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The heated dispute over chicken tikka masala

The heated dispute over chicken tikka masala

Was it invented by the owner of a Glaswegian curry house or a Mughal emperor’s chefs?

Was it invented by the owner of a Glaswegian curry house or a Mughal emperor’s chefs?

Samantha Weinberg | April/May 2018

The story goes like this: when asked by one of his regular customers in 1971 for a bit of sauce for his chicken tikka, Ali Ahmed Aslam, the owner of Glasgow’s Shish Mahal, splashed in a tin of tomato soup, yoghurt and spices. The resulting curry, which he named chicken tikka masala, proved to be a hit.

Unsurprisingly, Indian foodies have different takes on its origins: some believe it was invented by the royal chefs of the Mughal period; others that it first cropped up in the Punjab, coincidentally also in 1971.

Where the Scots and the Indians do agree is that the tikka aspect has ancient roots, stretching back 5,000 years to the invention of the clay tandoor oven. Emperor Babur, founder of the Mughal dynasty, was scared of choking and apparently decreed that chicken should be boned before cooking, resulting in the bite-sized breast pieces found bathing in sauce in today’s version. In time, successive chefs improved on the recipe by marinating the chicken and adding a shifting array of spices.

Even without a clay oven, chicken tikka masala is not tricky to make: marinate chopped chicken breast overnight in lemon juice, yogurt (or cream), ginger, garlic, paprika, cumin and garam masala. Then set about the sauce. Fry garlic, onions and ginger until soft, add chopped tomatoes, a green chilli, cinnamon, ground coriander, cloves, paprika, cardamom, a splash of lemon juice and enough water to take it to the right gloopy consistency. Extract the chicken from its marinade, griddle at high heat, pour over the sauce, garnish with coriander and eat with naan, rice – and “Match of the Day”.