Creamy, authentic Tikka Masala Sauce—a simmer sauce you’ll want to keep on hand for quick anytime dinners. Make a big batch of this sauce and store it in the freezer for those nights you really don’t want to cook.

Reheat the sauce on the stove top and throw in some leftover cooked chicken, pork or lamb. Or keep it vegan by adding some golden brown tofu or tempeh. Absolutely delicious however it’s served!

bright orange creamy sauce in a saute pan set on a table


Tikka literally means “chunks of meat cooked on skewers” in hindi. An the Indian word masala often describes spice blends—though the blend and number of spices varies. Many of us assume tikka masala originated in India. However, some sources say it hails from Britain, while other say Scotland is tikka masla’s homeland.

Whichever side you’re on—authentic tikka masala consists of marinated meat (often in yogurt) that gets skewered and cooked over a grill until charred. The charred meat gets simmered in a silky curry sauce made with warm spices, coconut milk, onions, and tomatoes. 

But when it comes to tikka masala, it’s hard to know what is truly authentic as its origins are largely disputed and recipes vary widely.

close up image of a bright orange sauce in a skillet

What you’ll need: 


  1. Cook the onions until starting to soften.
  2. Add the serrano, garlic and ginger and cook until onions are starting to brown.
  3. Add the spices and cook until fragrant. 
  4. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pan with onions. 
  5. Simmer the sauce until thickened and deep in color. 
  6. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer until thickened. 
  7. Add cooked meat to the sauce and simmer until cooked through.
  8. Serve tikka masala over rice with cilantro and naan bread.
step-by-step grid of images showing how to make sauce for tikka masala
step-by-step grid of images showing how to make sauce for tikka masala

How to use tikka masala sauce—what to add to make it a full meal

One sauce, so many ways to use it! Once you have the sauce prepared, add bite sized pieces of your prefered protein. Charred and cooked, or partially cooked, meat is best, but you can also add the meat right to the sauce and simmer until cooked through.

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs cut into 1-inch chunks.
  • pre-cooked chicken or cubed rotisserie chicken is a great shortcut option.
  • Boneless lamb leg shoulder or sirloin.
  • Hearty white fish such as cod or halibut, cut into 1-inch chunks.
  • Salmon,cut into 1-inch chunks.
  • Canned/cooked chickpeas or white beans.
  • Crispy cooked tofu or tempeh.
  • Peeled and deveined shrimp.
Creamy red sauce over white rice in a bowl with naan bread and cilantro

How to add meat to this tikka masala sauce

  1. Broil chunks of meat: season 1-inch chunks of meat with salt, pepper and garam masala. Arrange in a single layer on a wire rack set inside a baking sheet. Broil meat until charred and cooked through. Add charred meat to the simmer sauce and toss to coat.
  2. Grill chunks of meat: season 1-inch chunks of meat with salt, pepper and garam masala. String meat onto skewers and grill over medium-high until charred and cooked through. Add charred meat to the simmer sauce and toss to coat.
  3. Use pre-cooked meat: for a super quick dinner, add pre-cooked meat (a great way to use leftovers!) right to the sauce. Bring to a simmer then serve as desires.
  4. For a classic tikka masala: marinate chunks of meat or meat alternative in a spicy yogurt marinade before charring and adding to the simmer sauce. Toss meat/meat alternative in the following marinade, then cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Broil or grill as directed above.
  • 1 cup whole milk yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon coriander

Serve tikka masala over rice (this cilantro rice would be delicious!), with cilantro and naan bread, if desired.

Keep it vegan/vegetarian

This tikka masala sauce is already vegan. If you want to keep it that way, add crispy chunks of tofu or tempeh, shredded cooked jackfruit, or cooked chickpeas instead of meat. Make crispy tofu using this method. Swap out the ginger and cardamom for a combination of garam masala and coriander.

For a great vegetarian option, add chunks of paneer (Indian cheese).

MEAL PREP SIMMER SAUCE: tips for storing & reheating

This tikka masala sauce recipe is a great addition to weekly or monthly meal prep. Make a big batch (double or triple it) and store in the freezer for super quick dinners any night of the week.

How to store tikka masala sauce

I recommend storing the simmer sauce in resealable zipper-lock bags. To do this, ladle the sauce into bags, seal and lay flat on a baking sheet. Freeze until solid, then remove sheet pan and store bags in the freezer until needed.

Tikka Masala sauce will last up to 6 months in the freezer, but is best used within 3 months. 

Reheating tikka masala simmer sauce

Thaw the tikka masala sauce overnight in the refrigerator, or transfer frozen sauce from bag to a sauté pan and melt/reheat over medium. 

Bring to a simmer then use as desired. 


  • use heavy cream instead of coconut milk.
  • use evaporated milk instead of coconut milk.
  • use crushed tomatoes instead of whole peeled for a smoother sauce.
  • use canned tomatoes sauce instead of canned tomatoes for a super creamy sauce.
  • add a teaspoon of turmeric for color and added earthiness.
  • add kashmiri red chili powder for an authentic and spicy sauce.
  • add dried fenugreek (kasoori methi) for a more authentic sauce. Fenugreek comes in both dried leaves and seeds, you’ll want dried leaves here. Add a teaspoon or so with the spices.
  • make a soup! Add prefered protein and simmer until cooked through. Thin out the sauce with chicken or vegetable broth until desired soup consistency is reached.

Indian-inspired recipes you may like

If you give this Tikka Masala Sauce recipe a try, be sure to let me know! I’d love to see how you used it.

Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @zestfulkitchen on Instagram. I love hearing about and seeing your ZK creations!

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Easy Creamy Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce

  • Author: Lauren Grant
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 3 cups sauce 1x
  • Category: Sauce/Dip
  • Method: Stove top
  • Cuisine: Indian
  • Diet: Vegan


This Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce is creamy, flavorful and even vegan.  It’s great for meal prep—just add meat (or tofu), simmer and serve over rice. Store in the freezer and reheat whenever you need a quick no-stress dinner!


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or ghee
  • 1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 serrano, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk 
  • 3 cups cooked jasmine or basmati rice and/or naan bread
  • Cilantro or mint for serving 


Heat oil in a 12-inch satué pan over medium. Add onion and 1 teaspoon salt; cook until softened and starting to brown, 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic, serrano, and ginger; cook stirring frequently until onions are softened and golden brown, about 7 minutes. Stir in garam masala, cumin, and cardamom; cook 1 minute. 

Add tomatoes with juices, crushing them with your hands as you add them (or use your kitchen shears to cut them in the can). Bring sauce to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring frequently and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan, until thickened and deep in color, 15–20 minutes. Add coconut milk and simmer until thickened, 5–7 minutes. 

Serve with rice, cilantro, and naan if desired. 


Made with olive oil, this sauce is vegan. It’s also gluten-free. 

Make it a full vegan meal: add crispy tofu, tempeh, shredded jackfruit, or cooked chickpeas.

Make it a full meal with meat: add charred chunks of cooked chicken (thighs) or lamb. Or add chunks of chicken thighs right to the sauce and simmer until cooked through. 

Keywords: tikka masala, tikka masala sauce, tikka masala simmer sauce

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine,,, and more.

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  1. Delicious recipe! After I finished cooking the masala, I pureed it in my Vitamix. I prefer a smooth sauce.
    I used Coconut cream instead of Coconut milk, just because I keep some on hand.
    Will be making this again!
    Thank you 🙂