Indian cuisine is renowned for its rich flavors. Among the many Indian dishes that many love are chicken tikka and chicken tandoori. But some people aren’t sure what the difference is between the two. So let’s pit chicken tikka versus chicken tandoori. Maybe you’ll learn which one is best for you.
Both tikka and tandoori involve cooking meats on skewers. The main difference is the cuts of meats used. Tikka uses small boneless pieces of meat. Tandoori uses large pieces. With Chicken Tikka, the chunks used are usually from the breast. With chicken tandoori, the whole chicken is on the skewer.
The other differences between chicken tikka and chicken tandoori are the ingredients. There can also be differences in cooking methods. Depending on your taste and/or skill, you might prefer one or the other.
Chicken Tikka and Chicken Tandoori: Quick History
Before we dive into the differences between chicken tikka and chicken tandoori, let’s go over the similarities. Both dishes originated from the Indian subcontinent. Hence, besides India, both are also popular in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
However, part of the roots of modern chicken tikka and chicken tandoori seem to include Europe. Modern versions of these two dishes have ingredients that aren’t native to South Asia.
Some of these ingredients are potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, and peas. These vegetables were brought to the Indian subcontinent. They were brought by European expeditionary forces, particularly from England.
The original chicken tikka probably had its origins in medieval India. That period, however, spans centuries. So the exact period is hard to pinpoint.
However, modern chicken tikka seems to be more recent. Some food historians say that modern chicken tikka was born in Glasgow, Scotland.
They believe British Pakistani chef Ali Ahmed Aslam invented it. But, if we’re being strict, that origin story would be that of chicken tikka masala, which is a spicier version.
As you read earlier, tikka is a style of cooking meats on skewers. In tikka, the meats are small and boneless. Hence, chicken tikka usually uses pieces of meat from the breast.
But other parts can also be used, like the chicken thighs. The word tikka is actually a Persian word that means “bits” or “pieces”.
Below is a general and common recipe for chicken tikka.
The meats are marinated in ginger garlic paste. Lemon juice can be added for zest and freshness. A second marinade comprises spices and herbs. Below are some of the usual spices used.
- Kasuri Methi (Fenugreek Leaves)
- Ground coriander
Salt and black pepper are, of course, part of the mix. Vegetable oil and yogurt can be included to add creaminess and richness to the meat. The meat is then left to marinate for a few hours to let the flavors set.
After marinading the meat is placed on skewers and grilled. Each side is grilled until it gets nice grill markings, which takes about 5 minutes per side.
The typical temperature range is between 200 – 300 °F (93 – 149 °C). During grilling, the meats can be continually brushed with ghee.
Chicken tikka can be eaten with rice and chutney. Common chutney partners for chicken tikka are green coriander and tamarind chutney.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken tikka masala is a variant of chicken tikka. In this version, the chicken tikka is cooked with a creamy spiced curry sauce. As mentioned earlier, one of the origin stories of chicken tikka masala stems in Glasgow, Scotland.
It is believed to be invented by Bangladeshi chef Ali Ahmed Aslam. He did so in his restaurant to appease a customer. The customer complained that his chicken was dry.
So Chef Aslam quickly prepared a sauce using spices, a can of condensed tomato soup, and yogurt. The result was a blend of South Asian and British tastes. Hence, although chicken tikka masala is a South Asian dish, it is popular in the United Kingdom
To make chicken tikka masala, there are extra steps after making the basic chicken tikka. The additional step is to make a curry sauce. There is no standard recipe for the curry sauce.
A common sauce, though, is a tomato and coriander sauce. Below is a recipe for a curry sauce.
- 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp of unsalted butter
- 2 small or 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp of garlic, finely grated
- 1 tbs of ginger, finely grated
- (alternatively, the grated garlic and ginger can be replaced with 2 1/2 tbsp of ginger-garlic paste)
- 1 1/2 tsp of garam masala
- 1 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
- 1 tsp of turmeric powder
- 1 tsp of ground coriander
- 14 oz (400 g) of tomato puree
- 1 1/4 cups of heavy cream
- Red chili powder, salt, and black pepper to taste
- Water as needed to thin out the sauce.
Add the vegetable oil and unsalted butter to a heated pan. Once the butter is melted, add the ginger and garlic and sauté until fragrant.
Afterward, add the garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and coriander. Fry until fragrant, which should take about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. After frying, add the tomato puree, chili powder, salt, and pepper.
Let everything simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Once the mixture gets a deep brown-red color, add the cream and sugar while stirring.
Once everything is mixed, add the chicken tikka. Cook everything for about 10 minutes. Add water if the sauce needs thinning.
Because of the sauce, chicken tikka masala is a great pair with starchy foods like rice. You can garnish with fresh cilantro.
Chicken tandoori is credited to Kundan Lal Gujral, a Hindu from Punjab. In 1947, Pakistan was just newly formed after India was separated. It was then he fled and moved to Delhi where he opened a restaurant.
Over time, chicken tandoori became popular in South Asia. Eventually, the dish reached Central Asia and Western nations.
The chicken is marinated in a spiced mixture and slow-roasted. As the name implies, the chicken is cooked in a tandoor. A tandoor is a clay or metal oven.
According to the Times of India, modern chicken tandoori was popularized in the 1940s. It started at Moti Mahal restaurant in Peshawar by Kundan Lal Jaggi, Thakur Dass, and Kundan Lal Gujral. Chicken tandoori eventually gave rise to other dishes, which include chicken tikka.
Below is a recipe for chicken tandoori. It is from Monish Gujral, the grandson of Kundan Lal Gujral.
- 1 kg skinless whole chicken
- Refined oil for basting
- 1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup yogurt
- 1 tsp garlic paste
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1/2 tsp black salt
- ½ tsp black salt
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp kasoori methi (sun-dried fenugreek leaves)
Make deep incisions on the chicken breast and drumsticks. The cuts should reach the bones. Make 2 to 4 cuts on each part.
Mix all the ingredients of the first marinade. Thoroughly rub the first marinade all over the chicken. Set the chicken aside for an hour.
After an hour, mix all the ingredients of the second marinade. Thoroughly rub the second marinade all over the chicken. Set the chicken aside again for another 3 hours.
While traditional chicken tandoori is cooked in a tandoor, you can still use other cooking equipment. Alternative cooking equipment is a large grill, rotisserie, or oven broiler.
Set the chicken on a skewer and roast. Continuously rotate the chicken and baste it with oil. Cook until the whole chicken is brown with some charring on all sides. A sign that the chicken is done is when the juices run clear.
If you don’t have a whole chicken, you can still make chicken tandoori using parts. Just remove the skin. There’s no need to separate the meat and the bones. You also adjust the ingredients and cooking time accordingly.
You can serve chicken tandoori with the following:
- Paneer (Indian cottage cheese)
Chicken Tikka vs. Tandoori: Which One is Healthier
Both chicken tikka and chicken tandoori are excellent protein sources. If eaten with vegetables, then the nutritional value of either dish increases as well.
A common cut for chicken tikka is the breasts. So you might think that chicken tikka would have less fat. But preparing the meats involve using oil and ghee.
And if you’re making chicken tikka masala, you might even use more ghee, butter, and heavy cream. So while the chicken cuts are lean, the other ingredients can increase the fat content.
Meanwhile, chicken tandoori uses skinless chicken. And since the chicken is roasted, the fats can drip off. So while the meat in chicken tandoori isn’t lean in the beginning, you can end up with less fat in the finished product.
The only added fat in the chicken tandoori recipe you read above was the oil for basting. Hence, finished chicken tandoor can have less fat than chicken tikka.
Chicken Tikka vs. Tandoori: Which One is Spicier
Both chicken tikka and chicken tandoori are spicy. But you won’t be burning your mouth digging into either dish. The heat level is mild to tolerable. The only spicy ingredient is the chili powder, and it’s optional. If you’re making either for yourself, you can adjust the hotness by adding or reducing the red chili powder in the spice mix.
Chicken Tikka vs. Tandoori: Which One is Best
If you’re just eating by yourself or with another person, then chicken tikka may be best for you. You may not be able to finish chicken tandoori since it can be a whole cooked chicken.
However, if you don’t mind leftovers, then you can go ahead with chicken tandoori. If you want to eat boneless chicken, then chicken tikka would again be best for you. If you want to eat something with sauce, then chicken tikka masala would be the best option.
South Asia has a large population of vegetarians because of religious beliefs. For example, India has the largest vegetarian population in the world.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has the second-fastest-growing vegetarian country. Hence, it’s possible to have vegetarian versions of meat dishes like chicken tikka and chicken tandoori
Below are ways to make a vegetarian version of chicken tikka.
If you have meat substitutes or “fake meats”, then you can use those instead of chicken pieces when making a vegetarian version of chicken tikka. Remember that chicken tikka uses small boneless pieces of chicken.
Hence, meat substitutes are good vegetarian alternatives. These substitutes are boneless, to begin with. Aside from using meat substitutes, you can use the same ingredients and steps in making your “chicken” tikka.
If you have plain tofu, you can still follow the original steps in making your vegetarian tikka. There are just some added steps you need to do to prepare your tofu.
If you’ll use tofu, use extra firm tofu, and before you use it, freeze it. When the tofu is frozen all over, thaw it and squeeze out the water. Use a tofu press to remove the water from the tofu. If you don’t have a tofu press, you can use a makeshift version. Wrap the tofu in thick layers of paper towels, then put something heavy on top of it.
You can use any vegetable you want for veggie tikka. Cauliflower is great for grilling on skewers because of its firm and dense texture. Mushrooms are technically not vegetables, but you can still cook them like they are. You do all the same steps in making chicken tikka, but you use cauliflower instead of chicken.
Veggie Tikka Masala
What’s great with tikka masala is it has a creamy sauce. You can pack that sauce with lots of other vegetables, making a hearty and flavorful dish. You can use the above meatless tikka alternatives for vegetarian tikka.
You can then use the same recipe for the creamy sauce of chicken tikka masala that you read above. Below are more ingredients you can add for a hearty veggie sauce.
- 1 large cauliflower, chopped
- You can also use a cup or more of frozen cauliflower and/or broccoli florets
- 1 large carrot, sliced
- A cup of sliced or diced frozen carrots will also do
- 2 cups of legumes of choice.
- For variety, it would be better if you use a cup each of 2 legumes. For example, you can use a cup of peas and a cup of chickpeas.
Add the vegetable to the sauce and cook until everything is soft. You can serve with naan or rice, and you can garnish with fresh cilantro.
Like with vegetarian tikka, you can use meat substitutes or tofu to replace the chicken. There’s no need to make a big deal about chicken tandoori using large chicken parts with bones.
Like with veggie, you can use any vegetable you want for veggie tandoori.
For hard vegetables like carrots and cauliflower, you may want to cook them a bit to soften them. You can try steaming or boiling beforehand. You can use the same marinade recipes that you read above for the vegetables.
Vegan Versions of Chicken Tikka and Tandoori
You can easily turn the vegetarian versions into vegan. You can just replace the dairy products like butter and yogurt with vegan versions. Vegan butter and yogurt are already available.
The next time you’ll try South Asian food. Give either chicken tikka or chicken tandoori a try. Either can be a great option for South Asian cuisine.
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