Chicken Tikka Masala: The Story Behind Britain’s National Dish
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Chicken Tikka Masala is the national dish of Britain and is loved by millions of people across the world who relish it without knowing who to thank for inventing it. Chicken Tikka Masala’s origins are a bit of a mystery. It has been attributed to various regions across India, and each has their own recipe for it. It is predominantly an Indian dish, but it is also popular in other Asian countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Chicken tikka masala has been described as a dish of marinated boneless chicken pieces cooked in a tandoor and served in a richly spiced tomato-cream sauce. It's not surprising, then, that some of the world's best chefs have developed recipes based on this humble dish. Here is everything you ever wanted to know about this delectable dish, from its history to how to cook it at home.

Who invented Chicken Tikka?

Recently, there was an announcement by Shish Mahal at Glasgow that Ali Ahmed Aslam, the chef who invented Chicken Tikka Masala, had died at age 77. He was the founder of Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow, and this news brought sadness to the hearts of many.

Aslam had claimed in an interview in 2009 that he invented the dish in the 1970s in his Glasgow restaurant after a customer complained about the chicken gravy being too dry. Chicken tikka masala has grown in popularity since then, and it is now a standard in Curry Mile restaurants.

A stomach ulcer led to the invention of Chicken Tikka Masala.

During an episode of the British TV cooking program, Hairy Bikers, in 2013, Asif Ali, Ahmed’s son, provided more information about his father’s accidental creation. According to Ali, his father was suffering from an ulcer and was having tomato soup when he heard that a customer was dissatisfied with the chicken curry’s dryness. So, he simply added a portion of tomato soup to the chicken gravy and topped it with cream, and voila, chicken tikka masala was invented!

Chicken Tikka was created in Mughal Emperor Babur's Royal Kitchens.

But another theory has been floating, according to Ashutosh Bisht, the manager of Bombay Dreams in Hong Kong, who credits the tandoor style of cooking boneless chicken to the royal kitchens of Mughal Emperor Babur. He said that as Babur was afraid of choking and dying on the bones of the chicken, he asked his cooks to debone the meat and cook it in the tandoor.

In 2009, Labour MP Mohammad Sarwar backed Ahmed’s role in creating this iconic dish and wanted to recognize Glasgow as the birthplace of chicken tikka masala. The motion requested the Parliament to pass a resolution in this favor, so that Ahmed could submit an application for a trademark. However, the motion was denied due to legal and operational issues.

Regardless of how you look at the serpentine culinary history of the much-loved dish, Ahmed was definitely one of the biggest contributors among south Asian cooks who understood the British palate and used their knowledge of ingredients and masalas to keep creating countless variations of curries for the westerners.

How to Make Chicken Tikka Masala at Home

To make Chicken Tikka Masala at home, you need the following ingredients:

For the chicken marinade

    1 kg of boneless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces.

    2 tablespoons minced garlic

    2 tablespoons chopped ginger

    1 cup of yogurt

    1 tablespoon garam masala

    1 teaspoon of turmeric

    1 teaspoon ground cumin

    1 teaspoon red chili powder

    Salt to taste

To make the gravy

    2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

    2 tablespoons of butter

    2 onions, diced finely

    2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic 

    2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped

    500 g of tomato puree

    1 cup heavy cream

    1 teaspoon brown sugar

    2 teaspoons of red chili powder

    2 tablespoons garam masala

    2 teaspoons ground cumin

    1 teaspoon turmeric powder

    1 teaspoon ground coriander

    Salt to taste

    1/2 cup water

    A bunch of fresh-cut coriander leaves for garnishing


1.    Marinate the chicken with the ingredients for marinade and allow it to rest for an hour in the fridge. 

2.    Add the oil to a skillet on medium-high heat and add the marinated chicken pieces; fry for a few minutes, until brown. Keep aside. 

3.    Add the onions to a pan and fry in oil till soft. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 2 minutes.

4.    Now add garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and coriander and fry for a minute.

5.    Add the tomato puree, chili powders, and salt and simmer for 10–15 minutes, until the sauce thickens and takes on a reddish-brown color.

6.    Add the cream, sugar, and chicken to the pan and cook for an additional 10 minutes, till the gravy is thick.

7.    Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with naan or rice.