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AIP Chicken Tikka Masala (Nightshade-Free)

AIP Chicken Tikka Masala that is nightshade-free, dairy-free and low-inflammatory. This delicious rendition of classic Indian Chicken Tikka Masala is ideal for those who eat an Autoimmune Protocol Diet (also known as Autoimmune Paleo), a nightshade-free diet, or simply enjoy a delicious anti-inflammatory meal.

Two wooden bowls full of chicken tikka masala and cauliflower rice.

Many years ago, when I was in the thick of IBS, I made (and ate) a great deal of AIP recipes.

In case you’ve never heard of AIP, it is an anti-inflammatory diet designed to lower inflammation in those who have chronic health issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis (or IBD), IBS, hashimotos, and more.

AIP removes grains, dairy, sugar, nightshades, coffee, nuts, seeds, alcohol, beans, legumes, black pepper, and a couple of additional foods in order minimize the amount of inflammation entering the body.

After healing my gut a few years ago, I was able to introduce many, many more foods back into my diet.

That being said, I do love returning to AIP recipes from time to time, first, because I find them to be profoundly nourishing, and also because I still have readers who land on my site due to my AIP recipes.

I had mentioned in my Nightshade-Free AIP Curry recipe that I’ve been wanting to make an AIP Chicken Tikka Masala recipe.

So here we are, years later, going nightshade-free, dairy-free, and AIP all up in some delicious tikka!

While the concept of the AIP diet may seem daunting, the ingredients used are all very straightforward. Most are pantry staples you already have on hand.

Horizontal image of AIP Chicken TIkka Masala in a wooden bowl with a red napkin next to it.

Let’s get into the details already!

Traditional Chicken Tikka Masala:

Indian Chicken Tikka Masala is a magically flavorful saucy dish of tender chicken stewed in a generously-spiced aromatic creamy tomato sauce. It includes delicious spices like paprika, cumin seed, sometimes cayenne pepper and garam masala, cardamom, turmeric, and more, which are common in Indian cuisine.

It’s the incredible combination of spices in the creamy sauce and the luxurious tender chicken that really makes the dish so irresistible. 

AIP Friendly Chicken Tikka Masala:

In order to make nightshade-free Chicken Tikka Masala that is also dairy-free, I did some reverse engineering of flavors to create a masala sauce that mimics the traditional flavor but uses AIP friendly ingredients.

We remove the tomatoes, cream, and many of the spices (paprika, garam masala, cumin, and cardamom), which can have a pro-inflammatory effect for some.

I replace the heavy cream with full fat coconut milk, the tomatoes with pumpkin puree plus garlic, onion, and cider vinegar (to mimic the tangy flavor of tomatoes), and the cumin, paprika, garam masala and cardamom with cinnamon, turmeric, and more onion, garlic, and vinegar.

The end result is a ton of flavor with very gentle spice from the ginger (I would call this recipe mild).

The combination of ingredients in this AIP Chicken Tikka Masala recipe results in that incredibly creamy, tangy sauce with plenty of seasoning and a touch of sweetness. 

Is it an exact replica of traditional restaurant-style Chicken Tikka Masala that you’d get at an Indian restaurant? No. But it is, in a word: delicious.

The sauce is so flavorful and divine, you’d never in a million years guess it is powerfully good for you! It tastes similar to Butter Chicken to me.

We keep the traditional method of preparing Chicken Tikka Masala by first marinating the chicken to tenderize it and inject some flavor into it. If you’re in a hurry, you can skip the marination process and go straight to cooking the chicken in the masala sauce. I do recommend marinating the chicken if you have the time. 

This is the magic of food. There are so many flavors we can play with to create meals that are not only healthy, they are completely comforting and crowd-pleasing.

top down image of two wooden bowls of chicken tikka masala served with cauliflower rice

Let’s chat about the ingredients for AIP Chicken Tikka Masala in more depth so that you know why we’re choosing these specific foods.

Ingredients for AIP Nightshade-Free Chicken Tikka Masala:

Avocado Oil: Used to sauté the vegetables and cook the chicken, we use avocado oil which has a high smoke point and neutral flavor. You can also use olive oil or coconut oil.

Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts: The reason we’re all here is to make boneless chicken breasts fun! You can use between 1.5 and 3 pounds of skinless chicken breast in this recipe, because the recipe makes a lot of sauce.

If you prefer skinless chicken thighs or bone-in skin-on chicken pieces, feel free to use any type of chicken you love. Just note if you use bone-in pieces you’ll need to adjust the method by which you cook the chicken.

Full-Fat Canned Coconut Milk: Keeping this recipe dairy-free, we use full-fat canned coconut milk in place of cream. This ensures we’re getting that luscious creamy flavor and texture.

The only brand of AIP-friendly coconut milk (without added gums and emulsifiers) that I’ve tried is Native Forest Simple Coconut Milk.

This is what I recommend for this recipe in order to ensure it is AIP compliant. If you have a different brand of coconut milk or coconut cream you know works well for you, feel free to use it!

Yellow Onion, Fresh Garlic Cloves, Fresh Ginger: These three fresh ingredients are responsible for a great deal of flavor in this recipe. Classic tikka masala does contain all three, but we simply use more to offset the loss of flavor from omitting some of the spices.

The result is a sauce that has big, bold flavor! If you can’t find fresh ginger, replace it with two teaspoons of ginger powder or ground ginger. While I recommend using fresh cloves of garlic, you can replace them with 1 tablespoon of garlic powder.

Pumpkin Puree: Pumpkin puree replaces the diced tomatoes (or tomato paste or tomato sauce) mostly for volume purposes. It also has a similar texture to tomato sauce and a natural sweetness, so it’s a great replacement when paired with something tangy like cider vinegar to make up the acidity.

If you prefer butternut squash (or other winter squash) or carrots over pumpkin, you can replace the pumpkin puree with one cup of cooked and mashed (or pureed) butternut squash or carrots. If you already have a homemade no-mato sauce on hand, feel free to use that as a replacement as well.

Apple Cider Vinegar: Cider vinegar provides the tang that the tomatoes would be providing. It also adds a well-rounded palate experience to the sauce to tickle the tastebuds. Lemon juice or lime juice work as a replacement for cider vinegar, but I prefer the vinegar version.

Ground Turmeric, Ceylon Cinnamon, Dried Thyme: The anti-inflammatory spices we employ that are AIP compliant are turmeric, cinnamon, and thyme. Together, they have a warm, sweet, earthiness, which we get from some of the traditional tikka masala spices. 

Tapioca Flour or Arrowroot Starch: Because we’re using coconut milk that doesn’t contain emulsifiers or gums, the coconut milk is much more watery than other brands. For this reason, we need to thicken the sauce using tapioca starch or arrowroot starch, both of which are AIP compliant. You can thicken the sauce to your desired level using one or the other. 

Note: If you’re using a brand of coconut milk that does contain emulsifiers, you may not need to add tapioca flour for thickening, as it may be thick enough already.

Kosher Salt: It may appear as though there is a lot of sea salt in this recipe, but I assure you: it helps tremendously with bringing out all of the flavors of each individual ingredient so that they shine through. Salt is your best friend when it comes to cooking with minimal ingredients because it makes each ingredient worth more. We use it to marinate the chicken and for the sauce.

Finished AIP chicken tikka masala in a skillet

Now that we’ve done a deep dive into these AIP ingredients, let’s make some AIP Chicken Tikka Masala!

How to Make AIP Chicken Tikka Masala:

Marinate the Chicken: Chop the chicken and transfer it to a glass tupperware container (or zip lock bag). Add in the coconut milk, cider vinegar, garlic and sea salt. Stir everything well until the ingredients are combined. Seal the container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, ideally 2 to 4 hours.

Chopped chicken breasts marinating in coconut milk, garlic and apple cider vinegar.

Note: If you’re using coconut milk that has a lot of separation between the fat and water, transfer it to a microwave-safe bowl of jar and microwave until it stirs together easily. Allow it to cool before using it to marinate the chicken.

Make AIP Tikka Masala Sauce:

While the chicken is marinating in the refrigerator, make the delicious AIP masala sauce! 

Heat the avocado oil in a large skillet (I use a 12-inch stainless steel skillet) over medium heat. Add the onion and sea salt and stir well. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to turn translucent.

Onion sautéing in a stainless steel skillet

Add the minced garlic, grated ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and dried thyme. Stir well and continue cooking until everything is very fragrant, about 5 to 10 minutes. This allows the spices to really open up and become flavorful, so don’t skip this part!

Onion, turmeric, garlic, ginger, dried thyme and cinnamon in a skillet.
All of the aromatic veggies and spices sautéing in a skillet to make tikka masala sauce.

Transfer the ingredients for the sauce to a blender (pureed pumpkin, coconut milk, cider vinegar, pure maple syrup, and the sauteed onions mixture). Blend until everything is completely combined.

Ingredients for the tikka masala sauce in a blender, ready to be blended
AIP Tikka Masala sauce in a blender.

From here, you can refrigerate the sauce in an airtight container or jar until you’re ready to use it, or cook your chicken tikka masala.

I have the sauce cooking in a large pot over medium heat up until the point that I cook the chicken. This just allows the sauce to become even more flavorful and luscious. 

Prepare the Chicken Tikka Masala:

Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of avocado oil to a large skillet and heat to medium. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken from the marinade to the hot skillet, leaving behind the marinade). Brown the chicken for 5 minutes before transferring the sauce to the skillet with the chicken.

Chicken cooking in a stainless steel skillet.

Note: if you don’t want the marinade to go to waste, you can cook it with the chicken, but it isn’t necessary at this point.

Bring everything to a controlled gentle boil and cook, stirring constantly, until everything smells wonderful and the chicken is cooked through.

Serve AIP Chicken Tikka Masala with your choice of side dishes, such as cauliflower rice (or riced cauliflower), and fresh cilantro and enjoy!

If you don’t follow a grain-free diet, serve this delicious meal with steamed basmati rice, jasmin rice or white rice or brown rice of choice. 

Two wooden bowls of AIP Chicken Tikka Masala with a red napkin to the side.

The sauce is so incredible, you’ll want to soak up all that goodness with something so be sure to choose a side you love!

Store any leftover Chicken Tikka Masala in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

If you don’t follow an AIP diet but you are dairy-free or paleo, you can make my Instant Pot Paleo Chicken Tikka Masala recipe.

Recipe Adaptations:

  • Replace the chicken with halibut or white fish to make fish tikka masala.
  • Add your favorite vegetables to further increase the health benefits of this meal.
  • If you have coconut aminos on hand, you can add some in (2 to 3 tablespoons) for additional umami flavor.

If you’re looking for more healthy AIP compliant recipes to enjoy, check out these reader favorites!

AIP Recipes:

Whether you follow an AIP diet, whole30, paleo diet, low-carb diet, or no diet at all, I’m fully confident you’ll absolutely adore this healthy and delicious meal!

Two wooden bowls full of chicken tikka masala and cauliflower rice.

AIP Chicken Tikka Masala

Yield: 4 to 8 Servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

A nightshade-free, dairy-free version of classic Indian Chicken Tikka Masala, this AIP Chicken Tikka Masala recipe is an anti-inflammatory meal that is packed with flavor and health benefits! Ideal for those managing chronic inflammation or for those who enjoy a great clean meal.

Ingredients

For the Marinated Chicken:

AIP Tikka Masala Sauce:

  • 3 Tbsp avocado oil or coconut oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp sea salt, to taste
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 (15-oz) can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 (15-oz) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp tapioca flour or arrowroot starch, optional

Instructions

Marinate the Chicken:

1. Chop the chicken and transfer it to a glass tupperware container (or zip lock bag). Add in the coconut milk, cider vinegar, garlic and sea salt. Stir everything well until the ingredients are combined. Seal the container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, ideally 2 to 4 hours.

 Chopped chicken breasts marinating in coconut milk, garlic and apple cider vinegar.

Note: If you’re using coconut milk that has a lot of separation between the fat and water, transfer it to a microwave-safe bowl of jar and microwave until it stirs together easily. Allow it to cool before using it to marinate the chicken.

Make AIP Tikka Masala Sauce:

1. Heat the avocado oil in a large skillet (I use a 12-inch stainless steel skillet) over medium heat. Add the onion and sea salt and stir well. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to turn translucent.

Onion sautéing in a stainless steel skillet

2. Add the minced garlic, grated ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and dried thyme. Stir well and continue cooking until everything is very fragrant, about 5 to 10 minutes. This allows the spices to really open up and become flavorful, so don’t skip this part!

Onion, turmeric, garlic, ginger, dried thyme and cinnamon in a skillet.

All of the aromatic veggies and spices sautéing in a skillet to make tikka masala sauce.

3. Transfer the ingredients for the sauce to a blender (pureed pumpkin, coconut milk, cider vinegar, pure maple syrup, and the sauteed onions mixture).

Ingredients for the tikka masala sauce in a blender, ready to be blended

Blend until everything is completely combined.

AIP Tikka Masala sauce in a blender.

From here, you can refrigerate the sauce in an airtight container or jar until you’re ready to use it, or cook your chicken tikka masala.

Prepare the Chicken Tikka Masala:

1. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of avocado oil to a large skillet and heat to medium. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken from the marinade to the hot skillet, leaving behind the marinade). Brown the chicken for 5 minutes before transferring the sauce to the skillet with the chicken.

Chicken cooking in a stainless steel skillet.

Note: if you don’t want the marinade to go to waste, you can cook it with the chicken, but it isn’t necessary at this point.

2. Bring everything to a controlled gentle boil and cook, stirring constantly, until everything smells wonderful and the chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 20 minutes.

Finished AIP chicken tikka masala in a skillet

3. Serve AIP Chicken Tikka Masala with your choice of side dishes, such as cauliflower rice (or riced cauliflower), and fresh cilantro and enjoy!

Horizontal image of AIP Chicken TIkka Masala in a wooden bowl with a red napkin next to it.

Notes

*There is plenty of sauce and marinade to accommodate up to 3 pounds of chicken breasts, so you can adjust the amount of chicken you use according to your meal prep goals or personal taste.

Nutrition Facts are calculated based on 3 pounds of chicken breasts.

Nutrition Information
Yield 6 Serving Size 1 Serving (of 6)
Amount Per Serving Calories 636Total Fat 41gCarbohydrates 12gNet Carbohydrates 10gFiber 2gSugar 5gProtein 50g

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Emma

Thursday 27th of October 2022

Hooray Hooray! So glad to see this recipe posted. Excited to get cooking!

Julia

Monday 31st of October 2022

So thrilled you're excited for it! Let me know what you think!!

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