Quick and Easy Butter Chicken

Today’s recipe is a homemade version of my favorite kind of Indian takeout – butter chicken.

Vertical top-down image of a bowl and a skillet of a meat dish in a creamy tomato sauce served with rice on a blue towel, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

Also known as murgh makhani, it’s a comforting, tender dish with a tomato-based cream sauce and a kick of heat.

When you do a Google search for this recipe, I realize there are already tons of options out there. Does the internet world really need another version? Of course, I suppose you could make the same argument about food writers, but here I am, still doing that.

Tim and I once attended a workshop about the concept of work, and while we mostly confronted and addressed the philosophies behind our day jobs and why we do them, we considered unpaid work as well.

Vertical image of a skillet and a white bowl of stew, with a side of rice and bread slices in the white bowl next to a yellow towel and fresh herbs.

We talked about things like cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming the house, organizing the bathroom pantry, and repairing the car. There could be millions or even billions of other people doing the same thing at the same time across the globe. But it’s still meaningful.

As author Timothy Keller said in his book Every Good Endeavor, we experience a feeling of fulfilment because “whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we draw out creative potential, whenever we elaborate and “unfold” creation beyond where it was when we found it, we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development.”

This is something that I believe, and that’s where this recipe comes in. It comes from the heart, through honest work, and it’s so satisfying to enjoy a bowlful after making it from scratch.

Vertical image of a white bowl with a side of rice and a side of stew with naan bread on the side on a blue towel.

What’s great about butter chicken is that it’s basically gateway Indian food, perfect for the uninitiated. There’s nothing terribly unusual about it, besides the spices perhaps, but even those – ginger, garlic, turmeric, and cayenne – aren’t all that strange, familiar to most home cooks regardless of their culinary heritage.

It’s spicy, sure, but you get to control the heat. We tend to take an “add as we go” approach to dishes like these in my home, adding a little of the hot factor at hand at a time until we reach a level that we like.

Vertical image of a skillet and a white bowl of stew, with a side of rice and bread slices in the white bowl next to a yellow towel and fresh herbs.

With that in mind, the recipe below is a guide based on my own preferences, but you should feel free to adjust it to your tastes.

Tender, spicy, and creamy, this dish pairs nicely with cooked grains like rice or quinoa, and naan or pita, either of which will help scoop up all the extra sauce.

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Horizontal image of a white bowl with rice and a red stew next to bread slices and a yellow towel.

Quick and Easy Butter Chicken


  • Author: Shanna Mallon
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
  • Yield: 2-4 servings 1x

Description

If the idea of tender chicken in a creamy spiced tomato sauce piques your palate, this Indian comfort dish will delight your taste buds.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cubed
  • 2 cups finely chopped sweet onions (about 2 medium)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic (about 2 large cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder spice blend
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh (or diced canned) tomatoes
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons plain full-fat Greek yogurt 
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
  • 4 cups cooked rice or quinoa, for serving
  • 4 pieces warmed naan or pita, for serving

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the black pepper. Working in batches, brown the pieces on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Add the remaining butter to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and then add the ginger, garlic, coriander, chili powder, turmeric, and cayenne. Stirring several times, cook until the spices are very fragrant and thoroughly mixed in, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a food processor or high-powered blender and pulse until smooth. Return the sauce to the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and whisk in the milk. Add the chicken pieces (and their juices) to the sauce and cover the pan. Simmer until the sauce reduces slightly, about 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in the yogurt and cook, uncovered, for about 5 more minutes. Season to taste with additional salt if necessary.
  6. Evenly divide the rice or quinoa among plates, top with equal portions of the chicken and sauce, garnish with the cilantro, and serve with naan.

Notes

Adapted from a recipe by Mike at The Iron You.

  • Category: Chicken
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Indian

Keywords: butter, chicken, Indian

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Chop the Chicken and Aromatics

Horizontal image of a bowl of raw meat, a small bowl of spices, and chopped onions and garlic on a wooden cutting board.

Cube the thighs into bite-size pieces, chop the onions, mince the ginger and garlic, and chop the cilantro.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Step 2 – Brown the Chicken

Horizontal image of chunks of meat browning in a dark skillet.

Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the black pepper and then, working in batches, brown the pieces on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Step 3 – Saute the Onions, Spices, and Tomatoes

Horizontal image of cooking diced onions in spices in a dark skillet.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and then add the ginger, garlic, coriander, chili powder, turmeric, and cayenne. Stirring several times, cook until the spices are very fragrant and thoroughly mixed in, about 2 minutes.

Horizontal image of cooking tomatoes and sauteed spiced onions in a skillet.

Add the tomatoes. Stirring occasionally, simmer for about 5 more minutes.

Step 4 – Puree the Sauce and Whisk in the Milk

Horizontal image of whisking cream into a tomato sauce in a skillet.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor or high-speed blender and pulse until smooth, using a dish towel to cover any openings on the lid to avoid steam burns (or you could use your immersion blender right in the pan).

Return the sauce to the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and whisk in the milk.

Add the chicken pieces and their juices to the sauce and cover the pan to avoid splatters. Simmer until the sauce is reduced slightly, about 15 minutes.

Step 5 – Stir in the Yogurt, Garnish, and Serve

Horizontal image of a skillet with stew and a dollop of yogurt.

Warm the naan if serving. Naan can be warmed for several minutes in a low temperature oven or dry skillet, and brushed with oil or butter for extra flavor before serving.

Stir the yogurt into the pan and cook uncovered for about 5 more minutes. Season to taste with additional salt if necessary.

Horizontal top-down image of a brown bowl filled with rice, stew, and slices of flatbread with a spoon on a yellow towel.

Evenly divide the rice or quinoa among plates, top with equal portions of the chicken and sauce, garnish with the cilantro, and serve with the naan.

Rich, Creamy, and Swimming with Spices

I have a soft spot for chicken in any form that’s coated in a silky sauce, and this recipe takes the cake. Er, I mean, the naan.

Horizontal image of a white bowl with rice and a red stew next to bread slices and a yellow towel.

Between the earthy turmeric, spicy ginger, and herbal ground coriander, there’s no denying that it’s the spices that really bring the depth of flavor to this classic Indian dish.

White rice is almost always the starchy vehicle that sits directly under the chicken, but when I’m cutting back on carbs, I opt for sauteed spinach instead. And if you can’t get your hands on naan, toasted pita will definitely do the trick.

For more chicken recipes where the spices practically steal the show, give these superbly-seasoned dishes a try:

One final tip: if your mealtime companions want you to bring the (actual) heat, crank the cayenne up to a full teaspoon and save some milk for swigging.

How do you turn up the fire in your chicken dinners? Spill your spicy secrets in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on January 19, 2014. Last updated on April 30, 2021. With additional writing and editing by Fanny Slater and Allison Sidhu.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

30 thoughts on “Quick and Easy Butter Chicken”

  1. I’ve heard about butter chicken many times but have never made it! I have no idea why. I guess it’s just because we usually stick to chana masala when we make Indian food because it’s comfortable and easy. 🙂

    Thanks for the encouragement about the value of everyday work and life. It can be so easy to forget the purpose in it all, especially when you think about the big picture.

    Reply
  2. I initially popped on over because I wanted to tell you and Tim how much I have been enjoying your photos lately – if they are all taken with that new lens of yours, it was certainly a worthy investment. The shots look absolutely dreamy!

    As for ‘work’, whether it is meaningful, whether we enjoy it, whether it is actual paid work, I have been thinking about this a lot these last few days. Especially since coming across an article in Slate (http://slate.me/1fFPSqR) on that very topic and how elitist a notion it is to ‘love what you do’. Even if I don’t agree 100% with everything the author says (seemingly assuming that one cannot enjoy manual labor or the idea that turning your passion into a job is the be-all-end-all – plenty of creatives say that turning their passion into a job killed said passion), it is a great read.

    Reply
  3. This is what my boyfriend nearly always orders when we have Indian but I usually find it to heavy and creamy for me – love the idea of the yoghurt in this to lighten it up without losing any of that sense of luxury. Lovely.

    Reply
  4. I’ve been waiting for this and didn’t even know it. Will make this week – thank you! It’s the perfect warming dish for cold winter. And yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about work lately, too – quality over quantity.

    Reply
  5. hey shanna! I’ve never made butter chicken before but I think it’s gonna be on my menu soon! plus, i loved that you paired it with quinoa! (this is one of the rare occasions that i see u mention quinoa, and it’s an ingredient I love so much! )

    sending love,
    F.

    Reply
  6. I’ll have to make this for my husband! It looks delicious! His favorite meal that I make is PW’s chicken tikka masala, and we’d love to branch out into other dishes in that genre.

    Reply
  7. I only tried butter chicken for the first time about 6 months ago (I’ve never been a big fan of Indian fare so I’ve avoided it, stupidly), but now I love it. So awesome that you posted this recipe, I’m really looking forward to making it at home! Thanks Shannon =)

    Ashley-Marie

    Reply
    • I totally understand, Ashley-Marie, I was not on the Indian food train for most of my life… but once you realize how good it can be, there’s no going back. : )

      Reply
  8. I don’t think I’ve ever had butter chicken, but I keep seeing it pop up on the internet and I keep pinning it, filing it away in my brain as a “recipe to make VERY soon.” Yours has now been added to the list!

    Reply
  9. I made this tonight for dinner, and it was marvelous! We paired it with brown basmati rice with peas and homemade mango margaritas (a la our favorite Indian restaurant in town). Delicious! I am so happy to have this recipe for when a craving for an Indian meal hits. Thank you!

    Reply
      • I love that your mom posts on your blog. I also wanted to drop by to say I’m making this again for us this week AND for a friend of mine who just had a baby. It’s just the type of exciting, nourishing, easy to reheat meal I think I’d want. You are my favorite.

        Reply
  10. Wow! Made this tonight and it really blew us away – great complexity of flavors for such a simply made meal. It’s on the rotation now for sure. So impressed.
    I used chicken breasts, but tenderized/smashed them beforehand, used non-fat yogurt and a mix of half & half and water for the milk. It was the best Indian food I’ve made so far.
    Thank you!

    Reply
  11. I’m new to cooking Indian. Love to eat it, new to cooking it myself. In the body of the recipe it calls for 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. Yet in the directions there is no call for the cayenne but for cardamon. Was that an auto correct error such that the ingredients should read 1/2 tsp cardamon (ground I assume?)rather than the cayenne? Is the chili powder the same as called for in a southwestern chili recipe? Please clarify. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Diedre, Yes! It should have said cayenne in the directions, so I just went and changed it now. Thanks for letting us know! And the chili powder is a type of spice they sell in the store. It’s labeled as “chili powder” right with all the other spices and stuff. I’m not sure what you mean by the chili powder in a Southwestern chili… if it’s like a package of spices, then no. If it’s the jar of chili powder, yes! : ) Hope that helps.

      Reply
  12. Shanna, just dropping in to say that I’m going to give this recipe a go next week (plan ahead, much?!). I had butter chicken with a friend at an indian joint in our hood last week, and thought… “butter chicken is totally gateway indian food! Didn’t Shanna say that??” And here I see that you did… I’m determined to make Chase into an indian food lover with this! Wish me luck 🙂

    Reply

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