One of the most popular Indian dishes, this Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) is bursting with flavor and is phenomenally delicious!
It’s no wonder this is one of the most popular Indian dishes around – it’s just SO good!
Of Punjabi origin, Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani, has been popular since the day it was created. In India this dish is usually made with bone-in chicken and outside of India boneless chicken is more commonly used. As with any dish, bone-in chicken will always give you the most flavor. Feel free to use whichever you prefer.
Traditionally the marinated chicken is cooked in a tandoor prior to being added to the sauce. Tandoors are used throughout Southern, Central, and Western Asia and are cylindrical clay pots used for cooking and baking. The heat is generated by a wood or charcoal fire at the bottom of the tandoor and the air inside the tandoor can reach upwards of…900 degrees Farenheit, yeeeouch! Tandoors are often left lit for hours at a time and a consistent temperature is maintained.
In the absence of tandoors, Westernized versions will instead resort to grilling or roasting the chicken in an attempt to replicate the flavor generated by the tandoor, but the fact of that matter is there really is no adequate substitute for the flavor created by the tandoor. You can take the time to roast the marinated chicken first if you like, but I’ve found that it really doesn’t significantly improve the flavor. While also not the same as a tandoor, grilling the marinated chicken on the barbecue will create more flavor than roasting it and if you have the time to take that extra step it is a nice flavor boost.
This recipe simply cooks the chicken in the sauce, allowing all the flavors to penetrate the tender chicken, and I’m confident you’ll be very happy with the results.
Westernized versions of Indian dishes will usually use flour or cornstarch to thicken the sauces but in India these are virtually never used for that purpose. Instead, thickeners such as ground nuts are used and in Butter Chicken ground almonds are the common choice. They not only thicken the sauce but provide additional depth of flavor.
Butter Chicken calls for a variety of Indian spices. As I’ve emphasized in some of my other Indian recipe posts, don’t be afraid of them! Many people equate unfamiliar ingredients with a higher level of cooking difficulty. Not so at all! It just means that instead of using staples you’re used to like basil, oregano and thyme, you’re using spices like turmeric, cardamom and and coriander. Some Indian spices are a little more challenging to find locally in the U.S. but can be conveniently purchased online for a reasonable price (I’ve included recommendations in the recipe box below) and will last you a long time if stored in a dark place in airtight containers. And as I’ve mentioned in the past, if you love Indian food and are serious about cooking it, you’ll want these spices anyway because they appear again and again in different Indian recipes. In other words, they won’t go to waste. And once you start cooking with them you’ll become hooked!
This Butter Chicken is so simple to make with relatively few steps and the result is a wonderfully flavorful dish you’ll want to make again and again. And, if you can resist the urge to dive in immediately, it’s even better the next day after the flavors have had time to meld.
Let’s get started!
In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, almonds, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, sugar, garam masala, turmeric, ground cardamom, salt, minced ginger, garlic, crushed bay leaves and chili powder. Stir to combine.
Add the chicken and stir to thoroughly coat. Marinated for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Heat the ghee in a large pan or medium stock pot over medium-high heat and cook the onions until soft and translucent and beginning turn golden, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.
Stir in the marinated chicken with all of the marinade, bring to a simmer and cook until the chicken turns white.
Add the tomato puree and black cardamom pod. Return to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the butter and cream and stir until dissolved. Add salt to taste.
Serve with steamed jasmine or basmati rice and garnish with some chopped fresh cilantro. If you like, stir in a little extra heavy cream for a nice creamy swirl. Note: This dish tastes even better the next day once the flavors have had more time to meld!
Indian food lovers, don’t forget to try this recipe for the BEST Indian Mango Chutney!
- 1½ cups plain full fat yogurt
- ¼ cup ground almonds (unblanched or blanched)
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1½ teaspoons minced garlic
- 1½ teaspoons minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- ½ teaspoon ground green cardamom
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon crushed bay leaves
- ¼ teaspoon or more Kashmiri chili powder or cayenne pepper for heat (optional, if you like it spicy)
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken cut into bite-sized pieces (brown chicken meat produces the most flavor. You can also use bone-in chicken)
- 2 tablespoons ghee (can substitute oil or butter)
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 (14 oz) can tomato puree (can substitute plain tomato sauce)
- 1 black cardamom pod
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
- Combine the yogurt with the almonds, garlic, ginger, lemon juice and spices and stir to combine. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Heat the ghee in a Dutch oven or large skillet over medium-high heat and cook the onion until soft and translucent and beginning to turn golden, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Add the chicken and all the marinade and bring it to a simmer. Simmer until the chicken turns white. Add the tomato puree and black cardamom pod. Return to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the butter and cream and stir until dissolved. Add salt to taste. Remove the black cardamom pod.
- Serve with steamed jasmine or basmati rice and/or fresh naan bread. Garnish with some chopped fresh cilantro and swirl in a little extra cream.
- This sauce tastes fantastic the next day after the flavors have had time to meld.
*This dish tastes even better the next day once the flavors have had more time to meld!
Image of tandoor courtesy timtom.ch, creative commons