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How to make store bought tikka masala sauce better?

Store-bought tikka masala sauce can be a quick and convenient way to make this popular Indian dish, but the pre-made sauce often lacks depth of flavor. With just a few extra ingredients and techniques, you can easily take basic tikka masala from bland to grand.

What is tikka masala?

Tikka masala is a delicious curry dish that originated in India. It features tender chunks of meat (usually chicken or lamb) in a creamy, tomato-based sauce flavored with warm spices like coriander, cumin, garlic, and chile peppers.

The sauce typically contains:

  • Tomatoes – Provides tangy flavor
  • Spices – Adds depth of flavor
  • Cream/Coconut milk – Gives a rich, creamy texture
  • Garlic – Provides aroma
  • Ginger – Adds subtle heat

This combination of ingredients makes tikka masala a uniquely flavorful, aromatic, and comforting dish.

Tips for improving store-bought tikka masala sauce

While convenient, store-bought tikka masala sauce is often lacking in flavor compared to homemade. Here are some tips to make it tastier:

Sauté aromatics

Sautéing onion, garlic, and ginger in oil helps bring out their flavors. Cook them for 2-3 minutes before adding the sauce.

Bloom spices

Blooming the spices in the sauce amplifies their flavor. Briefly cook the sauce with the spices for 1-2 minutes.

Add tomato paste

Stirring in a tablespoon or two of tomato paste gives the sauce more richness and body.

Simmer the sauce

Letting the sauce simmer for 10-15 minutes allows the flavors to mingle and intensify.

Finish with cream

Stirring in cream or coconut milk at the end gives the sauce a lush, silky texture.

Adjust seasoning

Taste and adjust the salt, spices, acidity to get the flavor balance just right.

Step-by-step method

Follow these simple steps to make store-bought tikka masala sauce restaurant-worthy:

  1. In a pan, sauté diced onion, garlic, and ginger in oil for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add tikka masala sauce and spices like garam masala, cumin, coriander. Cook for 1-2 minutes to bloom spices.
  3. Stir in tomato paste and 1/4 cup water. Simmer sauce for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Add cubed chicken (or meat of choice) and simmer until cooked through, about 15 minutes more.
  5. When chicken is cooked, turn off heat. Stir in cream or coconut milk and add salt to taste.
  6. Serve tikka masala over steamed basmati rice or with naan bread.

Ingredients to have on hand

Keep these ingredients handy to doctor up any store-bought tikka masala sauce:

  • Oil – For sautéing aromatics
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Garam masala
  • Ground coriander
  • Ground cumin
  • Tomato paste
  • Cream or coconut milk
  • Meat of choice (chicken, lamb, etc)
  • Rice or naan bread

Recommended extra ingredients

Try adding any of these ingredients to boost flavor:

  • 1-2 tsp chili powder or cayenne for heat
  • 1 tsp paprika for smokiness
  • 1 tsp garam masala for warmth
  • 1-2 tsp lime juice for acidity
  • 1-2 tsp honey for sweetness
  • Chopped cilantro for freshness
  • Grated fresh ginger for zing

Tikka masala sauce substitutes

If you don’t have tikka masala sauce on hand, you can substitute with:

  • Tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes + garam masala + spices like cumin, coriander, chili powder
  • Tomato sauce + any Indian curry sauce, like butter chicken sauce, korma sauce, etc
  • Tomato sauce + a blend of spices like turmeric, paprika, cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, chili powder

While not exact substitutes, these options combined with the blooming, simmering, and finishing techniques will produce a flavorful masala-style sauce.

Common mistakes

Avoid these errors when sprucing up store-bought tikka masala sauce:

  • Not blooming the spices – skipping this step makes sauce taste flat
  • Adding too much water – dilutes flavor
  • Overcooking chicken – makes it tough and rubbery
  • Undercooking sauce – results in raw spice taste
  • Letting sauce boil rapidly – causes separation
  • Forgetting to adjust seasoning – leads to unbalanced flavor

Serving suggestions

For best results, serve your homemade tikka masala with:

  • Rice – Steamed basmati rice complements the rich sauce.
  • Breads – Warm naan is perfect for dipping in the sauce.
  • Yogurt – Cool, tangy yogurt balances the heat.
  • Onions – Grilled or fried onions add texture.
  • Chutneys – Mint or tamarind chutney add fresh flavor.

Leftover ideas

Leftover tikka masala sauce keeps well refrigerated for 4-5 days. Reuse it in creative ways like:

  • Omelets or scrambled eggs
  • Quesadillas or tacos
  • Pizza topping
  • Sandwich spread
  • Stuffed potatoes
  • Mix into rice or grains


With a few easy add-ins and cooking techniques, boring store-bought tikka masala sauce can be turned into a restaurant-quality dish. Sautéing aromatics, blooming spices, and simmering transforms the flavor from flat to fantastic. Creamy, fragrant, and full of spice, this boosted tikka masala is sure to become a favorite weeknight meal.