Today’s recipe is a homemade version of my favorite kind of Indian takeout – butter chicken.
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.
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.
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.
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.Print
If the idea of tender chicken in a creamy spiced tomato sauce piques your palate, this Indian comfort dish will delight your taste buds.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
- 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.
- Stir in the yogurt and cook, uncovered, for about 5 more minutes. Season to taste with additional salt if necessary.
- 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.
Adapted from a recipe by Mike at The Iron You.
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Category: Chicken
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Indian
Keywords: butter, chicken, Indian
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Chop the Chicken and Aromatics
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter.
Step 2 – Brown the Chicken
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
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.
Add the tomatoes. Stirring occasionally, simmer for about 5 more minutes.
Step 4 – Puree the Sauce and Whisk in the Milk
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
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.
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.
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.