Butter Chicken

Butter Chicken


Here’s a delicious Deja Food recipe that we regularly enjoy in this house, whenever there is some Tandoori Chicken going spare. That in itself is quite a challenge, since both my husband and daughter love Tandoori Chicken with a passion, so I find myself making gargantuan quantities purely in order to have anything left with which to make Butter Chicken.

Invented at the Moti Mahal (Palace of Pearl), one of the oldest restaurants in Delhi, by Mr Kundan Lal Gujral, Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani to give it it’s proper name, was devised as a way of keeping Tandoori Chicken moist and flavourful from one day to the next. The dark, smokiness of the cooked chicken is enriched by the Makhani gravy of spices, ghee, tomatoes and cashews, especially if you can leave them marinading overnight. The recipe below is one that I’ve used for 5-6 years, tweaking slightly to reduce the fat content whilst still retaining the rich flavours of the dish.

I’m not going to tell you how to make Tandoori Chicken, because I’d only be repeating the most excellent words of Madhur Jaffrey. Her recipe appears in Indian Cookery, a well-thumbed copy of which is gradually falling apart on one of my many shelves of cook books, but it is also available online HERE. I’m glad she has stopped advocating the lurid food colouring – it always unnerved me somewhat to see incandescent pieces of chicken on the plate. To get a little more red into my chicken, I add a generous amount of sweet paprika – the Rajah brand here in the UK gives fiery colour without the fiery heat – but since it will ultimately be lovingly enveloped in sauce, I shouldn’t fret too much about this.

A couple of points on ingredients: I strongly recommend hunting out a tin of ghee, as its almost perfumed aroma greatly enhances the dish, and dried fenugreek leaves are a must for that authentic taste. Add hot spices if you like, but I prefer it without.

Butter Chicken

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger – peeled & chopped
6 fresh chillies, red or green – deseeded
6 cloves garlic – peeled
50g ghee or clarified butter
4 x 5cm cinnamon sticks
3 black cardamom pods (if not available, use 10 green cardamom pods in total)
6 green cardamom pods
1 tbs cloves
4 bay leaves
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes – pureed smooth
100 g raw cashew nuts
1-2 tbs honey
1-2 tbs tomato paste
paprika to taste (optional)
chilli powder to taste (optional)

2 tbs dried fenugreek leaves
50 g ghee or clarified butter
60 ml crème fraiche

  • Make a paste of the ginger, garlic and chillis by blitzing in a food processor with 4 tablespoons of water until well chopped.
  • Melt the ghee/butter in a large frying pan and add the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves and bay leaves. Cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
  • Add the ginger/garlic/chilli mix and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
  • Add the pureed tomatoes, stir thoroughly, then turn the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and pick out the whole spices or sieve the sauce to remove them. Discard the spices.
  • Pour the sauce into a blender and add the cashews, paprika, chilli powder (if using), honey and tomato paste. Puree until thickened and smooth (about 2 minutes). Stir the contents thoroughly and puree again for 30 seconds.
  • If you’re making this to freeze, then stop now. Pour the sauce into suitable containers (this will make about 900 ml of sauce – yes, we like this sauce a LOT – and having it in the freezer can bring a meal together in minutes), label and leave to cool before freezing. If you’re preparing ahead, add your sauce to your cooked/cold Tandoori Chicken, stir, cover, and chill overnight in the fridge, otherwise add the chicken and proceed as below.
  • To Serve
    • Heat gently in a suitably large pan.
    • Add the remaining ghee and the dried fenugreek and simmer for five minutes.
    • Stir in the crème fraiche just before serving and sprinkle  a few more fenugreek leaves as garnish

Serve with plain rice and naan breads (to mop up all that lovely sauce!)

11 Comments on “Butter Chicken”

  1. Alison says:

    Loving the sound of this – but how much chicken do you use and when do you add it?

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Alison!
      You use as much chicken as you need for however many you are feeding. As a very general guide, you could start with 100g of cooked chicken per person, but it will all depend on how hungry/old they are. I also suggest you add sauce to chicken, until you’re happy with the consistency, then any excess sauce can be set aside and frozen for future use.
      Do this when the sauce has been blended, then continue as per the ‘to serve’ instructions. I’ve edited the post to hopefully make this clearer. Have fun! M-A 😀

  2. vannillarock says:

    Haha I can relate to the pages stuck back into the Madhur Jaffrey book 🙂
    I love butter chicken (my recipe comes from my Thermomix Indian cuisine ) and will compare ingredients when I get a chance. I make ghee in the Thermomix – so easy.
    Thanks for posting!

  3. Carlabiggs says:

    This sounds amazing definitely will be cooking this this week x

  4. Kaye says:

    Lovely recipe – on my third batch now! Is there just one type of Rajah Parpika in store (does not state sweet paprika) on it?

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Kaye!
      As far as I’m aware, there’s only the one strength from Raja. In Indian cookery, most paprika comes from Kashmir, which uses capsicums of bright red colour and mild flavour.
      It’s traditional use is to enhance the redness of a dish (authentic Rogan Josh doesn’t contain tomatoes, only paprika).
      If you’d prefer something a little spicier, you could try sourcing some Spanish or Hungarian paprika.
      Hungarian paprika officially has 8 grades of heat:
      – különleges (“special quality”; mild and most vibrant red)
      – csípősmentes csemege (delicate and mild)
      – csemege paprika (similar to the previous but more pungent)
      – csípős csemege (even more pungent)
      – édesnemes (“noble sweet”; slightly pungent and bright red)
      – félédes (semi-sweet with medium pungency)
      – rózsa (mildly pungent and pale red)
      – erős (hottest and light brown to orange)

      Spanish paprika has less of a range:
      – Dulce (sweet & mild)
      – Agridulce (bittersweet & medium hot)
      – Picante (hot)

      Hope this helps! M-A 😀

      • Kaye says:

        Thanks for responding so quickly and for clarifying that I have the right one. It’s really interesting to understand the differences between the various types. I have been using La Chinata for my previous attempts but really wanted to try the Rajah one you recommended in the post – Morrisons came up trumps and I am now armed ready to make another batch this weekend.

        Tried a beautiful Cypriot Lamb Meatball dish this week in a restaurant packed with Mint and served in a spicy tomato, basil and chilli sauce. No Pasta or rice served with it, just a lovely very thin large crouton adorned the top – delicious. So off to try and replicate that as well.

        Happy cooking.


  5. Pavan Bajwa says:

    Thank you for such a great recipe. I found so many variations of this recipe but very few with the authentic pure tomato and no onion base. I’m looking to multiply your recipe into much larger quantities from 25 or 50 up to 100 people. Do you have any tips for me please?

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Pavan!
      Thank you for the kind words. 😀
      And catering for 100 people? My tip is DON’T!
      (just kidding) 😉
      The most fiddly part is fishing out the whole spices before it goes in the blender, so I suggest you put the whole spices into a muslin bag after they have initially fried in the ghee – or even several bags – it’s then much easier with large quantities to quickly fish out the spice bags.
      Hope this helps – and best of luck!
      M-AB 😀

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