Joy of Cooking’s Chicken Makhini Masala

Chicken Makhini Masala

This dish from the 2019 edition of Joy of Cooking is the precursor to the Anglo-Indian favorite chicken tikka masala, also known as butter chicken.


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The 2019 edition of Joy of Cooking is Kitchn’s December pick for our Cookbook ClubSee how you can participate here.

This dish, contributed by friend and gifted chef Kusuma Rao, is the precursor to the Anglo-Indian favorite chicken tikka masala, also known as butter chicken. All these dishes start with marinated and grilled chicken, which is then fortified with a creamy, rich tomato sauce. We recommend marinating and grilling a sufficiently large batch of chicken for two meals, then following up with this dish the next day. If you wish to make the recipe without an intermediate meal, marinate the chicken, then grill or roast it as you make the sauce. 

Chicken Makhini Masala

This dish from the 2019 edition of Joy of Cooking is the precursor to the Anglo-Indian favorite chicken tikka masala, also known as butter chicken.

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


For the chicken:

  • 2 pounds

    bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed

  • 1 teaspoon


  • 1 teaspoon

    Kashmiri chili powder or cayenne pepper

  • Finely grated zest of 1 1/2 lemons

  • 3 tablespoons

    freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1/4 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

  • 1 tablespoon

    dried fenugreek leaves, ground or finely crumbled with your fingers

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    garam masala

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    ground turmeric

For the masala:

  • 2 tablespoons

    vegetable oil

  • 3

    whole cloves

  • 1

    cinnamon stick

  • 1

    bay leaf

  • 3

    cardamom pods

  • 1 teaspoon

    cumin seeds

  • 1

    large onion, finely diced

  • 1 teaspoon

    salt, divided

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground turmeric

  • 6 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • 1 (2-inch) piece

    ginger, peeled and minced, or 1/3 cup prepared ginger-garlic paste

  • 1 pound

    plum or Roma tomatoes, chopped, or 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes

  • 1 to 3

    serrano or jalapeño peppers, to taste, minced

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground coriander

  • 2 teaspoons

    ground fennel

  • 2 teaspoons

    ground cumin

  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper, to taste

  • 1/3 cup


  • 1 teaspoon

    garam masala

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground dried fenugreek leaves (optional)

  • 3 tablespoons


  • Up to 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

  • Naan or cooked jasmine or basmati rice, for serving


  1. Make the chicken: Place the chicken in a large bowl and sprinkle evenly with the salt. Add the Kashmiri chili powder or cayenne, lemon zest, and lemon juice, and toss to combine. Add the yogurt, fenugreek, garam masala, and turmeric, and toss to combine.

  2. Cover and marinate, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

  3. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 425ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

  4. Use your fingers to wipe off the excess marinade on the chicken back into the bowl, then transfer the chicken to the baking sheet in a single layer.

  5. Roast until the internal temperature of the chicken registers 170°F, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a clean cutting board. When cool enough to handle, cut off the bone into bite-sized pieces.

  6. Make the masala: Heat the vegetable oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and cardamom pods, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. Add the cumin seeds and cook until starting to sizzle and just beginning to brown. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and sauté until very well browned (this can take up to 20 minutes).

  7. Add the turmeric and cook, stirring, for 20 seconds. Add garlic and ginger (or ginger-garlic paste) and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, serrano peppers, ground coriander, ground fennel, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.

  8. Cook, scraping the skillet frequently, until the tomatoes are completely broken down and the mixture forms a paste, 10 to 15 minutes. (If time allows, add 1/2 cup water and allow the mixture to simmer, reduce, and become a thick paste again.) If desired, for a very smooth masala, discard the cinnamon and bay leaf and transfer the paste to a blender. Purée until smooth.

  9. If the sauce was blended, scrape it back into the skillet. Stir in the water. Bring the mixture to a simmer and add the garam masala and ground fenugreek if using. Simmer for 10 minutes, adding a little water as needed and scraping the bottom of the skillet constantly to keep it from burning.

  10. Add the cooked chicken along with the butter. Stir to combine and simmer for another few minutes. If desired, thin out with heavy cream. Taste and season with more salt as needed. Serve with cooked rice or naan.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 days.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Joy of Cooking 2019 Edition Fully Revised and Updated by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker, John Becker and Megan Scott, Scribner 2019.