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Great chicken tikka masala starts with great tandoori chicken. We're talking chicken with a deeply charred, smoky crust, a tender, juicy texture, and deep flavor from its yogurt and spice-based marinade. Is it possible to get there without a 1,000°F coal-burning tandoor oven?
It wasn't easy, but we figured out how to replicate it on the grill by using an intense brine-marinade hybrid, keeping marination time to a minimum (to keep the meat from turning mushy), and by using smaller chickens or cornish game hens to ensure meat that is perfectly tender.
From there, putting together a flavorful sauce was a snap. We sautéed onions, garlic, and ginger until nearly blackened in spots before adding a homemade spice blend. Next we add tomatoes, cilantro, and heavy cream and let the whole sauce simmer before puréeing it and adding the grilled chicken.
One problem showed up: the chicken overcooked by the time it was done picking up flavor in the sauce. To solve this, we made sure to pull the chicken off the grill extra early to let it cook through as it slowly heat up in the sauce.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.