Even the words “butter chicken” conjure up thoughts of decadence.
One of the most iconic Indian dishes known throughout the globe is without a doubt chicken tikka masala, but butter chicken has to be a close second. While chicken tikka masala is more the national dish of the UK, butter chicken is more the national dish of India, or at least in Delhi where it was first created.
Butter chicken starts with a marinade of yogurt and Indian spices. Once removed from the marinade, the traditional method of cooking the chicken is in a tandoor (wood fired clay oven). We’ll cook ours on the grill, but it could also be cooked in the broiler or a skillet with a bit of cooking oil. The chicken is then added to a mild and silky curried tomato sauce.
We begin this recipe in a similar fashion to making chicken tikka (Indian kabobs). The only exception is we don’t have to completely cook the chicken. It will finish cooking in the sauce. We’re just using the grill to sear in some added flavor representing the flavors one could expect from a tandoor. We also want to give the chicken a head start so we don’t need to overcook our butter sauce while waiting on the chicken.
This butter chicken recipe does vary somewhat from an authentic version. While I might be berated by Indian chefs, I tried to create a recipe that utilized more readily available ingredients. Sure, the Indian cooks have a cupboard full of Indian spices, as well as they should. The rest of us probably don’t. Even at that, there’s a few ingredients that you may have to seek out. I offer some resources below.
Despite the fact that this recipe may not be 100 percent authentic, it sure beats or matches what most Indian restaurants are serving. We just simplified it without any flavor sacrifices.
It’s time for you to be the judge. Just be sure to have an ample supply of basmati rice and grilled naan on hand.
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
- bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes
- Chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
- Basmanti rice and naan for serving
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste (available in tubes or jars at most grocery stores)
- 2 teaspoons fresh-ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1-1/2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1-1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cayenne, more or less per personal taste
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 green cardamoms, crushed
- 3 jalapeño peppers (optional), finely dice 1 and slice 2 for garnish (See Note #2)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons ginger paste, or equivalent fresh grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- chicken broth or water (use as necessary)
- sugar or honey, to taste
- Kosher or sea salt, per taste
- 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
- Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off any excess fat. Cut into 1-inch cubes.
- Thread chicken onto skewers.
- In a mixing bowl, combine marinade ingredients and blend well.
- Place kabobs in a baking dish or resealable freezer bag. Pour marinade over skewers assuring they're completely coated.
- Cover or seal bag and place in refrigerator. Allow to marinate for at least 20 minutes. Four to six hours is best. Flip occasionally.
- Remove skewers and brush off excess marinade.
- Over a high-heat grill, cook skewers for 3-5 minutes. Cook until slightly charred.
- Don't worry about completely cooking the chicken, it will finish in the sauce.
- Remove skewers from heat and allow to cool. Strip chicken from skewers or remove from skillet and set aside.
- Follow same instructions as above. After marinating, preheat oven broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat with cooking spray. Cook under the broiler for 4-6 minutes while turning each 5 minutes. Cook until slightly charred.
- Alternatively, skip the skewers entirely and preheat a few teaspoons of cooking oil in a skillet. Remove chicken pieces from marinade, pat dry and sear chicken for 5-6 minutes while turning each couple of minutes.
- In a large skillet, add butter and vegetable oil. Heat over medium-high heat until butter melts.
- Add cardamoms, jalapeño peppers, garlic and onion. Sauté just until onions become translucent. Reduce heat to low.
- Add tomato paste, ginger paste, garam masala, cinnamon, paprika and chili powder. Allow to cook for 5 minutes while stirring occasionally.
- Add the heavy cream and stir well. Continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add a small amount of chicken stock or water if necessary. A medium consistency is the goal.
- Adjust the flavor per taste with salt and honey. The sauce should have just enough sweetness to offset the acidity of the tomato sauce.
- Stir in the chicken and crush the fenugreek leaves while evenly sprinkling over the sauce. Cook for 15 minutes while occasionally stirring. Continue to cook until an instant-read meat thermometer registers 165°F (75°C) when inserted into the chicken.
- Adjust the consistency with broth or water again if necessary. Garnish with sliced jalapeño peppers and cilantro.
- Serve with grilled naan and basmati rice
2. Remove the seeds and white, inner membrane from the jalapeño if less spicy butter chicken is desired.