I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in New Orleans. I love it there – it’s such a fun, friendly city. Between the fantastic food and music and the festive atmosphere, a trip to New Orleans always feels like a celebration. But this visit was extra special because I was there for my son’s graduation from Tulane University. Hooray for Alex!!! After a weekend in The Big Easy I felt inspired to cook something super tasty and special.  Chicken Tikka Masala – with its spicy, creamy, colorful, tender, tangy, exciting deliciousness – definitely fits the bill!

grilled marinated chicken

The magic of this dish comes from first marinating the chicken in yogurt to tenderize it.  Then it’s partially cooked on a very hot grill, for that “tandoor” flavor.  Of course you should use your tandoor oven, if you have one!


The chicken is then cut into bite-sized pieces and finished in a richly spiced, creamy tomato sauce.


The Tulane graduation ceremony was festive and wonderfully unconventional. The students marched out to the sounds of New Orleans jazz with “Just a Closer Walk With Three” played live by Dr. Michael White’s Original Liberty Brass Band.  The Keynote speaker was New Orleans-born, Jazz great – Wynton Marsalis. Holding his trumpet in his hand at the podium, he delivered a brilliant and powerful speech, punctuated with several trumpet solos.

What made the commencement all the more poignant was that it was a wave goodbye to Tulane’s beloved long-time president Cowen, who’s stepping down in July. Cowen is credited with rebuilding Tulane after Katrina and has since made community service a graduation requirement for all Tulane students.

A big part of the message at the commencement was to go out into the world and make a difference.  Here’s something Cowen said to the graduates that stuck with me:

“No one will ever remember you for what you did for yourself.  They will only remember you for what you did for others.”

Recipe type: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
Tender grilled chicken in a spicy creamy tomato sauce
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs or a combination (if using breasts, poke them a few times with a fork before marinating)
  • Marinade Ingredients
  • 2 cups plain whole milk yogurt (not the Greek kind)
  • 8-10 large garlic cloves, flattened and peeled (see here for how to flatten & peel garlic)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Sauce Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 5 large garlic cloves, crushed in a garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced or grated ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups tomato puree from a 28 ounce can (I recommend Organic or San Marzano for best flavor)
  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup half and half (you can use heavy cream if you want to splurge)
  • ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch chopped cilantro (about 1 cup)
  1. Marinate and Grill the Chicken Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 8 hours.
  2. Preheat your grill to high. Shake off excess marinade from the chicken and grill it for 5 minutes per side. Don't worry if it isn't fully cooked. It will continue to cook in the sauce. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes and then cut it into bite-sized cubes. Set it aside while you make the sauce.
  3. Make the Sauce Measure out all the spices for the sauce into a small bowl: coriander, cumin, paprika, chili powder, salt and cayenne pepper. Heat butter and oil in a heavy kettle or dutch oven over medium heat until hot. Add onions, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or so, until onions are tender and starting to brown. Add spices and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil. Lower to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes, uncovered. Add half & half, lemon juice, chicken cubes and half the cilantro. Simmer gently for 6-8 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in the rest of the cilantro. Serve with steamed basmati rice or naan.


  1. Betsy says

    Hi Lisa – what can we substitute for the dairy? Would you recommend coconut milk in this recipe? Or is there something else?

  2. says

    Hooray indeed for your son!!!!! That is a major accomplishment that highlights some strong personality traits. Most Excellent. Yes, it does sound like a rather unconventional graduation. Hooray for that too. Graduations frankly can be pretty dull, not matter how jazzed one might be for their own child. As to the recipe, I swooned. Lol and I also pinned it. Luscious!

  3. Chris Crooks says

    Deb and I made this dish on Monday. It was great. We are big Indian food fans and we always have trouble recreating Indian dishes on our own. this recipe actually came out tasting like it does in a good Indian restaurant, and it was easy to make. Served with some Basmati rice. On top of that, it actually tasted even better the next day when I had it as leftovers! Love this dish.

  4. Chris Crooks says

    I made this Sunday and added about 1/4 cup of coconut milk to the marinade and then about another 1/4 cup to the sauce. It added a nice, subtle sweet flavor. Just a suggestion.

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