Chicken Tikka Masala for Lovers

Originally published by theNewerYork, Nov. 2014

Chicken Tikka Masala for Lovers

Serves 2, with leftovers for 1 to eat at work while contemplating the previous night.


For the chicken*:

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs – breasts for John’s mother
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt – any plain yogurt will do
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced – jar stuff works fine
  • 1/2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger

*Skip this part if your date tells you at the last minute that he/she has gone vegetarian. Be grateful that you didn’t buy the expensive organic chicken that has been massaged and read to on a daily basis.

For the masala sauce:

  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced fine (about ¾ cups)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 small Serrano chili, minced – take the seeds out for John – too spicy!
  • 1/2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 Tbsp. garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 lb. peeled tomatoes with juice –14-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves – garnish


First, rinse and drain jasmine or basmati rice. Or, forget that you need to make rice because you are too busy trying to find the one black bra that doesn’t dig into your sides and leave marks. Give up, put on the pink push up bra that make you feel like your breasts are choking you.

If you should remember to make the rice shake a little coriander on the top along with a dash of olive oil and some sea salt. When it comes to a boil cover it with a lid and turn the heat down to low. Forget about the rice entirely until everything else is complete and the bottom has burned to the pot.

Yell, “Shit,” as you are combining the cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, salt, in a faded plastic Spiderman bowl that your son hasn’t used in years. Forget to wash the broiler pan and fail to let the chicken sit in the spice mixture for at least an hour because your ex was late picking up the kids and you were scrambling to put on mascara and flopping back and forth between that mini skirt you never wear and your favorite jeans. Wash the broiler pan; preheat the broiler to 500? even though it will make the small kitchen so hot that you have to keep checking to see if your deodorant is still working.

Stick the spice-coated chicken back in the fridge. Whisk the garlic, ginger, yogurt, and oil together and set it next to your phone on the counter. Double-check the ringer volume just in case your date calls to cancel. Read through the text messages you’ve exchanged and smile.

In your mother’s old Dutch oven heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion, cooking and stirring frequently for about ten minutes. Don’t set a timer, you’re no novice, you know what this is supposed to smell like. Add the garlic, ginger, chili, tomato paste, cayenne pepper, and garam masala. Cook, stirring frequently, until it smells a little like sex and sweat. Blush when you think about the last time you actually smelled sweat and sex. Check your armpits again. Add crushed tomato, sugar, and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about fifteen minutes.

Rub the sweat out of your eyes just before you remember the black eyeliner. Dash to the bathroom and wipe the whole mess off, then get back to the kitchen to pull the chicken out of the refrigerator.

As you use tongs to dip the chicken into the yogurt mixture, consider how much happier you would be in the jeans. Drop yogurt-drenched chicken on your shirt/skirt. Consider it a sign and as soon as you have the chicken in the oven, 6 inches away from the heating element, run into your room and throw on a clean shirt- not your favorite, but dependable enough — and your jeans.

Check your phone and see a text message from your ex reminding you that you were supposed to pack bathing suits for the kids and now he has to buy new ones. Roll your eyes at the next text asking if you are deliberately sabotaging him. Type out and delete a snarky response. Remember that you are recently resolved to taking the high road. Simply type, “I’m sorry.” Drain the half glass of wine that you weren’t going to drink before the date, but you’re a bit rattled and don’t want to be brittle and irritated like your ex called you in the divorce papers. Or maybe it was frigid. It doesn’t matter.

Stop screwing around, add the heavy cream to the sauce, stir, return to a simmer and then turn off the heat. Check the chicken- it should read 160? in the fattest parts and look a little charred. The recipe says ten to eighteen minutes, but you know you need exactly fifteen after making this at least once a month for the last ten years. Wonder if your ex noticed the telltale ingredients on the counter when he came in to be smug and wait for the kids to grab their backpacks.

When the doorbell rings set the broiler pan on the stovetop and swear as you burn your wrist on it. Smile as you open the door. Smile wider when your date says, “It smells amazing in here.”

Add the chicken to the sauce; pull the rice off the burner. Chop the cilantro with your dullest knife, the one your ex bought you for Mothers Day, smelling the tips of your fingers discreetly after you sprinkle it over the plates.

Brace yourself on the counter as your date kisses the back of your neck. Strip on the way to the couch.

After, eat the tikka masala cold, wearing nothing but his t-shirt.



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