One of the most popular Indian dishes, this Indian Butter Chicken recipe (Murgh Makhani) is packed with an incredible depth of flavor that will leave your taste buds singing! Rivaling your favorite Indian restaurant, it’s phenomenally delicious!
Butter Chicken is an enormously popular dish and you find it served in practically every Indian restaurant around the world. Tender chicken in a rich and creamy sauce with bold flavors and a heavenly aroma, it is well deserving of its reputation and is one of my all-time favorite Indian dishes. This Indian butter chicken recipe consistently gets rave reviews and we’re confidant you’re going to love it as much as we do!
Where Did Butter Chicken Originate?
Of Punjabi origin, Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani, has been popular since the day it was created in 1948 by Chef Kundan Lal Gujral, who also created dal makhani and the equally famous tandoori chicken. 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, but 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.
How Do You Cook the Chicken?
In the absence of tandoors, Westernized versions will instead grill or roast the chicken in an attempt to replicate the flavor generated by the tandoor. Depending on what you have the time and means for, grilling the chicken on a barbecue will definitely generate more flavor than roasting it in the oven will. Alternatively you can also pan-fry the marinated chicken (shaking off the excess marinade before adding it) until it’s browned or you can take the easiest route and cook the chicken along with the other ingredients in the pan.
Flour vs. Ground Nuts for Thickening Sauces
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, ground nuts are commonly used as thickeners including for this Butter Chicken where grounds almonds are used. Ground nuts not only thicken the sauce but provide additional depth of flavor. And wherever more flavor can be added, I’m all for it!
Which Spices Do I Need to Make Butter Chicken?
Butter Chicken calls for a variety of Indian spices. As I’ve emphasized in some of my other Indian recipes, if you haven’t heard of or used some of these spices before don’t be afraid of them! Some people equate unfamiliar ingredients with a higher level of cooking difficulty and that just isn’t the case 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, coriander and garam masala. It’s just as easy, the names of the spices are just different.
Some Indian spices are a little more challenging to find in regular grocery stores in the U.S. but can be conveniently purchased online (I link to several in the recipe box below) and in case you’re worried about spending the money on more spices than you’ll need for this dish, the spices will keep for a long time if you store them in airtight jars in a dark, cool place. So you’ll be able to have them on hand any time you make Indian food.
Is Butter Chicken Spicy Hot or Kid Friendly?
Butter chicken is one of the mildest curries in terms of heat so it’s an especially great choice for kids or for adults who are heat-sensitive. That said, if you happen to like a lot of heat feel free to increase the amount of red chili power or cayenne!
Can I Make Butter Chicken Ahead of Time? And Does It Freeze Well?
YES, in fact we recommend it because butter chicken only gets BETTER with time as the flavors develop. Make it, let cool completely, refrigerate and enjoy it the next day for optimal flavor.
Butter chicken also freezes well if you don’t add the cream. Simply freeze the chicken, gently reheat it on the stovetop and stir in the cream.
This Butter Chicken recipe 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.
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 if possible.
The marinated chicken can then be either: Grilled on the barbecue or roasted on a lined baking sheet in the oven until nicely browned. If you want to skip these steps you can pan-fry the marinated chicken in some oil until it’s browned or you can simply cook it along with the other ingredients. Whichever route you go be sure to save the marinade because you’ll still need it for the sauce.
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 chicken with all of the marinade. If you’re choosing to cook the chicken in the pan, bring it 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, be sure to also try our:
- Tandoori Chicken
- Egg Curry
- Chicken Xacuti
- Red Lentil Dal
- Balti Chicken
- Pakistani Chickpea & Pistachio Fudge
- Mango Chutney
Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)
- For the Marinade:
- 1 1/2 cups plain full fat yogurt
- 1/4 cup almond flour , unblanched or blanched
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- homemade garam masala (STRONGLY recommended)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground green cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder optional, if you like it spicy (use more for more heat), or cayenne pepper
- For the Chicken:
- 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 passata or plain tomato sauce)
- 1 black cardamom pod (if you can find it. It isn't necessary but it adds such a wonderful flavor.)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/3 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 if possible.The marinated chicken can then be either: Laid on a lined baking sheet and placed under the broiler in the oven until nicely browned or grilled on the barbecue. We highly recommend one of these options (I broil it in the oven). Otherwise you can skip these steps you can pan-fry the marinated chicken in some oil until it's browned (shake off any excess marinade before frying) or you can skip all of these options and simply cook it along with the other ingredients in step 2 (though it will have less flavor). **Whichever route you go be sure to save the marinade because you'll still need it for the sauce.
- 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. (If you chose not to grill, roast or pan-fry the chicken, bring it to a simmer now and let it cook until it 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 even better the next day when the flavors have had more time to meld so we recommend waiting a day to eat it (let it cool completely, refrigerate, and reheat gently on the stovetop).
*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 CC licensing