Murgh Masala (Chicken in Tomato and Onion Sauce)


If I knew someone who is afraid of opulent, complex, hot flavours, this is the dish I would probably serve to introduce her or him to the marvels of the Indian cuisine. This was my first Murgh Masala, so I don’t know if all the Indian cooks prepare it this way, but this one was low-fat, subtly seasoned and mild (the last point can easily be changed of course!). In short: a toned down, but equally delightful side of the Indian cuisine I was happy to discover. Apart from being more delicate, Murgh Masala proved also quite effortless and relatively quick (especially compared to other Indian dishes), so I think I will be preparing it quite often.

This Punjabi speciality is another fabulous recipe I found in the Classic Indian Cookery by Julie Sahni. I have followed the author’s instructions almost to the letter, the only modification being the use of skinned chicken breasts instead of cut up whole bird. I have also scaled down the 8-servings recipe to a dish for two, which meant I have slightly changed the ingredients’ amounts too.

If you like Indian cuisine, you might be interested in these (other gems found in Julie Sahni’s book):


Indian Chickpeas in Tangy Sauce (my absolute chickpeas favourite!)


or Butter Chicken (Makhani Murgh)

TIP: This was the first time I used black cardamom (I used to replace it, as it’s often advised in Indian recipes, by green cardamom). The difference is surprisingly huge. If you cook Indian from time to time, I strongly encourage you to invest in a package of black cardamom.

Preparation: about 1h30

Ingredients (serves two):

2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces or half a chicken cut into small skinned pieces

1 medium onion (sliced)

2 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped and skinned, or 100 – 150 ml/ approx. 3,5 – 5 oz canned tomatoes

1 medium clove garlic (chopped)

1/2 cm fresh ginger (chopped)

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 black cardamom pod (or 2 green cardamom pods)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon hot chili powder

200 ml/ 7 oz hot water

1 teaspoon roasted and ground cumin seeds

fresh coriander

oil or ghee

Heat one tablespoon oil in a pan.

Brown the chicken pieces (without cooking them thoroughly!).

Put aside.

Add one more tablespoon oil and fry the onion on medium heat constantly stirring until it becomes light brown (it can take 15 – 30 minutes).

Add the garlic and the ginger and fry for 5 minutes, stirring.

Afterwards add the cinnamon and the cardamom, fry for 2 more minutes.

Finally add the turmeric, the chili pepper, the chicken, the tomatoes and the water.

Season with salt (just a bit, you will be able to adjust the saltiness later) and cook at low heat, covered for about 30 minutes. If you use pieces with bones, including thighs, it might take more time. (Check from time to time if it’s not burning!).

Uncover the pan, increase the heat and finish cooking until the sauce has thickened.

The author recommends putting the dish aside for minimum one hour (perfectly two hours) and then reheating it slowly before serving.

If you are in a hurry, you can serve it straight away, but it tastes better reheated indeed.

Sprinkle with ground cumin and give it a stir. Then sprinkle with fresh coriander just before serving.

39 Replies to “Murgh Masala (Chicken in Tomato and Onion Sauce)”

  1. Hi Sissi! We’ve been on an Indian kick lately, and it’s been so delightful! My husband is a fan of chicken masala, and when we used to take our little girl to try Indian food, she didn’t care for it. For some reason this year, her taste buds did a 180%, and we ended up eating at this hole in the wall Indian cafe 3 weeks in a roll!

    Your dish looks delicious! I really like the black backdrop of your photo with the bamboo circular plate, really made your dish pop!

    1. Thank you so much, Jeno! With my dark table photographing is not very easy… I must buy a special wooden board just for the photos. I love so much Indian cuisine… I hope to cook it more and more often. The only downside is that there are so many ingredients to be remembered! I think this recipe is the easiest in this matter 😉 It must be fun to share taste preferences with your daughter.

  2. You know how much I love Indian food Sissi, thank you for another inspiring recipe. I took Chicken breast out of the freezer this morning for a lemon chicken dish I saw on Barb’s site (Profiteroles and Ponytails) but I am again tempted by your proposition. Indian flavours are perfect for the chilly, dreary cold days that we are experiencing now, and it won’t last forever; perhaps the lemon chicken can wait…but then I have two lemons sitting waiting to be used. I’ll bookmark for Sunday perhaps. Thank you.
    When I buy lemons and can’t use them right away, I usually just zest them onto a piece of parchment and then freeze in a little baggy. I also juice the lemon and freeze in individual ice cube trays. It’s a great way to save the fruit from rotting.

    1. Thank you so much, Eva. I know we both like Indian food a lot 🙂 I keep on thinking about your naans… I know I will make them one day. Maybe when I have guests. Otherwise I will eat the whole batch on my own.
      This was probably the easiest Indian recipe I have ever made (of course I don’t mention here the Indian-inspired dishes I sometimes make adding just a bit of garam masala or curry…). So few spices and quite quick too. As I have mentioned I was delighted to discover black cardamom (I bought it accidentally a week ago as one of the rare Indian spices I didn’t have in stock 😉 ).
      I have seen Barb’s recent Chinese feast a couple of hours ago. It looks fabulous. No wonder you were inspired. I love lemon chicken, but the recipe I found on Jeno’s blog (and slightly transformed) is a bit different from Barb’s (my chicken bits don’t look crunchy as hers: no breading, etc.). I have posted it some time ago, but I prepare it so often!
      PS I read your comment just before going to my organic shop… I have bought a lemon 😉 I couldn’t resist. It seems I will have lemon chicken tomorrow! Thanks for the tips! I also freeze lemon peel, but usually manage to use up the juice before it spoils. Otherwise I desperately need a bigger freezer…

    1. Thank you very much, Azusa. I started to cook it at home most of all because all the restaurants here make it very greasy… I feel too guilty to enjoy it.

  3. I must tell you how happy I am to see a dish which doesn’t involve a vast array of complicated, impossible to find ingredients, Sissi! I’ve been meaning to “get into” Indian cooking more for some time but I think the thing holding me back is always the lists of ingredients… curry leaves, fenugreek, mango powder (?????). Things which are, I’m sure, perfectly normal and easy to get in, say England, but in this curry-starved land where the most adventurous thing people eat is a “cheese naan” with a shrimp korma, so mild that it’s like eating pure coconut milk, it’s very difficult to find such things. I’m delighted that the recipe above contains things which are easy to come by… except for black cardamom, although I have seen it before I think – never tried it though. Is it vastly different? In what way? Flavour? Strength?

    Anyway, this might actually be just the thing to kick off my Indian cooking with a vengeance!

    Speaking of which, I thought of you today – I went to the Japanese grocery store in Paris and saw little packets of vastly expensive shiso leaves (€4.50 for about 5 leaves), but I wanted to get ingredients for my yakiniku tomorrow. I also bought (not from there, from Auchan, before Christmas) a jar of Szechuan peppercorns, after being inspired by your dishes. I didn’t use them yet, but I ate one to see what it was like – it was like you said… a delightful numbing of the tongue. I’m looking forward to making my first dish soon!

    1. Thank you so much, Charles. Even though I have practically all the dried spices required in Indian cuisine, I am rarely in mood of cooking a dish which requires 15 of them, added at different stages etc.. What makes me furious is that it’s impossible to remember any of the dishes and if one spice is forgotten or amounts mixed up, the taste is completely different. This is the challenging side of Indian cuisine!
      This one will be probably the only Indian dish I will learn by heart when I will have made it twice or three times. I didn’t do it hot, but this can be adjusted without any problems (I eat so much hot food recently, I sometimes feel I need mild meals).
      I was very surprised by black cardamom indeed. It’s completely different from the green one, which is very “lively” and fresh, while this one is very serious (rather from the black cumin category). Difficult to explain but worth testing. Let me know if you want me to send it to you! I have bought it just around the corner.
      I never buy shiso in Japanese shops but in Vietnamese, so if you like it, look for Vietnamese grocers (or maybe Tang Frères? They sell lots of Thai herbs too, so why not shiso which is widely used in Vietnam). Japanese shiso is also very expensive (and they sell it rarely). Vietnamese is a bit different (a bit stronger I think) but I get a huge bunch for 2 euros…
      I’m glad you have discovered the Sichuan peppercorns. Be careful with the amounts! It can spoil the whole dish if you add a couple of peppercorns too many. If one day you prepare mapo dofu (the real recipe just cannot be made without Sichuan pepper), you will see how incredible the taste is. This is at least what I thought about the recipe found in Fuchsia Dunlop’s book.

  4. This dish seems light due to the absence of cream/coconut milk or yogurt but still tasty. I’m going to have to track down black cardamom and give it a try.

    By the way, I love Eva’s naan recipe as it only makes 4, and I think a batch of hot, freshly made naan would be amazing with this stew type dish.

    1. Thank you, A_Boleyn. This cookery book contains many meat or vegetable dishes (like the chickpeas I posted) which don’t contain any yogurt or coconut milk, but this one seemed particularly simple and it was simple indeed. I will be making it very often in the future.
      Black cardamom is so different from the green one, I cannot understand why they are proposed as a substitute. Green one is fresh and “lively”, while this one has a deep, “smoky” aroma… Totally different. It was a very wise buy because I see it in many Indian dishes.
      Eva’s naans haunt me but I still feel too lazy… I’m sure they would be perfect not only with Indian dishes.

  5. I am ashamed that I, big lover of curries and owner of a bulging spice cupboard, do not own black cardamom. I just keep replacing it with green and ever think too much about it. I think I have to go get some now (to add to my bulding cupboard oops), very curious to see the difference it makes. anyway the masala murgh sounds gorgeous, will probably put this to the test very soon since I have all the otheringredients and spices (save for black cardamom). happy weekend sissi! x

    1. Thanks a lot, Shu Han. Black cardamom is completely different from the green one and as I told A_Boleyn I cannot understand why the green is given as a replacement. Black has nothing fresh in taste and even though it’s strong, it is “calmer”… Do try cooking with it. I don’t say it’s better but so different… Have a lovely weekend, too.

  6. This murgh masala recipe is a wonderful introduction for parent and child into the outrageously wonderful world of Indian provincial curries. Yes, I would increase the heat, but that is me 🙂 ! Black cardamom is certainly easily available Down Under and, methinks, it does make a difference. Sissi, we all do make things differently, and vive la difference: I personally prefer boned chicken thighs for their ‘looser’ meat and more succulent result! Just a thought, but a beautiful recipe, especially for those who do not prepare Indian curries on a weekly or bi-weekly basis 🙂 !

    1. Thanks a lot, Eha. I usually make very hot versions of Indian dishes, but as someone who has very hot food practically every day, I find such mild dishes a nice change (and I suppose it’s not very healthy to eat very hot meals all the time).
      I have always been the breast and wings person 🙂 Luckily: my husband prefers thighs. The only thing I regret is that no one sells breast on the bone… so either I take them from the whole chicken or, if I buy only breasts… well I have only breasts. I love stews with meat on the bone of course.

  7. Wonderful recipes Sissi! One of my favorite Indian dishes is the butter chicken. Black cardamon is new to me, I will try to find some. Have a great weekend!

  8. I think anything that uses a host of spices such as this dish, deserves some time to rest. I would definitely make this delicious dish in the morning or the day before. The color of the sauce alone shows how tasty this dish is. Another great dish my friend!!! I also love that bowl! The picture is VERY nice as well. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, MJ, for the compliments. I made it several hours before, tasted and then reheated and of course it tasted better! This one wasn’t as red as some Indian dishes with lots of tomatoes, but it was delicious too.

  9. Tasty, tasty. Sissi, I thank for this recipe and for sharing the book, I am going to look for it in the library. If they don’t have it, I will ask them to purchase it – they are quite used to it by now haha. This is just to see if I eventually wanted to buy it myself. You have cut down from hot to mild, from 8 to 2 servings, and the best part for me there isn’t a huge ingredient list of unknown spices and things. I love this. 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot, Zsuzsa. This is probably the only genuine Indian recipe I can learn by heart 😉 As I have mentioned somewhere in the comments, even though I own practically all the Indian dry spices, I’m often not very willing to use fifteen spices, especially since they are added at different stages, some ground, some whole, some toasted… And I have to check the exact amounts in the recipe and stages when to add them… even if I cook it for the 20th time. This is on the other hand the magic of the Indian cuisine.
      The book is an old-style, foolproof cookery book reread dozens of times by the author and maybe proof readers, written by someone who cared for the tiniest detail and who wanted to make the explanations as clear as possible. Rare jewel nowadays. I’m sure you would love this book.
      I actually haven’t scaled down the chili here! The recipe was simply meant to be mild. No cream, no coconut milk, just light, delicate tomato and onion sauce… Whatever happens, do try buying black cardamom if they are mentioned in the recipe. Apparently at a certain time they were much more expensive than green cardamom, hence probably the latter given as a substitute? I bought them at almost the same price as green ones and the one cardamom I used was a revelation: it gives a calm, toned-down, smokey fragrance… contrary to the vivid, fresh aroma of the green cardamom. Nothing in common. Black cardamom is featured in lots of Indian recipes, so you will use it quite often.

      1. Thanks for the cardamom tip Sissi. The only kind I ever used was green. We have a small E. Indian store slash healthfood store nearby. They should have the black cardamom. And I will look for the book.

  10. Hi Sissi, I have missed you and your fabulous blog…so sorry for the delay; I have been so ‘out of touch’ with life in general, for the last couple months. I would like to thank you kindly for you thoughtful condolences and caring throughout this difficult time in my, and my children’s life. Losing their dad was very difficult, but things are getting easier now. When you’re with someone for 40 yrs. it’s never too easy to say good-bye! For further update, you can check out my daughter Lora’s blog at

    Your Murgh Masala Chicken as an absolute divine creation with the tomato onion sauce, and all the perfect Indian spices that I love so much. Also, I love…love your larger photos which make your dishes even more spectacular! Thanks for sharing this incredible recipe, and also the chickpeas dish which I have made (similar recipe)…not too long ago…soo delicious! Take care, my friend; you will be seeing me regularly now; time to get on with life! xo

    1. Dear Elisabeth, it’s such a pleasure to see you again! Thank you so much for your kind words and compliments. I’m happy you like the bigger photos. I was afraid at first that all the flaws would be even bigger, but finally I don’t regret my choice. I often think about you and have missed you a lot, so I am glad to learn things become slowly easier.
      I am glad you liked the similar chickpeas dish! As someone who hardly ever cooks chickpeas, now I buy them only to make this dish. Thank you again for commenting and welcome back!

  11. Marvels of Indian cuisine indeed… you know your speaking my language here Sissi ;o) I am an avowed devotee of Indian cuisine and it’s a delight to see this dish … complex, check; robust, check; heart-stoppingly delicious, check, check. Everything coming together in this singular and mighty fine looking recipe :). (I like the new placemat… very fresh!). I have to go back and have a second look at your butter chicken… I was just considering Indian (going out for it anyway – haha!) for a certain birthday coming up this week! ;-).

    1. Thank you very much, Kelly. Indian cuisine is so magical, isn’t it? This was probably the only Indian recipe which is possible to learn by heart, so I did appreciate it a lot. I liked also its lightness. Perfect even for those who want to lose weight… I hope you will spend a nice night in the Indian restaurant.

  12. Oh my, this is such a beautiful dish. I love all the spices in here and I definitely adore Indian cuisine. I gotta get myself some black cardamom pods. I currently only have the green ones on hand. 🙂 Can’t wait to give this a try.

    1. Thank you so much, Amy. Most people use green cardamom as I did, but you will see how big the difference is.

  13. 3 beautiful dishes! I’m hoping that some day my husband’s palate will enjoy more spicy dishes…so good to know of a toned down recipe to try 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Liz. This one is not very spicy and definitely not hot, so maybe your husband might like it.

  14. Jest tutaj wszystko co lubie! Choc pewnie zrobilabym jak najmniej pikantne w razie czego 😉 I tej ciecierzycy tez sprobuje skoro polecasz (moze w ten weekend…).

    Pozdrawiam serdecznie!

    1. Dzieki, Bea. To danie naprawde nie jest pikantne, a ciecierzyca jest wyjatkowo dobra. Mam nadzieje, ze Tobie tez bedzie smakowac.

  15. This will be good for sure. I already tried your butter chicken recipe, will try this one. I am surprised that there is no curry powder used. I don’t think I have eaten chicken masala in a restaurant so I cannot compare but the flavours sound good, and not too many ingredients.

    1. Thanks a lot, Mr. Three-Cookies. The absence of curry powder and of garam masala makes this dish more subtle and delicate in taste. Apparently genuine Indian (written by a famous Indian cookery books author). I wouldn’t advise it the day you crave hotness and explosion of spices 😉 Since I eat hot dishes quite often, such a mild meal is a welcome change. As I have mentioned above, black cardamom is worth buying.

    1. Green cardamom is often advised as a substitute. It’s completely different, but the dish will be equally delicious.

Comments are closed.