Spice World: Indian Butter Chicken

Let me start off by saying that I realize the photos of this dish might not look so appetizing. But you’ve got to trust me. As with most traditional Indian dishes, this recipe ends up tasting way better than it appears on the plate. What with its tender chicken, rich tomato-and-yogurt sauce, and intense punch from the mixture of spices.

I’ve been in the mood for Indian food recently and decided to experiment while my husband Kenny was away on a hunting trip last weekend. Chicken Makhani, also known as Indian Butter Chicken, is a popular dish served in nearly every Indian restaurant in America. It’s also one of my favorites. And even though Kenny had never eaten Indian grub before, he was quickly converted after chowing down on my leftovers.

If you’re a fan of Indian Butter Chicken, you’ll find this recipe is an authentic homemade version, offering plenty of spice when the full ¼ teaspoon of cayenne is added. Those who are rookies to Indian cuisine might be cautious when incorporating the cayenne pepper, should they prefer milder flavors. You should be able to find the garam masala in your grocery store’s spice aisle. You can substitute chicken breasts instead of thighs, but I’d suggest sticking with the thighs, which offer a meatier flavor and more tender texture. And be sure to serve atop a heap of white rice (or any type of rice you like).


Indian Butter Chicken
Serves 4

2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
1 shallot, finely chopped
¼ white onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste (smear minced garlic and ground ginger together on a cutting board with the back of a knife)
2 teaspoons garam masala, divided
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
¼ cup plain yogurt
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup tomato puree
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 pinch salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup water


Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté shallot and onion until soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in butter, lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste, 1 teaspoon garam masala, chili powder, cumin and bay leaf. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in half-and-half and yogurt. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat and season with 1 teaspoon garam masala and cayenne. Stir in a few spoonfuls of sauce and simmer until liquid has reduced and chicken is no longer pink. Stir cooked chicken into sauce. Mix together cornstarch and water, then stir into the sauce. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until sauce has thickened. Serve with rice.


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