Broke Student Cooking: Chicken Tikka Masala

By Britannia Roskelly
By Britannia Roskelly
June 22, 2015

More often than not, students (and non-students) have to choose between getting a few extra hours of sleep or taking the time to cook a homemade meal.

With slow-cooked chicken tikka masala, you get both. If you don’t have a slow cooker, no worries - see below the slow cook instructions.

Slow Cooker Utensils:
  • Slow Cooker (medium or large size)
  • Sauté pan
  • Spatula
  • Pot with lid
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
Regular Pan Cooking Utensils (for those without a slow cooker):
  • Large pan or pot (not cast iron)
  • Baking sheet
  • Spatula
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Aluminum foil
  • 1 lb. boneless & skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 cups (diced) tomatoes, approximately 3 large ones
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 5 tablespoons garam masala
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 4 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 to 3 pinches cumin (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter, if cooking in pan
  • 5 cup coconut milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1 – 4 cups white rice (with 2 cups water for every 1 cup dry rice)
  • Fresh cilantro and/or green peas and carrots
Mise En Place:
  1. Dice chicken breasts into pieces at least 2 inches in length. Does not need to be too uniform or precise.
  2. Warm olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat.
  3. Place chicken pieces in pan. Do not cook chicken through – you’re just looking to sear the outside of the pieces so they don't become stringy in the slow cooker. Flip chicken pieces until outermost layer appears white and firm.
  4. Place chicken pieces into slow cooker (turned off at this point). Avoid adding leftover olive oil.
  5. Wash cutting board thoroughly with soap and warm water. Dry well with a clean towel before use. Also clean spatula. Or, if you have, use a fresh cutting board.
  6. Dice tomatoes, onion, garlic, and ginger. Do your best to cut the ginger into as small of pieces as possible (mincing). Place them in the slow cooker, still turned off.
  7. Add tomato paste, garam masala, turmeric, paprika, and salt into slow cooker. Add optional cayenne or cumin. Mix ingredients until chicken appears to be fully coated. Do not worry if the mixture looks a bit dry – the tomatoes will cook down to create a sauce.
  8. Clean all tools that you have used thus far.
Slow Cooking Instructions:
  1. Turn on slow cooker to “Low” and cover with lid. Set timer for 7 hours and 30 minutes. You can occasionally stir the pot every few hours, but it is not necessary.
  2. At the 7 hour and 30 minute mark, add coconut milk to pot and stir in. Add more garam masala or paprika if you want a deep, rich red color. Keep the cooker’s lid on.
  3. Put water into the unused pot that has an accompanying lid. Turn heat to high. Remember the ratio of two cups of water for every cup of dry rice. If rice is white, enriched long grain type rice, add rice to boiling water. Set burner to “simmer” or “low.” Cover pot with lid. Let sit on burner for 20 minutes and then remove from heat.
  4. If you are cooking peas and carrots, now is the time to reuse the sauté pan. Sauté over low heat in a little bit of butter with salt and pepper until the vegetables are heated through.
  5. Once the rice and vegetables are done, turn off slow cooker and spoon chicken tikka masala onto plate(s). Serve with white rice and (optional) cilantro, peas and carrots.
Regular Pan Cooking Instructions (for those without a slow cooker):
  1. Turn on oven’s broiler.
  2. Toss chicken pieces in olive oil and place on baking sheet that is covered in aluminum foil.
  3. Place chicken under broiler for about 5 minutes, depending on how large the pieces are. Flip and allow to broil for the same amount of time as the other side.
  4. Take baking sheet out of oven and turn off broiler. Chicken pieces can sit on sheet until you need them again.
  5. Place pan or pot over medium heat. Melt butter in pan.
  6. Add onions to pan. Stir constantly and cook until onion loses its color and is “soft” to the touch and easily torn apart.
  7. Add garlic and ginger in pan and stir for about a minute.
  8. Add all powdered spices, fresh diced tomatoes, and tomato paste to pan.
  9. Turn burner down to low. Stir pan for another 5 minutes, until sauce seems well combined and smells very good.
  10. Stir in coconut milk and chicken pieces. Cook in pan for a few minutes (less than 5).
  11. Turn off burner and remove pan from heat. Serve with white rice and (optional) cilantro, peas and carrots (see step #3 in slow cooking instructions).

This dish typically provides four to five servings, which means each serving costs $3.34. The total for this meal was $13.36, with consideration for the amount used from each ingredient’s total package. Many of the more uncommon spices can be bought in bulk at an extremely low price at the Food Co-op, Whole Foods, and Aqua Vita.

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