ve ever stumbled across was written upon a bag of basmati rice, it read ”to make good rice, you need good rice!” I have since come to believe the same could be said of so many things, and with Indian masala it’s no different; to spice your tikka-masala deliciously, well, you need delicious spices!

Garam masala is not used as commonly in India as it is in the west, while our garam masala is also much less sweet and lighter on the cinnamon. If you are making a chana masala (our recipe here) or another tikka masala recipe, you should venture to get these masala spices.

6. Do your prep first

Perfect tikka masala foremost requires an almost zen-like sense of connectedness to the frying pan. This cannot be achieved if you are hopping between the chopping-board and the pan, rapidly seeking to dice an onion, while simultaneously checking that the ginger hasn’t burned yet. Chop everything before-hand, arrange them into neat piles ready to be added when required. Simple.

Tikka Masala Recipe

This is a generic tikka masala recipe that can be used to make any kind of tikka masala sauce; eg chicken tikka masala, paneer tikka masala, tofu tikka masala etc. Using the tips above, cook this tikka masala sauce and then add in your chana, tofu, or chicken at the end and mix well.

Ingredients (for four people):

– 1 onion, diced
– 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
– 1-inch fresh ginger, finely chopped
– 2 Indian chillies, sliced
– 1 fresh tomatoes, diced
– A couple of bay leaves
– 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
– Half-teaspoon turmeric
– 2 teaspoons ground coriander
– 2 teaspoons garam masala/chana masala spice mix


Heat the oil on medium-high, and fry the cumin seeds until they change colour. Halt their cooking by adding garlic, chilli, bay leaves and ginger, and allow to cook or one minute (or until beginning to brown). Add the diced onions and turmeric, and stir continuously, cooking them for 15 minutes until they are good and caramelised. Add the diced tomatoes with the rest of the spices and allow to cook another 10 minutes or so until you have a rich and delectable gravy. At this point add in around 250g of your cooked paneer, chicken, chickpeas, or tofu and allow to simmer together for five minutes for the flavours to mix well.

Don’t forget to serve with plenty of Indian pickles and chutneys.

What do you think?

Tried to cook tikka masala before? Have you ever managed to get your tikka-masala perfect or authentic? Do you have  tikka masala recipe you would like to share? Follow this guide and tips, and let us know how your tikka masala sauce turns out in the comments below!

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