Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani in Hindi) is the most popular and easiest curry to make. Tender chicken pieces marinated in tikka paste are cooked gently in a mildly-spiced tomato, butter and cream sauce. Originating from Delhi in the late 1940s, this curry has been adopted as a favourite and well-known curry dish in many countries.

Which one is better to use? Butter or Ghee?

Although butter is mentioned as the essential ingredient, it is just as authentic to use ghee, clarified butter used in Indian cooking. The advantage of using ghee is that as it is already clarified, the ghee will not accidentally burn and taste bitter while frying.

Store-bought or homemade Tikka Masala paste?

I have already posted a recipe for the homemade Tikka Masala paste, but here it is again for those who wish to make their own, otherwise, there seems to be plenty of store-bought ready-made pastes available for those wanting some convenience. Just double-check the label for any potential gluten ingredients.

Which one?

Deciding between using cream, cream and milk, coconut milk or yoghurt is a matter of preference, but here is a short flavour & texture description for each:

Cream: Classic, smooth and adds a perfectly balanced richness. I use single cream, but if you want to double up on the richness, use pre-whipped cream or double cream.

Cream & milk: A lighter cream version, less silky in texture, but great for lowering the calorie content.

Coconut milk: A tropical nuttier and creamy flavour, similar to many South East Asian coconut-based curries. Use Light Coconut Milk for fewer calories.

Yoghurt: Using a thick yoghurt like Greek yoghurt will add a richer flavour and texture to the sauce and lean towards the tangy side. A light, thin yoghurt will reduce the flavour and texture slightly. A good option for fewer calories.

What is the best chicken part to use?

For a tender and flavourful curry, I always use skinless deboned chicken thighs, because this part has the dark meat where all the flavour is, plus is more forgiving in slow-cooked dishes without going tough and rubbery. The chicken thighs actually become more tender the longer they are cooked.

Chicken breast would be my second option, but halve the cooking time and keep an eye on the chicken so that it doesn’t over-cook as this white meat has no fat or ligaments to keep it tender.

Although using chicken parts like wings, drumsticks or Maryland cuts are not classic cuts for butter chicken, the curry will be just as delicious and tender. The only difference will be the appearance and method of eating the curry. Leaving the skin on will increase the richness and calorie content, so remove the skin if you prefer a milder & less fatty curry.

Can children eat butter chicken?

This is a perfect curry to serve to children, especially if this is their first try of a spicy dish. Although it is mild for most of us, perhaps leave out the 3 long fresh chillis from the butter chicken’s ingredients list.

Planning ahead

I often double up and make the Tikka Masala paste ahead of time and keep it in a jar in the fridge. As the cooking time takes 40 minutes, I usually cook another meal side-by-side so I’m not hanging around just watching the paste cook.

The butter chicken is a perfect make-ahead dish, ready to be served the next day. It also freezes very well together with a serving of basmati rice.

THE BEST HOMEMADE BUTTER CHICKEN

Ingredients:

For homemade tikka paste:

  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 3 dried red whole chillis
  • A small bunch of fresh coriander leaves
  • 7 garlic cloves
  • 7 cm ginger piece, peeled
  • 110ml olive oil or coconut oil
  • 1 ½ tablespoons water
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3 tablespoons tomato puree

Makes 250ml (for this recipe)

For the butter chicken:

  • 1 kg chicken thigh fillets, deboned and skin removed, cut into 4cm pieces
  • 250ml store-bought or homemade tikka paste
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons ghee or butter
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sunflower or coconut oil
  • 2 large red, white or yellow onions, chopped finely
  • 3 long chillis, red or green/or both, chopped finely (optional)
  • 5cm ginger piece, peel and chopped finely
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 70ml / 6 tablespoons tomato puree or passata *
  • 100ml water
  • 500ml single cream or tinned coconut milk
  • Fresh coriander leaves, to garnish

Passata * is pureed tinned tomatoes. Double-check that they don’t have added Italian herbs in the passata.

HOMEMADE TIKKA MASALA PASTE

  1. Dry roast the seeds and whole chilli in a medium-hot pan for a few minutes, or until they release their aroma.
  2. Grind the mixture into a fine powder using either a food processor or a mortar and pestle.

3. Add the coriander leaves, garlic and ginger. Pulse the mixture into a fine paste.

4. Switch to a low speed and add the olive oil gradually.

5. Add the water, lemon juice, turmeric powder, salt, onion powder and tomato puree. Pulse several times.

6. Transfer the mixture to a heavy-bottom pan, partially cover and cook for 40 minutes on the second lowest setting, stirring occasionally to prevent the paste from sticking to the bottom. Add more oil if it appears to dry.

7. Remove the cover towards the final 10 minutes of cooking and stir occasionally.

8. Once the paste appears thick and has a vibrant sheen to it, remove it from the heat, allow it to cool down and store it in a sterilised jar or use it immediately for your chosen dish.

Keeps for 2 weeks chilled

THE BEST HOMEMADE BUTTER CHICKEN

1. Mix the chicken pieces with the tikka paste and lemon juice in a glass or ceramic bowl. Set aside. If time allows, marinate the mixture for one hour or overnight. The flavour will improve if marinated.

2. Heat a medium, deep casserole pot to medium and add only 1 tablespoon of ghee or butter.

3. Add the onions, chillies, ginger and garlic to fry gently for 5 minutes. Lower the heat if the onions are catching too much colour and add some oil if it appears dry while cooking. Stir often.

4. Add the ground turmeric and salt. Cook for 15 mins on medium heat, stirring often.

5. Add the final 2 tablespoons of ghee or butter followed by the chicken and tikka paste marinade, stirring constantly for a few minutes. Allow some of the chicken and paste to catch slightly at the bottom of the pot to get some lovey lightly-charred brown bits for the sauce to turn a golden brown for the next step.

6. Add the tomato puree or passata and water. Lower the heat to low and cover the pot. Allow to cook “low and slow” between 30 minutes to 1 hour. If you have a slow cooker/crockpot, transfer the butter chicken to slow cook for several hours on low.

7. Add cream or coconut milk at the end of cooking, simmer for a further 10 to 15 minutes. If using a slow cooker, allow an extra 30 to 40 mins to slow cook.

Garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Pair the butter chicken with a couple of gluten-free naan bread and/or a bowl of basmati rice.

  • Makes 6 to 7 servings
  • Keeps for 3 days chilled
  • Suitable to freeze

Substitute the chicken with big fat juicy prawns with or without their shells. Reduce the cooking time by half as the prawns cook faster than the chicken.