I made a "not so traditional" version of chicken tikka masala. But, then again I am not sure if there is anything that qualifies as a "traditional Indian tikka masala." In fact, chicken tikka masala was not even born in India.
Rumor has it that years back in the 1960s, a British gentleman stepped into an Indian restaurant and returned his order of chicken tikka, complaining that it was undercooked. Tired of his customer's rants, the chef opened a can of tomato soup, threw in some cream and cooked the tikka in the sauce. Ironically, the dish became so popular in England that in 2001, it was declared England's national dish.
Some Indian critics claim that it was born in the early 1500s when Babar, a Mughal emperor sick of choking on the bones of his tandoori chicken, asked his Punjabi cooks to remove all the bones. Cooks terrified of the angry emperor chopped off all the bones before throwing the chicken into the tandoor (clay oven). They cooked the chicken in spices and served it to the emperor.
Whatever be the story, I know that it is one of the most popular Indian dishes and the kind of chicken tikka masala a restaurant serves determines the quality of a restaurant and a chef in my book. This is a quicker and simpler version from a busy mom to some Indian food lovers and I have a feeling that you are going to like it!
*Note: This is a red pepper which is not very hot but gives a beautiful color. But, you can also use cayenne if you can't find it.
**Note: For the garlic and ginger pastes, peel and then pound in a mortar to a paste. Or, if you don't have a mortar and pestle, mince the garlic and ginger and then flatten with the side of your knife into a paste. If you don't feel like making your own, you can use store-bought.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, or, if using a grill, preheat the grill over medium-high heat and lightly oil the grate.
In a bowl, combine the yogurt and lemon juice and mix well. Add the cayenne, ginger and garlic pastes, coriander, garam masala, and red food coloring, if using. Season with salt, to taste, and mix well to combine. Add the chicken pieces to the marinade. Mix everything well. Cover the bowl and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Thread the chicken pieces onto skewers. (If grilling with wooden skewers, soak them in water before use.) Transfer the chicken to a baking dish or baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. Reserve any pan drippings for the sauce. (If using a grill, cook the chicken until the juices run clear and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.) Remove from heat and set aside.
Add the oil and garlic and ginger pastes to a heavy-bottomed pan and place over medium heat. Let the paste slowly cook as the oil heats up. When the oil is hot, add the coriander, ground fennel seed, black pepper, garam masala, and onion powder, if using, and stir.
Add the tomato purée and mix well to combine. Simmer until the sauce starts reducing and the excess water evaporates, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon. Season with salt, to taste.
Add the cooked chicken pieces along with the drippings (if cooked in an oven) and cream. Mix well to combine and simmer for 5-7 more minutes. Season with salt, to taste.
Remove from heat, cover with a lid, and let rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with some chopped cilantro and serve with naan, roti, or rice.