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Butter Chicken is one of the most popular curries of Northern India. It’s well spiced but not spicy, and so filled with flavor you’ll be really pleased this came out of your home kitchen. The recipe takes only about 30 minutes, so it’s a big flavor bang for your buck in terms of time and effort!

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) and rice in a dish.

Indian Curry

In short, curry is a term for a wide variety of dishes from India (and also some other Southeast Asian countries) which are characterized by a complex and layered combination of spices, and often a sauce. The world of Indian curries is huge (my late friend Raghavan Iyer wrote two cookbooks on the topic, 600 Curries and On the Curry trail, both must-have book for Indian food lovers).

Cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, and chili peppers are mainstays of Indian curry blends. However, the different kinds of spices that can be included grows exponentially from there. Often people get nervous about curries being uncomfortably hot but that just isn’t the case with many curry recipes. It’s definitely not true of this Butter Chicken recipe, unless you choose to add more of the hotter spices.

Curries may container meat, poultry, vegetables, fish, vegetables, a combination of some of the above. Curries may be wet or dry, though most commonly they have some sort of sauce. The term curry extends to dish outside of the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asian countries in particular, but that’s a whole other topic (think coconut milk curries).

Two bowls of Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) and rice.

Curry Powder

Curry powder is a blend found easily in U.S. supermarkets and all around the world. It is is actually a Western invention, attached to the British Colonial government in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s really a shortcut product designed to allow those without large spice pantries or deep knowledge of Indian food to approximate homemade spice blends.

Skilled Indian chefs are usually not big fans of commercial curry blends, but I think that whatever gets a cook to try his or her hand at Indian food is a-ok. Having said that, I have some wild spice allergies, and can’t feel safe with prepackaged spice blends, so I always make my own.

The spices can vary in curry powder blends (this is the story of all curries!). The ones I used in this recipe are some of the classics in butter chicken. But, every Indian cook will have their own combo.

Spoon in a serving dish of Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani).

Ingredients

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Fresh ginger – adds warmth and spiciness
  • Fennel seeds – these are optional but add a nice anisey taste
  • Ground cumin – warm and earthy
  • Ground coriander – add a citrusy note
  •  Sugar – just a tiny bit to balance out all of the other pungent flavors
  • Ground ginger – adds a different ginger flavor note than the fresh ginger, and some heat.
  • Ground turmeric – provides some rich golden color, as well as bold peppery earthy flavor.
  • Ground cloves – adds warmth
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Boneless skinless chicken thighs – dark meat thighs stay tender and juicy in the curry mixture, and have lots of rich flavor.
  • Butter
  • Tomato sauce
  • Tomato paste
  • Chicken broth or water
  • Ground fenugreek
  • Cinnamon stick
  • Bay leaves
  • Heavy cream
  • Fresh lemon juice – acidity to play against together all of the toasty curry flavors
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Hot cooked rice for serving, preferably basmati or jasmine

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani): Butter Chicken is one of the most popular curries of Northern India, well spiced but not spicy, with an addicting sauce.

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Woman scooping Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) into a bowl of rice.

How to Make Indian Butter Chicken

  1. Place the onion, garlic, ginger, fennel seeds, if using, cumin, coriander,sugar, ginger, turmeric, cloves, cayenne, salt and pepper in a food processor. Puree it into a paste.
  2. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook until the outside is golden brown but the inside is still not quite cooked, about 8 minutes in all. Stir occasionally but don’t fiddle with the pieces too often so they get browned. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
  3. Add the pureed paste to the skillet and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it becomes slightly tender and very fragrant.
  4. Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, broth or water, ground fenugreek, cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer.
  5. Add the partially cooked chicken and return to a simmer, adjusting the heat as needed. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened a bit, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the cream, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, lemon juice and cilantro and stir until the butter has melted and everything is hot and blended; don’t allow it to boil.
  7. Serve hot over rice.

Baking dish of Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) and rice on a table.

Butter Chicken Sauce

The chicken is finished in a tomato-based sauce enriched with butter and cream, and it is addicting. Bay leaves and a cinnamon stick add additional flavor to the sauce. I added the fenugreek and a touch of sugar thanks to the advice of the very kind Indian restaurateur Roni Mazumdar (of the restaurants Adda Indian Canteen, Rahi, and The Masala Wala in New York City).

Roni says, “the bitterness from the fenugreek opens up your taste buds. This allows you to taste the spices and the salt, and the bit of sweetness better. Balancing the sugar with the salt – that’s what matters most. It brings the dish to a more authentic space.” The touch of sweetness is what makes the sauce so perfectly balanced. I made the dish again with these adjustments, and have been grateful for Roni’s tips.

Wooden spatula stirring a skillet of Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani).

Other Curry Recipes:

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Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

5 from 2 votes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings: 6 people
Butter Chicken is one of the most popular curries of Northern India, well spiced but not spicy, with an addicting sauce.

Ingredients 

  • 1 onion , quartered
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger , peeled
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt , or more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper , or more to taste
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs , cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter , divided
  • 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken broth or water
  • ½ teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Hot cooked rice for serving, preferably basmati or jasmine

Instructions 

  • Place the onion, garlic, ginger, fennel seeds, if using, cumin, coriander,sugar, ginger, turmeric, cloves, cayenne, salt and pepper in a food processor and puree it into a paste.
  • Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook until the outside is golden brown but the inside is still not quite cooked, about 8 minutes in all. Stir occasionally but don’t fiddle with the pieces too often so they get browned. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
  • Add the pureed paste to the skillet and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it becomes slightly tender and very fragrant. Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, broth or water, ground fenugreek, cinnamon stick and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Add the partially cooked chicken and return to a simmer, adjusting the heat as needed, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened a bit, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the cream, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, lemon juice and cilantro and stir until the butter has melted and everything is hot and blended; don’t allow it to boil. Serve hot over rice.

Notes

Curry powder is a blend found easily in U.S. supermarkets and all around the world. It is is actually a Western invention, attached to the British Colonial government in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s really a shortcut product designed to allow those without large spice pantries or deep knowledge of Indian food to approximate homemade spice blends.

Nutrition

Calories: 387kcal, Carbohydrates: 9g, Protein: 31g, Fat: 25g, Saturated Fat: 13g, Cholesterol: 201mg, Sodium: 770mg, Potassium: 684mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 1091IU, Vitamin C: 11mg, Calcium: 59mg, Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Comments

  1. This is a beautiful and delicious dish for a party, even and perhaps especially, for a family riding out the pandemic together. No longer does this tasty dish have to be solely confined to “takeout” status.
    How do I even count the ways I love my slow cooker?
    Impossible to say. The ability to make this early in
    The morning and forget it till dinner time continues to tickle me. How can such an inexpensive kitchen tool be so invaluable? Katie knocked it out of the park with this one. On to her slow cooker meatballs!

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