Butter chicken is a popular Indian recipe for good reason- it’s creamy, flavor-packed, and comforting that will leave your family wanting seconds.
Also called chicken makhani, butter chicken is tender, juicy, traditionally grilled (tandoori( chicken cooked in an aromatic, spicy tomato-based sauce.
It is known it was invented in the 1930s at a restaurant in Delhi that would often have large portions of leftover tandoori. The large pieces were chopped up and combined in a creamy, tomato gravy. Thus butter chicken was born.
Butter chicken vs tikka masala
While butter chicken and tikki masala may seem very similar, they are different in texture and flavor. Tikki masala is a very British dish, in fact it is the national dish of England.
Tikki masala is a dish that is spicy, and hot. The Indian version is milder, sweeter compared to chicken tikki masala, and doesn’t contain onions.
How to make butter chicken
If I had a tandoori oven I would cook the chicken with it, but I don’t so I used a pan. But the first step is to cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and marinate.
The marinade consists of several spices, a little lemon juice, salt, garlic, ginger, and full fat yogurt. The practice of marinating protein in yogurt goes back to as early as the 13th century, and it’s easy to see why.
Yogurt’s lactic acid tenderizes the meat, resulting in incredibly juicy, tender chicken. Marinate for about 12 hours and then you’re ready to go.
At this point I will add a small pad of butter to a skillet, making sure that I cook the chicken until it’s done and the moisture has evaporated. You could also use this baked chicken wings recipe to add as well.
Once I finished cooking the chicken, I removed it from the pan and started making the sauce. Start by heating some butter and adding cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.
Add tomato puree and softened cashews in a blender and blend until smooth. Thanks to the large amount of starch in cashews, they are a wonderful natural thickening agent and add lovely flavor to the dish.
Heat those up so they become fragrant, usually a minute or two, and then add garlic, ginger, and green chilis. Next, dump in your tomato/cashew puree with salt, sugar, red chili powder, coriander, and cumin.
Once it gets thick and begins to leave the sides of the pan, pour in about a cup of water. You can add a little more or less depending on how thick you like your gravy.
After this is simmered for a few minutes, it’s time to add the chicken, garam masala, and kasoori methi, and let it simmer for a few minutes.
Pour in some chilled cream, remove from the stove and garnish with cilantro. The cream really takes this to a very decadent level.
For the marinade
- 2 lb skinless, boneless chicken (thighs or breasts) cut into bite sized pieces
- ¾ cup full fat plain yogurt
- 1 tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 3 tbp ginger garlic paste
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp red chili powder
- 1 tb lemon juice
For the gravy
- 2 tb ghee
- 1 tb ginger garlic paste
- 1 3 in piece of cinnamon stick
- 4 cardamon pods
- 3 cloves
- 2 green chilies, chopped
- 15 – 20 blanched cashews
- 14 oz tomato puree
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 1 ½ tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 ½ tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
- 2 tb cilantro leaves, chopped
- Place chicken in a bowl. Add all the marinade ingredients- yogurt, garam masala, turmeric, ginger garlic paste, chili powder, lemon juice, salt- and mix together. Cover and refrigerate. Let marinate for up to 12 hours.
- Add the cashews and tomato puree to a blender and blend until smooth. Set aside.
- Add 1 tb of ghee to skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until done. Set chicken aside.
- Heat skillet over medium heat with ghee, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, and cloves for about a minute. Add garlic ginger paste and green chilis. Cook until it becomes fragrant.
- Next add the tomato cashew puree, salt, sugar, and red chili powder. Let simmer until it thickens, about 10 minutes.
- Add 1 cup of water, more or less depending on your desired consistency. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. Taste for salt and add as needed.
- Add chicken, garam masala, and coriander. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add dried fenugreek leaves. Pour in cold cream and remove from heat. Garnish with cilantro and more cream if desired. Serve with naan, paratha, or basmati rice.