I love simplifying recipes and making them accessible for the average everyday American cook, with simple ingredients and simple prep, but I think went too far with the original version of this Slow Cooker Tikka Masala recipe. When I made it again recently I thought, “yeah, I can do better than this.” So I got back in the kitchen and started tweaking and testing. I’m happy to say that this new and improved version is richer, has more spices, a more complex flavor, and is far less “tomato-y.” But don’t worry, if you’re a fan of the original, there is a link to download the old version of the Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala below. ;)
Originally posted 12-13-2015, updated 9-13-18.
So what did I do to improve this chicken tikka masala recipe? A few very important things…
The spice mix: I beefed up the spice mix a bit to make the flavors more complex, adding some cumin, turmeric, and smoked paprika to give extra smoky flavor that mimics the fire licked flavor of traditional chicken tikka masala.
Searing: I decided to add an extra step to this process, which might seem fussy to some, but it totally changes the flavor. Searing the seasoned meat before it goes into the slow cooker adds a ton of flavor from the maillard reaction and from toasting the spices. Likewise, sautéing the onions also changes their flavor and soaks up any bits of spices and chicken flavor left over in the skillet. Do NOT skip this step. It goes fast, I promise.
Less Tomato Sauce: One of the most common criticisms of the old recipe is that it tasted way too tomato-y. Upon remaking the recipe, I agreed so I reduced the tomato sauce by half, and the result was PERFECT. 👍Good call, everyone!
And if you love the old recipe, click here to download the pdf.
Recipe Substitutions and Options:
Chicken: You can use chicken breast in place of the chicken thighs, although it tends to not be as tender or juicy. I suggest cutting it into cubes before seasoning with the spices to maximize the flavor.
Cream: You can use full-fat yogurt or full-fat coconut milk in place of the cream.
Tomato Sauce: Tomato sauce is a common product in the U.S., but I know it’s not readily available in other countries. The closest product would probably be passata. You may need to add a bit more salt at the end if using passata, as tomato sauce contains salt.
Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala
- 1.5 Tbsp garam masala ($0.45)
- 1/2 tsp cumin ($0.05)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric ($0.05)
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika ($0.05)
- 1/2 tsp salt ($0.02)
- 1/4 tsp cayenne (optional) ($0.02)
- Freshly cracked pepper ($0.02)
- 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs ($5.78)
- 1 Tbsp cooking oil ($0.04)
- 1 yellow onion, diced ($0.32)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced ($0.24)
- 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger ($0.11)
- 1 15oz. can tomato sauce ($0.50)
- 1/3 cup heavy cream ($0.32)
- 4 cups cooked rice ($0.70)
- 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro ($0.17)
- In a small bowl, combine the garam masala, cumin, turmeric, smoked paprika, salt, cayenne, and some freshly cracked pepper (about 10 cranks of a pepper mill). Sprinkle the spice mix over both sides of the chicken thighs, coating them liberally.
- Heat the cooking oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the seasoned chicken and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until well browned (the chicken does not need to be cooked through). Transfer the seared chicken to the slow cooker.
- Add the diced onion to the skillet and continue to cook until the onions are soft and slightly browned on the edges. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the onions to the slow cooker, then add 1/4 cup of water to the skillet and stir to dissolve the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Pour the water into the slow cooker.
- Add the minced garlic, grated ginger, and tomato sauce to the slow cooker with the chicken and onion. Briefly stir, then place the lid on top, and turn the slow cooker on. Cook on high for 3 hours or low for 6 hours.
- After 3 hours on high or 6 hours on low, the chicken should be fall-apart tender. Turn the slow cooker off, then add the heavy cream. Stir gently to combine the cream with the tomato sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt if needed.
- To serve, spoon the chicken and tomato sauce over cooked rice and top with fresh cilantro.
Scroll down for the step by step photos!
How to Make Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala – Step by Step Photos
Start by preparing the spice mix. In a small bowl, combine 1.5 Tbsp garam masala, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (leave out if you want it mild), and some freshly cracked pepper (about 10 cranks of a pepper mill).
Sprinkle the seasoning mix over both sides of 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Make sure they are liberally coated.
Heat 1 Tbsp cooking oil in a large skillet, over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the seasoned chicken, and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until well browned. The chicken does not need to be cooked through. Transfer the chicken to the slow cooker.
Add the diced onion to the hot skillet and sautée for a few minutes more, or just until the onions are soft and a little browned on the edges. The onions will pick up some of the spices left behind by the chicken, which is a good thing, but we want to get ALL the flavor left behind. So, transfer the onions to the slow cooker, remove the skillet from the heat, add 1/4 cup water, and stir to dissolve all the browned bits off the bottom of the skillet. Pour that water into the slow cooker.
Also add 3 cloves of minced garlic and about 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger to the slow cooker.
Finally, pour 15 oz. tomato sauce into the slow cooker and give everything a brief stir.
Close the slow cooker and cook on high for 3 hours or low for 6 hours.
The chicken should be fall-apart tender after cooking.
Add 1/3 cup heavy cream to the slow cooker and give everything a gentle stir.
Give the sauce a taste and add salt, if needed. Remember, salt can magnify flavors, sometimes adding just a pinch can be a game changer.
To serve your Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala, spoon over cooked rice and top with fresh cilantro. Or, serve with naan bread on the side. Creamy and delicious!!
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