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Butter Chicken, Two Ways

September 24, 2010

Many foods are loved because it’s what we loved to eat as children – pizza, ice cream, and pancakes. These foods carry all sorts of nostalgia and through eating, you feel that you are harkening back to that earlier moment in time. Then there are foods that are new and thrilling. You simply can’t get enough of them, and they spark a more adventurous sort of hunger. I don’t know if I would have recognized this classification food without one of my newest and greatest food loves – Butter Chicken. This dish is Indian and originates from the Punjab region. It has a luscious and spicy sauce that is cream and tomato based. Spices like garlic, ginger, chili, and garam masala sing in your mouth when you eat it. Done well, the chicken is moist and succulent. The sauce should be incredibly thick and decadent. But none of these details matter very much. Butter chicken is awe-inspiringly delicious and I can’t adequately describe in words how it tastes.

Wilson and I go to an Indian restaurant near campus, called Shere Punjab, quite frequently. By “frequently,” I mean that we go about once a week and then enjoy leftovers another night of the week. The rest of the time we daydream about it. As a testament to how much I am obsessed with Butter Chicken, you should know that despite our frequent visits to Shere, we made it out mission to learn how to make Butter Chicken, so that we could have it whenever we wanted. Granted, authentic Indian food is difficult to achieve. I simply don’t have all the necessary spices and equipment at my disposal. Nevertheless, I set out to incorporate Butter Chicken in my cooking repertoire.

This involved quite a saga of kitchen experiences. Ultimately, Wilson and I discovered two recipes that we found comparable in taste to what we get at Shere.  The first involved using Mark Bittman’s “Indian Tomato Sauce” and incorporating boneless skinless chicken breasts into the cooking process. The second recipe calls for bone-on, skin-on chicken and comes from an article discussing authentic Butter Chicken on NPR’s website. For both methods, we marinated the chicken overnight in yogurt. This technique works like a charm and makes the chicken noticeably more tender than normal. It’s really difficult to say which recipe we preferred. Both made tremendous leftovers, and in fact, I would suggest that you make either of the recipes ahead so the flavors have time to mingle.  We like to serve Butter Chicken over traditional rice or egg noodles — both recipes yield a lot of sauce, so you’ll want something to soak it all up.

These recipes don’t technically serve more than four people. But somehow Wilson and I ended up with about 6 servings total per recipe. We also made one recipe after the next. It was plenty to appease our appetites for Butter Chicken for at least a little while.

Butter Chicken

Adapted from, “Making Butter Chicken with Dad”

Serves 4-5

For the Chicken:

  • 1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1 T peeled, grated ginger
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 2 T garam masala
  • ¼ cup canned tomato puree
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T melted butter
  • 8 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (make slits in the chicken to allow the marinade to penetrate)
  • Salt, to taste

For the sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 T peeled, grated ginger
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 serrano chile, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, ginger, garlic, garam masala, tomato puree, salt, lemon juice and butter. Add the chicken and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour(preferably overnight..

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan. Pour all remaining marinade over the chicken. Roast 20 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the juices run clear.

Remove the chicken from the oven and place all the pieces on a platter. Reserve the cooked marinade in a bowl.

To make the sauce, in a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic. Saute for about 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring constantly. Use the back of a spatula to mash the tomatoes as you go. Continue until the tomatoes are completely mashed and soft, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved marinade. Add the salt, chili pepper, and chicken and mix well. Simmer covered for about 10 minutes. Add the cream and simmer for another minute. Serve hot.

image courtesy of

Indian-Style Tomato Sauce (Makhani) – with Chicken

Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Serves 4, with leftovers

  • 1 cup whole milk yogurt
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped into about 1 inch pieces
  • 4 T butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Cayenne, to taste
  • 2 t garam masala
  • ½ t chili powder
  • Large pinch sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups chopped ripe tomato
  • 1-32oz can tomato sauce
  • ½ cup cream
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Marinade the chicken pieces in the yogurt overnight.

Put the butter in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the  chicken, onion, garlic, ginger, and cayenne. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garam masala, chili powder, and sugar and sprinkle with salt and pepper; cook and stir until the spices become fragrant, a minute or two more.

Add the tomato and tomato sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until the tomato starts to release to release its liquid, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and the cilantro and keep cooking and stirring until the mixture comes to a boil.

Turn the heat down so that the sauce bubbles gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato breaks up and the mixture comes together and thickens, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2010 10:39 pm

    It’s pretty hard not to love a dish that’s called “butter chicken.” I almost always order it, too, when I’m out at an Indian restaurant. All that lovely sauce is so great on the basmati rice, too.

    • December 6, 2010 3:29 am

      Alicia and I get Indian all the time, and the butter chicken is a constant temptation. We love it on basmati, and for some experimentation the egg noodles provide a delicious contrast.

  2. December 8, 2010 2:09 am

    Even Indians love butter chicken, I mean its butter so well there isn’t much not to like. Not exactly how we make it at home, but I tell you the ingredients are such that I’m sure it end s up tasting great 🙂

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