The boneless version of chicken tandoori, chicken tikka should not be confused with chicken tikka masala, a stew “invented” in the United Kingdom. Chicken tikka is skewered boneless pieces of chicken marinated in spices and yogurt then grilled either in a clay oven or over hot coals.
I won’t claim that my version of chicken tikka is “authentic”. The recipe has all traditional South Asian spices (collectively known as garam masala) but, in lieu of yogurt, I used coconut cream. In all the decades that I’ve been cooking, I believe that this is the best marinade I have made. Ever.
Why? What’s so special about coconut cream? The natural oil in the coconut cream made the chicken very moist and tender and there was no need to baste them with ghee or margarine during grilling.
And the flavors… Oh, the flavors! Instead of the tang of yogurt, the subtle sweetness of coconut milk cuts the sharpness of the spices. The result is a rich but not overpowering party of flavors with a not-so-aggressive aroma. A hint of this-and-that that melded together into one perfect relish.
- 1.5 kilograms boneless chicken thighs (skin on or skinless; both work), cut into 2-inch squares
- 2 tablespoons rock salt
- 1 tablespoon grated turmeric (or use 1 teaspoon powdered turmeric)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 thumb-sized pieces ginger peeled and grated
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and grated
- 1 tablespoon bird's eye chilies finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon cayenne powder
- 1 cup coconut cream (if using fresh, you need to extract the cream from at least three coconuts with no, or very little, water)
- 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
Place the chicken in a large bowl. Add all the ingredients and mix well. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least six hours.
At least 30 minutes before grilling, soak about 15 bamboo skewers in water to prevent them from burning while grilling.
Thread the chicken in the bamboo skewers. Five to six pieces are a good number.
Grill the chicken over live coals, at least six inches from the heat. Turn over once the undersides are nicely charred. Chicken does not take very long to cook. If your coals are hot enough, it should take only above seven minutes per side.
Serve the chicken tikka with white rice and a light vegetable salad on the side.