The “literal meaning of tikka in the Persian, Urdu, and Punjabi languages is ‘bits, pieces’. Chicken tikka should not be confused with chicken tikka masala, a stew “invented” in the United Kingdom.
There are many versions of chicken tikka but the most popular consists of boneless chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, skewered in bamboo sticks, and cooked in a clay oven called a tandoor. This is my version using traditional South Asian spices but, instead 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. 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! Nothing overpowering but just a hint of this-and-that that melded together into one perfect relish.
All the spices are available in the Asian section of bigger supermarkets. 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.
If you want to serve the salad you see in the photo, just tear a bunch of Romaine lettuce and cut some tomatoes. Make the dressing by mixing the juice of half a lemon, and about two generous splashes of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and sugar. Pour the dressing over the lettuce and tomatoes, toss then serve sprinkled with fresh cilantro.