Butter Chicken is probably the most popular mainstream Indian meal. It’s a simple recipe where chicken is simmered in a mild fragrant tomato sauce and usually served over rice. It doesn’t take long to prepare and this recipe has ingredients you can find at most grocery stores.
This is a true story. I was in a grocery store looking at yogurt and a woman came over and started talking to me about what kind of yogurt I should buy. Yes she was a complete stranger. I told her I wanted full fat Greek yogurt because I was making Butter Chicken. She said oh no, you make butter chicken with coconut milk. “Hmmmm,” I said, “well I haven’t ever made it that way. I’m using a recipe shared by a former co-worker who is actually from India.” She insisted her recipe was authentic so I smiled and said “Sure, I’ll try it with coconut milk.” Just as I was about to make a clean getaway, she brought me a can of coconut milk.
So instead of making a run for it, I bought the coconut milk. And guess what? It was good. Really good.Jump to Recipe
I made it again without the coconut milk a week later, just to be sure. We invited friends to taste test. The same ones who tried the previous version. Unanimous voting decided the coconut milk version is BETTER. And, it doesn’t have a lot of butter or cream so it’s even a little healthier!
If you never experiment you won’t learn anything. I once made this in the slow cooker. I just put all the ingredients together and let it bubble away for 5 hours. It tasted ok but the sauce was watery and the chicken broke up into small bits. I won’t do that again.
For best results, you want to marinate the chicken before cooking. You can do this the night before, earlier in the day or even up to an hour before. Use full fat yogurt, not the fat free or reduced fat type that have added ingredients like thickeners.
How to make Butter Chicken
I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs for this recipe. I prefer dark meat but you can use breast meat if you prefer. Cut your chicken into chunks and add them to a bowl or freezer bag. Finely mince ginger and garlic and add, along with yogurt and garam masala. Garam Masala is a blend of spices used in Indian and South Asian cooking. It’s easily found in the spice section of most grocery stores and saves you from buying a whole bunch of exotic spices. You want to use fresh ginger for this, not the ground type. It’s actually very reasonably priced, in fact the last piece I bought cost me about 40 cents! Season with salt and pepper. Combine well, cover and refrigerate.
To prepare, dice some onion and sauté in butter. Add the garam masala, chili powder, cumin, turmeric and cayenne. Cayenne pepper is optional but I like it because it adds just a bit of heat. If you don’t have turmeric and wouldn’t have any other use for it, don’t worry about it. Spices do last a long time but if you don’t think you’d ever use it again, it’s better not to be wasteful. BUT, you will love this Butter Chicken so much you’ll probably make it again and again. And turmeric adds a little something to the colour. You’ll see!
Adding spices to heat helps to release the flavours so give them a sauté then add the chicken along with the marinating ingredients. Turn the heat up slightly to partially cook the chicken, then add tomato sauce, yogurt and coconut milk. Use a pureed or strained type of tomato sauce for best texture. You can buy it on cartons, cans or bottles. I usually use Passata which is a bottled product from Italy that contains just tomatoes and salt. Butter chicken should be smooth and creamy. Surprise, the only butter in the recipe is the small amount you use to sauté the onion.
Simmer for about 20 minutes to ensure all the flavours have combined and the chicken is cooked through. The sauce will thicken slightly as it cooks so leave it uncovered. It will also make your kitchen smell awesome and give you time to make rice. Basmati or Jasmine rice work great with Butter Chicken. And don’t forget fresh Naan Bread. If you’re really ambitious you can make your own!
Butter Chicken has the most beautiful colour!
Garnish with fresh cilantro. You can make Raita with the leftover yogurt which is a simple sauce with shredded cucumber, fresh garlic and a pinch of cumin. It’s used to cool your mouth with hot dishes but is also great on warm naan.
Here’s the recipe:
- 2 lb boneless, skinless chicken 2-3 breasts or 6-8 thighs
- ¼ cup full fat yogurt Greek yogurt has best thickness
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1 piece fresh ginger, size of thumb, finely minced
- salt and pepper
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp turmeric optional, adds extra colour
- ⅓ cup full fat yogurt
- 160 ml coconut milk the small can, about 2/3 cup
- 1 ½ cups smooth tomato sauce Passata is good option
- handful fresh cilantro for garnish
- Chop chicken into bite sized pieces. Peel ginger and garlic and finely mince. Add to chicken along with ¼ cup yogurt, garam masala and salt and pepper. Marinate at least 30 minutes, up to over night in refrigerator.
- In large skillet, heat butter and sauté diced onion gently over medium-low heat until golden and soft.
- Add spices and sauté about a minute to release flavours and fragrance.
- Turn heat to medium and add chicken, including marinating liquid. Cook chicken, turning, until pieces are cooked on the outside.
- Stir in ⅓ cup yogurt, coconut milk and tomato sauce. Lower heat and simmer at least 20 minutes until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thickened slightly.
- Serve over warm Basmati or Jasmine rice. Garnish if desired with fresh chopped cilantro and serve with warm naan bread.