Chicken Tikka Masala Biryani combines the best of both dishes. Fluffy separate grains of rice are layered with fresh herbs and moist pieces of chicken in a curry that has a mild hum of heat. This recipe is written for beginners and advanced cooks alike, with all the tips and tricks you need.
In the end, you will have a memorable celebration feast. Cook the chicken tikka (pieces) on the stove, under the broiler, or best of all, on the grill. For another delicious biryani mashup, be adventurous and try my unique Tandoori Chicken Biryani.
- What is Chicken Tikka Masala Biryani?
- What is to love about this recipe
- How to Make Chicken Tikka Masala Biryani
- Best Basmati Rice for Biryani
- How to Make Biryani Ahead
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Tips and Tricks
- How to Serve, Store, & Reheat Biryani
- Other Biryanis You Might Like to Try
- Recipe Card 📖
What is Chicken Tikka Masala Biryani?
If there's one dish guaranteed to be on every Indian restaurant menu, it's chicken tikka masala. This curry is composed of grilled or broiled chunks of chicken enveloped in a creamy spiced tomato sauce. What's behind this simple dish's tremendous popularity?
"Tomato sauce has universal appeal. When the dish is eaten with naan bread, it's like an Indian version of pizza!"Julie Sahni, cookbook author and cooking teacher. Epicurious.com
With Ms. Sahni's recipe, you are only 45-minutes away from an outstanding chicken tikka masala that is fresher, healthier, cheaper, and tastier than anything you can take out. The following chicken curry is patterned after her version.
So the combination of a delicious chicken curry layered with fragrant, fluffy rice is a marriage made in heaven. I always make biryani over two to three days; scroll down for instructions on how to make the dish in stages.
After you have made biryani a time or two, you will enjoy the rhythm of it and have an oh-so-full-of flavor Chicken Tikka Masala Biryani to wow your friends. And make quick 4-ingredient raita to go alongside.
For more than you ever wanted to know about biryani see this excellent article on Wikipedia.
What is to love about this recipe
- A carefully layered colorful and aromatic rice dish
- This recipe holds your hand step-by-step
- This is a fun "project cook" you can make over 2 to 3 days
- No hard-to-find ingredients
- Ground spices: Coriander, cumin, Kashmiri chili powder (or cayenne), and paprika
- Whole spices for flavoring the rise: Cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom
Aromatics: The usual ginger, garlic, and onion triumvirate are essential. A shortcut is my ginger garlic paste recipe.
Fresh herbs: The mint and cilantro combo adds freshness and aroma that takes biryani to new heights.
Tomato: I prefer to use canned tomato sauce. My local grocery has small one-cup cans that work perfectly. Fresh tomatoes work as well. Avoid diced tomatoes.
Chicken: My favorite cut of chicken is the thigh. In this recipe, you will want skinless and boneless chicken. You can use chicken breast but you will need to be very careful not to overcook it.
Rice for biryanis: Basmati is the go-to choice for biryani. Since rice is the star of the show, be sure to find a good quality brand that you like. Scroll down to the Best Basmati Rice for Biryani section below for recommendations.
Other: Ghee, cream or half and half, and lemon juice.
There are four mini-recipes for this dish.
Rice with whole spices.
Herbs and ghee for layering
How to Make Chicken Tikka Masala Biryani
I have broken this recipe into seven stages. Remember, most of them can be made a day or two ahead, except for the final reheating just before serving.
1. Marinade the chicken
Mix together the marinade ingredients except for the chicken. Trim the thighs and if you are grilling the chicken leave them whole. Otherwise cut them into 3 or 4 pieces depending on their size. Stir into the marinade and coat well. Cover and pop in the refrigerator. Marinate the chicken just until you need it in the following cooking process or up to 24 hours.
2. Fry the onions
(If you don't buy them.) The onions above are one step away from being dark and crispy enough to move to a paper towel. And more about cooking onions.
3. Build the chicken sauce (masala)
Beginning with the onions, cook until the edges begin to turn golden (1), then add the ginger and garlic paste. Cook for several minutes, then add the spices (2). Cook for a minute (3) and then stir in the tomato sauce and water. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the sauce thickens (4).
4. How to Make Biryani Rice
Using the pasta method, in 6 cups of boiling water add the whole spices, salt, and rinsed rice (5). Turn to medium heat and simmer uncovered for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the rice is cooked (6) with just a tiny opaque core.
5. Cook the chicken
The chicken can be grilled, broiled, or sautéed on the stovetop. For this biryani, the chicken should be cooked all the way through.
Grilling instructions: If you prefer to use the grill, head over to my tandoori grilled chicken thigh recipe for the instructions. Then cut the thighs into bite-sized pieces.
Broiler instructions: Heat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and top with a well-oiled cooling rack. Place the chicken pieces on the rack broil and for 4 minutes on each side.
Stovetop instructions: Over medium-high heat, add the oil to a frying pan. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook on each side for 3 to 5 minutes. You are wanting it to turn a nice brown and be cooked all the way through.
Chicken cooked on the grill
The chicken finished broiling
Add the cream, cilantro, and butter to the sauce
Chicken tikka masala is ready for layering
6. Layer the biryani
This biryani has four layers. Two layers of rice and 2 layers of sauced chicken.
Layer 1: Half the chicken masala with 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro stirred in.
Layer 2: (11) Half the rice garnished with a drizzle of 1 teaspoon of ghee, sprinkle 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro, and 1/3 of the fried onions.
Layer 3: The 2nd half of the chicken. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro, and 1/3 of the fried onions.
Layer 4: (12) The 2nd half of the rice. Drizzle the remaining 1 teaspoon of ghee, sprinkle 2 tablespoons each mint and cilantro, and the final 1/3 of the fried onions.
The second layer of chicken is ready for its garnishes.
The final layer of rice with a sprinkling of herbs and ghee.
7. Final 25-minute cook
On the stovetop: Cover the biryani with a tight lid and cook over medium-high for 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow the biryani to rest undisturbed for 10 to 15 minutes.
In the oven: Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and make sure the rack is in the middle of the oven. Cover the saucepan or dutch oven with a heavy lid or top with aluminum foil, then a lid for a tight seal. Heat the biryani for 20 minutes to let the rice and chicken steam together.
Best Basmati Rice for Biryani
Interestingly, the word basmati--bas: aroma, mati: full of—describes this rice perfectly. Basmati is fragrant and nutty-tasting rice with long slender grains and is grown in India, Nepal, and Pakistan.
Basmati rice is typically aged 9 to 18 months. Aged basmati has a golden hue and the longer it is aged the longer it will take to cook.
When cooked the grains can double in length. The key to getting that light and fluffy texture is to rinse it well in several changes of water or in a sieve until the water is almost clear.
My favorite basmati brand is Auhu Barah basmati rice which is aged for 2 years. In addition to this rice, I also can recommend Daawat Ultima Extra Long Grain Basmati and Royal Chef's Secret Extra Long Grain White Basmati Rice.
Find a good brand that you like. For more basmati rice recommendations see the Chef’s Pencil’s top 20 brands of basmati rice.
Here is a photo of biryanis made with aged basmati on the left vs ordinary Trader Joe's basmati rice:
Biryani with aged biryani vs Trader Joes basmati rice
How to Make Biryani Ahead
So that making biryani doesn't feel like such a big project cook it over several days. Chicken Tikka Masala biryani is a simple dish with four small mini-recipes within it. I always make it either two or three days ahead. This not only splits up the work but it results in an even more flavorful dish.
Day One is marinating the chicken. On day two, I cook the chicken and make the sauce. And on the day I am serving it, I just need to make the rice, fry the onions (which you can also buy), and layer the ingredients for the final reheating on the stove or in an oven.
Frequently Asked Questions
Chicken tikka is bite-sized pieces of chicken. The chicken pieces stirred into a flavorful tomato-based sauce (masala) is chicken tikka masala.
In a biryani rice is cooked separately and then layered with the meat or poultry. In a pulao, the rice is added to the pot along with meat and sauce and everything is mixed and cooked together.
You can but I personally wouldn't attempt it because breast meat dries out so quickly.
Yes! Like many Indian curries, I find that biryani tastes even better the next day. The rest gives the flavors even more time to mix and mingle.
Tips and Tricks
- If your rice is still not quite cooked, sprinkle some water over the biryani (2 to 3 tablespoons) and cook covered on very low heat for 5 minutes or more.
- If the rice is cooked through but still too wet: Over low heat, cook until some of the liquid is evaporated.
- To avoid a soggy biryani, the sauce needs to be pretty thick before adding the water and cream. See the photograph (4).
- If you would like to add more chili heat to the biryani, add a teaspoon or more minced green chilies to the sauce along with the ginger garlic paste.
- Don’t be frightened by the amount of salt in the water used to cook the rice. Most of it gets drained away, but a generous amount is needed to properly season the rice.
- Don’t skip the whole spices when cooking the rice. It helps give the whole dish a wonderful fragrance and flavor.
How to Serve, Store, & Reheat Biryani
Biryani will keep well in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
I have had good luck storing leftover biryani in the freezer for up to 2 months. Store in a zipped freezer bag or airtight container. When using it, ideally allow it to defrost in the freezer overnight for the best texture.
Microwave: Spoon out the amount you will be eating. Sprinkle with a bit of water, cover, and reheat in the microwave.
Oven: Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). In a heat-safe dish, spoon in biryani, breaking up any clumps of rice. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of water over it and cover with foil or lid with a tight seal. Bake for 6-10 minutes, depending on the quantity.
Stovetop: Set a heavy skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Cover the bottom with a thin layer of water just to cover. Spoon in the biryani and cover with a tight lid or aluminum foil. Steam for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Other Biryanis You Might Like to Try
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to hear about it! Please rate by clicking stars ⭐️ on the recipe card and/or let me know in the comments below. Thank you! ~Alonna
Recipe Card 📖
Chicken Tikka Masala Biryani
- Heavy bottomed pot
- 2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs ~ If are grilling the chicken, leave the thighs whole. Otherwise, ut into 2-inch pieces. See Notes below
- 1/4 cup plain whole-milk Greek-style yogurt
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 2 teaspoons garlic paste ~ Or finely minced. ~ 2 cloves
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Or 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Fried Onions (Birista)
- 1/2 cup neutral oil ~ Buy if you prefer
- 2 cups onion ~ Thinly, evenly sliced
- 2 tablespoons ghee or oil ~ Or leftover oil from frying the onions
- 1 1/2 cup onions ~ Finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Or 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste ~ Or finely minced. Equal to a 1-inch piece
- 1 teaspoon green chili ~ Optional, finely minced. More to taste.
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ More to taste. Or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika ~ Of another 1/2 teaspoon of regular paprika
- 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce or purée ~ Or fresh tomatoes chopped
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream ~ Or half and half
- 1/4 cup cilantro ~ Chopped, 1/2 cup more for layering
- 6 cups water
- 2 cups aged basmati rice ~ See Notes below
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 8 whole cloves
- 4 whole green cardamom
- 1 tablespoon sea or table salt ~ Or 2 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher. See Notes below
For Layering the Biryani
- 3 tablespoons mint ~ Chopped
- 3 tablespoons cilantro ~ Chopped
- 2 teaspoons ghee ~ Or melted butter
- fried onions ~ Above
MARINATE THE CHICKEN
- In a medium bowl mix together all the marinade ingredients except the chicken. See the Notes below regarding preparing this dish in stages.
- Trim the chicken pieces. If you are grilling the chicken, leave the thighs whole. Otherwise, cut each thigh into 3 to 4 pieces depending on their size. Stir into the marinade and coat well. Set aside while you make fry the onions and sauce. If making the biryani in steps, cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
FRY THE ONIONS FOR LAYERING
- If needed, see more detailed instructions on cooking onions. In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat add the oil. When it is hot stir in the onions and allow to cook for 5 minutes or so. Turn down the heat to medium and allow to simmer.
- When the onions begin to brown, watch them closely. You want to remove them from the oil a shade lighter than you want them to be. They will continue to cook and darken for several minutes after removing them from the oil.
- Drain the onions on paper towels and allow them to cool for 5 minutes or more. You can make the fried onions 3 days ahead; store in an airtight container at room temperature. Freeze after that.
COOK THE SAUCE
- In a heavy-bottomed pan large enough to hold the finished biryani, (I find a 4-quart dutch oven works well) over medium-high heat add the ghee, oil, or the leftover oil from frying the onions. When the oil is hot stir in the onions and the salt. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.
- Turn the heat down to medium. Add the ginger paste and stir for a minute. Add the ground spices and stir to bloom them for a minute. Add 1 tablespoon of water if the spices are sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the tomato sauce and 1/4 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce thickens and is reduced by 1/3. If the sauce is splattering out of the pan, turn the heat down a bit.
- This will take 10 to 15 minutes. You want a fairly thick sauce at this point because you will be adding cream at the end and if the mixture is too thin the biryani will be soggy.
- Stir in the butter, chopped cilantro, and heavy cream. Cook for another 4 minutes. Add the yogurt and 1 tablespoon of water and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the cooked chicken. The sauce and the chicken can be cooked several days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
COOK THE RICE
- Gently rinse the rice in a bowl filled with water to cover it. Rinse until the water is clear enough to see your hand. About 3 to 4 times.
- In a large pan over high heat, bring 6 cups of water to boil. Stir in the salt, whole spices, salt, and rice. Lower the heat to medium-high and cook at a boil for 8 to 10 minutes and then check the rice. It should be 95% done: cooked until there is just a with just a tiny opaque core when a grain is broken in half.
- Drain and set the rice aside. You can remove the whole spices at this point if you don't want them in your biryani.
COOK THE CHICKEN
- KEEP IN MIND: Chicken thighs are best cooked to between 175°F (80°C) and 190°F (90°C). Regardless of the cooking method, cook the thigh meat to at least 160F (70°C), or until it is cooked through. It will be steamed with the rice to reheat just before serving.
- Follow the grilling instructions for my tandoori chicken recipe. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
Under the Broiler
- Heat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and top with a well-oiled cooling rack. Place the chicken pieces on the rack leaving some space around each piece.
- Broil the chicken for 4 minutes. If your broiler is hot enough there should be some charring. Turn the chicken over and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.
- The chicken should be cooked through. Thigh meat is best at 175 to 190 degrees. Stir the chicken into the spiced tomato sauce.
- Over medium-high heat add the oil in a frying pan. When the oil is hot add the chicken and cook on each side for 3 to 5 minutes. You are wanting it to turn a nice brown and be cooked all the way through. Depending on the size of your pan you will probably need to do this in 2 batches.
LAYERING THE BIRYANI
- After you have stirred the chicken and butter into the sauce, taste for seasoning (salt, lemon juice, and chili powder). Then remove 1/2 the chicken mixture.
- Layer half the basmati rice over the chicken. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of ghee, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of each mint and cilantro, and 1/3 of the fried onions.
- Spoon the rest of the chicken over the rice. Sprinkle it with 1 tablespoon of each mint and cilantro, and 1/3 of the fried onions.
- Layer the second half of the rice on top of the chicken. Drizzle the remaining 1 teaspoon of ghee, sprinkle the remaining mint and cilantro, and the final 1/3 of the fried onions.
COOK THE ASSEMBLED BIRYANI
- Cover the biryani with a tight lid and cook over medium-high for about 1 to 2 minutes. You want the biryani hot enough so it begins to steam. Turn the heat down to low and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes.
- Start the heat on low, then check at the 5-minute mark to see if it is steaming. If not, turn the heat up a bit. Watch carefully so the chicken doesn't burn on the bottom of the saucepan.
- The heat you cook the biryani depends on your stove and the pot you are using. But use the lowest setting that allows the biryani to get hot enough to steam for about 5 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and make sure the rack is in the middle of the oven. Cover the saucepan or dutch oven with a heavy lid or top with aluminum foil, then a lid for a tight seal.
- Heat the biryani for 20 minutes to let the rice and chicken steam. Remove the biryani from the oven.
- Allow the biryani to sit covered for 5 minutes. Serve from the pot or carefully ladle out the biryani by lifting from the bottom rather than stirring.
STORING & REHEATING
- The biryani will keep well in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- To reheat, spoon out the amount you will be eating. Sprinkle with a bit of water and reheat in the microwave or on a low burner.
- I am a chicken thigh person. The meat is tender, flavorful, and hard to overcook. If you want to use chicken breast in this recipe, cook it until it is almost cooked through (155°F (68°C). You will be cooking everything together so you don't want to overcook the white meat at this point.
- Substitute for Kashmiri chili powder: For each teaspoon of Kashmiri chili powder sub 3/4 teaspoon paprika (or sweet), and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder.
- Basmati rice and aging: Since rice is the star of the show, finding good basmati is important. Basmati rice is typically aged 9 to 18 months. The longer it is aged the longer it will take to cook. I like to use Auhu Barah basmati rice which is aged for 2 years, so I find it can take twice as long to cook. In addition to this rice, I also can recommend Daawat Ultima Extra Long Grain Basmati and Royal Chef's Secret Extra Long Grain White Basmati Rice. Find a good brand that you like. For more basmati rice recommendations see the Chef’s Pencil’s top 20 brands of basmati rice.
- SHORTCUT: Feel free to buy fried onions or shallots if you prefer.
- About Salt: It may seem like a lot of salt but this is the only opportunity you will have to season the rice, and most of the salt will be drained off.
- If you want to break down the steps to make the recipe more manageable, I like to make the sauce, fry the onions, marinate and cook the chicken up to 2 days before. Before serving, cook the rice, chop the herbs, and layer the biryani. Assemble the layer and do the final 25-minute cook and resting time.