Saturday 30 August 2014

Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

By request, I have put together a rather simple version of an Indian restaurant favourite, butter chicken. This dish is originally from India but the Indian version differs a bit from the way it is most commonly consumed in the western world. In the original version, usually a whole, bone-in chicken is cooked in a tandoor oven. Then the chicken is cut into pieces and added to the buttery gravy. Where I'm from butter chicken is usually boneless, with pieces of chicken being browned in a pot then removed and added back into the butter gravy. I'm going to show the latter version in this post.

A few other notes about this recipe that stray from the tradition version is that in my research I noticed that many recipes call from ground, fenugreek leaves. This ingredient is a bit harder to find (though not impossible) so I omitted it from the recipe. I noticed that other recipes used ground cashews to the gravy as a thickener. I omitted that as well. So think of this is an Americanized, simplified take on a classic dish.

In this post I'm also going to show you a special trick for marinating chicken. Add plain yogurt to the marinade and let the chicken sit overnight. The yogurt is mildly acidic so it tenderizes the meat, only much gentler than a stronger acid like lemon juice for example (which would actually toughen the meat). The calcium in the yogurt activates enzymes that break down the proteins creating a moist and succulent product. The only downside is that the yogurt will obviously make for a very wet marinade and so when the chicken is browned at first, it is more likely to boil than to actually sear. It's not the end of the world but it does mean that the overall flavour will not be quite at its maximum. If you prefer flavour over texture, then you can use a couple tbsp of olive oil instead of the yogurt. It's your call.

Also, butter chicken can be as mild or as hot as you like. In this recipe I used two long, green chilies and removed most of the seeds. You may choose to omit them completely or adjust the heat to your liking.

Although this dish is called "butter chicken" you may be surprised to find that there really isn't that much butter in it.


6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, chopped into bite sized morsels 


1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 large garlic clove, finely grated
1" piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
Juice from 1 lime
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp red chili powder
Salt and Pepper

Butter sauce:

2 tbsp of ghee (clarified butter) or oil for frying
2 tbsp of ghee or regular butter 
1 medium onion, diced
6 Roma or Plum tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1" piece of ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 green chilies, deseeded and julienned
1 cardamom pod, crushed
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup cream
Salt and Pepper

Start by chopping your chicken thighs into even, bite sized pieces.

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade and mix with the chicken pieces until they are all evenly coated.

Allow the chicken to marinate for anywhere from 3 hours to overnight (overnight being the ideal option). I prefer to marinate meat in plastic bags because it takes up less space in the fridge and the marinade stays even. You don't need to put the chicken in a bowl first. I only did that to get a clean shot for the blog. 

Once the chicken has marinated, warm either ghee or oil into a pot over medium heat and brown the chicken in batches. As I mentioned before, the yogurt will keep the chicken from browning properly but all you're aiming to do is just cook the outside surface of the chicken and build up flavour in the pot. Then set the chicken aside.

Pour as much of the remaining liquid out of pot as you can and discard. Increase the heat to medium-high, add 2 tbsp of ghee or butter to the pot and stir to melt. Then add the onion with some salt and pepper.

Rather than sautée the onions and sweat them, really allow them to brown. This process caramelizes the sugar in the onion and makes a great flavour profile for curries. To do that, let the onion cook for 7-10 minutes and stir every other minute rather than frequently. Keep an eye on them so that they don't burn.

Then add the garlic, ginger and green chili. Stir and cook for a minute or two.

Add the crushed cardamom pod, cumin seeds, paprika and turmeric. Stir constantly for a minute as not to burn the spices.


Add the tomatoes to the pot. There will be enough water in the tomatoes to stop the frying process and begin stewing immediately.

Stir the tomatoes frequently as they break down and form a gravy.

Pour the gravy into a blender and blend into a fine purée while still hot. Very important: Never fill a blender much more than halfway with a hot liquid. The liquid is filled with trapped steam which is released all at once when it's blended. If the blender is too full the steam will create enough force to blow the lid off the blender before burning you and making a mess of your kitchen. Please be careful. 


I would like to add an editor's note at this point. I missed a step when I was making this curry which should have been at this point. Before blitzing the gravy I removed the cardamom pod from the sauce. Once blitzed, I immediately poured the sauce back to the pan.

What I should have done was left the cardamom pod in the sauce and passed it through a fine sieve after I blitzed it in the blender. The sieve would have taken any piece of the pod (which would be overbearingly strong in flavour) out of the sauce and it also would have removed the tomato skins which remained in my end product. 

So do as I say, rather than as I did if you want to get the most out of your butter chicken. Thanks.

Either way, add the puréed gravy back in to the pan. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. 

Add the browned chicken along with any liquid that may have accumulated with it back into the pot with the butter sauce. Stir the chicken in the simmering sauce for about fifteen minutes or until the chicken has cooked through.


When the chicken is cooked, turn off the heat, add the cream to the curry and stir to combine. The cream will add richness to the dish and lighten the colour of the sauce. Though the colour should still remain a vibrant orange, a common characteristic of butter chicken. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust (remember not much seasoning has gone into it otherwise yet). 

I highly recommend a scattering of freshly chopped cilantro to the butter chicken before serving.

Enjoy your butter chicken with steamed basmati rice or naan.

As you can see, this is a fairly simple recipe and it makes great use of tomatoes being in peak season right now. Butter chicken is a notable popular Indian curry in the Western World which is likely due to its slightly richer flavour due to the use of butter and cream. This is a great curry to try if it's not something you normally eat and are looking to experiment with a little something new. It is a very forgiving curry in terms of both technique and flavour. 

This was my first request recipe in quite some time. So, Michelle, I hope this satisfies your inquiry. I will happily consider any requests from any one else so please don't be shy. I'm just as happy to answer any questions or receive any feedback.

In the meantime, thanks for checking in and I'll see you again soon!

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