A few months back we were visiting daughter Julia in Nashville and she mentioned making an Indian Butter Chicken recipe that was to die for. Upon returning home, seems everyone and their brother were posting online accolades about this Indian meal otherwise known as Murgh Makhani—a mildly spiced chicken dish. So I figured it was time for us to join the party…
According to Cook’s Illustrated where I got this particular recipe, Butter Chicken should taste rich and creamy but also vibrant and complex. To that end, they instruct to start by softening lots of onion, garlic, ginger, and chile in butter followed by aromatic spices such as garam masala, coriander, cumin, and black pepper.
Instead of chopped or crushed tomatoes, they opt for a hefty portion of tomato paste and water, which lends the sauce bright acidity, punch, and deep color without making it too liquidy. A full cup of cream gives the sauce lush, velvety body, and it is finished by whisking in a couple more tablespoons of solid butter for extra richness. (Although I think the name Butter Chicken is a bit of a misnomer because in reality, not all that much butter goes into it compared to how many servings it produces.)
To imitate the deep charring produced by a tandoor oven, you broil chicken thighs coated in yogurt (its milk proteins and lactose brown quickly and deeply) before cutting them into chunks and stirring them into the sauce.
Traditionally, butter chicken is mildly spiced. If you prefer a spicier dish, reserve, mince, and add the ribs and seeds from the chile. And you know us, we DO prefer spicy so I threw in an extra serrano, but in the end, we could have tolerated even more chile spice. Serve with basmati rice and/or warm naan for a full meal.
Indian Butter Chicken
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tsp. table salt, divided
- 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces and chilled, divided
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 tsp. grated fresh ginger
- 1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
- 1 Tbsp. garam masala
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- ½ tsp. ground cumin
- ½ tsp. pepper
- 1 ½ cups water
- ½ cup tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, divided
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and serrano and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is softened and onion begins to brown, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add garam masala, coriander, cumin, and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Add water and tomato paste and whisk until no lumps of tomato paste remain.
- Add sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Off heat, stir in cream.
- Using immersion blender or blender, process until smooth, 30 to 60 seconds.
- Return sauce to simmer over medium heat and whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Remove saucepan from heat and cover to keep warm. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days; gently reheat sauce before adding hot chicken.)
- Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler.
- Combine chicken, yogurt, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt in bowl and toss well to coat. Using tongs, transfer chicken to wire rack set in aluminum foil—lined rimmed baking sheet.
- Broil until chicken is evenly charred on both sides and registers 175 degrees, 16 to 20 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through broiling.
- Let chicken rest for 5 minutes. While chicken rests, warm sauce over medium-low heat. Cut chicken into ¾-inch chunks and stir into sauce. Stir in 2 tablespoons cilantro and season with salt to taste.
- Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro, and serve.