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Creamy and savory, Indian butter chicken is a must-order for any fan of Indian cuisine. An extremely popular dish at most Indian restaurants in America, this combination of tender chicken and rich sauce is equally delicious with basmati rice or Indian naan. While butter chicken can be time-consuming to make, the results are deliciously fulfilling and perfect for leftovers.
To help us navigate this classic dish, The Manual has enlisted the help of Maneet Chauhan, a Food Network star, and restaurateur Gaurav Anand. With their expert guidance, butter chicken can be a great addition to anyone’s dinner repertoire.
Butter Chicken vs. Chicken Tikka Masala
Because of the similarities between butter chicken and chicken tikka masala — both dishes feature chicken in a tomato-laced, cream-based sauce — the two are often confused for one another. However, the two dishes are different, each with its own unique history and flavor. Butter chicken (murgh makhani) was created in the late 1940s by Chef Kundan Lal Gujral as a way to utilize tandoori chicken. With an emphasis on cream and tandoor cooked chicken, butter chicken is quintessentially a Northern Indian dish, a region well-known for its use of rich, dairy-based sauces. In comparison, chicken tikka masala is believed to be invented by a Bangladeshi chef in Scotland during the 1970s. Now, chicken tikka masala is everywhere in Great Britain, becoming one of the most popular dishes in the country.
When compared head to head, butter chicken is generally more spiced, with a richer butter flavor than chicken tikka masala. Generally, chicken tikka masala is made with boneless white meat compared to the shredded dark meat of butter chicken (although this can depend on individual recipes). The key to a great butter chicken, besides the spice blend, is the chicken itself. The chicken should be properly marinated and cooked (preferably charbroiled in a tandoor oven) before it’s stewed with the sauce.
Butter Chicken Recipe
The Butter Chicken recipe is from Gaurav Anand, a chef, and restaurateur in New York City. Named the “Best Caterer” in New York by NY Magazine in 2021, Anand is the owner of Moti Mahal Delux, Bhatti Indian Grill, and Awadh restaurants. Originally from New Delhi, Anand is a passionate voice for Indian cuisine in America.
This butter chicken recipe is intricate, including two separate marination stages for the chicken. For the sauce, Anand is keen to emphasize the importance of blending. “It’s very important to blend the sauce for the full 2 minutes after cooking to release all the flavors,” said Anand. “After blending the sauce, make sure to strain it over a saucepan so you have a smooth sauce. Then add the butter, cream, and chicken.”
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 1/2 hours
Yield: 3-4 serving
For First Chicken Marination:
- 1.5 lbs chicken breast, cubed
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 1.5 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
- Mustard or vegetable oil
- Salt to taste
For Second Chicken Marination:
- .5 cup yogurt
- .5 tsp rock salt
- 1 tsp garam masala
- .5 tsp dry fenugreek
- .5 tsp cumin powder
For Butter Chicken Sauce:
- 4 tsp Amul butter or oil
- Whole spice mix: 1 bay leaf, few black cardamom, 4 green cardamom pods, 3 dried red chilies
- 3 large onions, peeled and chopped
- 9 medium tomatoes, diced
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
- 8-10 fresh green chilies, chopped
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 1 tsp jeera powder red chili powder
- 2 tsp kitchen king spice blend
- .5 tsp cumin powder
- Salt to taste
- 3.5 tbsp butter
- .25 cup fresh cream
- Fresh coriander
- For the chicken: marinate the chicken with the first marinade for 30 minutes and set aside.
- Mix the second marinade ingredients in a bowl and rub on the chicken pieces; set aside for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit; place the marinated chicken on a tray with foil; brush with oil, broil for 9 mins — make sure the chicken comes out moist and tender.
- For the sauce: place oil in a pan and heat it up. Add the blend of whole spices and sauté for 30 seconds.
- Add the onions and sauté till golden brown.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and let cook for a good 20 mins; then add the ghee and all the spices and with salt to taste.
- Transfer this mix to a blender and blend for 2 mins — you will see the color of the sauce has changed. Strain the blended sauce over a pan until you have the perfect color and texture and the whole masala residue is left in the sieve.
- Cook this sauce over medium heat, add the chicken, add butter and heavy cream. Cook, stirring, till the ingredients are incorporated and sauce thickens.
- Garnish with fresh coriander.
Butter Chicken with Coconut Milk
An Indian American chef and food television personality, Maneet Chauhan is a frequent judge on Chopped and winner of Food Network’s 2021 Tournament of Champions. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Chauhan is an experienced chef and one of the sought-after authorities on Indian cuisine in America. This recipe from Chauhan replaces the standard cream with coconut milk, giving the dish a different flavor profile.
Prep Time: 25 minutes + 1-2 hour marinade
Total Time: 2 hours
Yield: 4-6 servings
- 2 tbsp butter/ olive oil
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 2 lbs pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks (or your favorite protein, for vegetarian/vegan, cauliflower cubes or tofu can be used)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 can tomato puree (14oz)
- 4 garlic pods, crushed
- 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
- 2 tsp tandoori masala
- 3 tbsp fenugreek leaves
- 1.5 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Marinate chicken (or alternative) in yogurt, ginger, garlic, salt, pepper and 2 teaspoons of tandoori masala. Leave for at least an hour for the best flavor.
- Either bake the chicken on a greased tray or cook in a sauté pan. Keep aside.
- Heat butter or olive oil (if you want a vegan recipe), add onions, and sauté till golden brown. Stir in tomato puree, garam masala, fenugreek, the rest of the tandoori masala, and turmeric until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in coconut milk until heated through, about 1 minute.
- Add the chicken and cook together for a few minutes. Garnish with cilantro.