This one pot Unconventional Butter Chicken ('Murgh Makhani') is the type of Indian cuisine that you want to make at home! A true restaurant quality experience so you can definitely skip on the take-out!
What is Butter Chicken?
Tender chicken pieces are marinated in a flavorful blend of spices and yoghurt and then simmered in a rich, silky tomato-based sauce.
Particularly popular in northern India, butter chicken has also gained popularity in other parts of the world and can now be found on the menus of many Indian restaurants globally.
What Is "Murgh Makhani"
This simple yet rich dish is called Murgh Makhani in India.
Unconventional Butter Chicken?
This butter chicken has as much depth in flavor as it does in the vibrant color. Silky-smooth dark orange brown spicy and creamy!
Our winter season is one of the coldest we've seen in a long while and what do you crave when the weather is cold? I think it's safe to say comfort food and this curry is pure creamy comfort.
There are 4 easy parts to the recipe that we are using:
- Marinade the chicken Leave it in the fridge for a minimum of 3 to 4 hours or overnight.
- Cook the chicken
- Make the sauce Tomato based rich sauce
These exciting ingredients are made up of mainly spices typically used in a butter chicken recipe with a few unconventional (but still Indian cuisine) ingredients.
- CHICKEN: Traditionally, bone-in chicken is used, but boneless chicken breasts or thighs can also be used. The chicken is marinated in yoghurt and a blend of spices.
- SPICES: The color of butter chicken comes from the beautiful spices and the list normally consists of spices like coriander, cumin, garam masala, turmeric and a spice called Kashmiri Mirch.
What Is Kashmiri Mirch?
An Indian chili powder known for it's vibrant color and mild heat.
Kashmiri Mirch Substitute
In this recipe we are using ground dried chili, not as a substitute because we can find Kashmiri chili powder in our local stores, (it's also online) but as an unconventional ingredient.
Since Kashmiri chili comes from dried chilis this is the closest locally grown (in South Africa) red chilies that are most suited in this recipe.
Paprika and Cayenne
If you don't have dried chilis or don't want to bother with it, simply use a combination of paprika for the taste and cayenne for the spice kick.
The combination is usually 3.1 so about ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper. Once you've made the combination you can add it as per the recipe calls, one teaspoon Kashmiri use one teaspoon of your mix.
- KASURI METHI: Which is also known as dried fenugreek leaves
- TOMATOES: The base of the sauce is made with tomatoes, which are either pureed or finely chopped. We are using chopped canned tomatoes but you can definitely use fresh chopped tomatoes.
- GHEE (clarified butter) or Unsalted butter: I've used both ghee and unsalted butter here. Ghee to cook the chicken and unsalted butter to heat up the sauce. You can use one type for the entire recipe.
- CREAM: Cream is added to the sauce to give it a smooth and creamy texture. Heavy cream is typically used, but lighter alternatives can also be used. I've used a combination of coconut milk and coconut cream.
- GARLIC & GINGER: Using the garlic and ginger paste is always so much more convenient. It's a 1.1 ratio of grated ginger and garlic but you can definitely use them separately as we do for other recipes.
- CHILLI PEPPERS Depending on the desired level of spiciness, chili powder such Kashmiri chilli, can be added to the sauce.
SALT: A small amount of salt is added to bring out the flavors of the other ingredients.
How To Make Unconventional Butter Chicken
This is a very easy recipe so don't be intimidated by the list of ingredients in the recipe card below because although there are quite a few, the steps are only 3 and the method simple. Regardless, this unconventional butter chicken is worth every single step!
PREP THE CHICKEN: Using kitchen tissue/towel pat the chicken dry and cut it into fairly large pieces instead of small cubes. It's easier for the chicken to maintain its shape when cut slightly bigger.
SEASON with salt and a little pepper and add all the spices that go under the chicken category in the recipe card below.
MAKE THE MARINADE: Combine the yogurt, spices and chicken. I find that using your hands for this is best but a spoon works too. Leave the chicken covered in the refrigerator for anything from 20 minutes to overnight.
Fresh Lemon Juice. This is more like a squeeze of half lemon and depending on the size equals to about a tablespoon of juice. Adding it to the marinade helps tenderize the muscle fiber in the chicken and like salt, adds a tinge of structure.
Unconventional Ingredient: This chili paste is only a 2 Ingredient Chili Paste which makes it perfect for this recipe since there's not a repetition of all the spices added to the paste.
All we need is a teaspoon full for another layer of flavor and it's the reason I add it into the marinade and not the sauce. Curry paste has a few other spices in so even half a teaspoon would be fine if you're not familiar with Indian food. Although, the yogurt does a really good job of taming the heat and balancing the flavors.
You can use a store-bought chili paste version or you can leave it out completely, BUT, WAIT! This 2 ingredient paste adds an unbelievable smoky, spicy flavor that is simply unparalleled!
Cook the Chicken
In a sauté pan or skillet, melt the ghee/butter or oil (use any) on medium to high heat. Remove the chicken from fridge and place it into the pan using a pair of tongs. Fry or 'shallow fry' the marinated chicken pieces until charred all round and making sure to not over crowd the pan.
Remove from the pan and set aside. Don't wash the pan!
Remove the black bits from the pan and discard.
Make the Sauce
Same pan, add the onions, there will be oil in the pan remaining otherwise add a teaspoon or what you need to fry the onions.
Let the onions cook for a good while with a pinch of salt, roughly 8 to 10 minutes on medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic paste (yes again) and if you want to add less than the required, feel free to do that.
Add the tomatoes and pour a little water (about half a cup) into the empty tomato can, give it a swirl and pour that into the container that had the chicken marinade in and then into the sauce! I know it sound a lot but when you're doing it, it's not. You can also just add the water straight into the tomatoes but this is my way of building layers of flavor when I cook.
The tomato sauce should cook for a good 15 to 20 minutes on low to medium heat. This is to cook the sauce ingredients through properly and while it cooks it also thickens which aids in the creamy texture in the end result.
We last added a pinch of salt into the onions, now we add another pinch of salt into the tomatoes as they cook along with ½ to 1 teaspoon of curry paste.
Blend the Sauce
Pour the sauce into a blender and blend till smooth. Add butter (this is a butter chicken!) into the pan (same pan) to melt, as it melts, pour in the sauce.
Add half of the cream and simmer on low. Return the chicken, combine into the sauce. Pour the remaining cream a little at a time, this butter chicken is already very creamy, you may not need all the cream. Garnish with fresh coriander.
Vegetables: Indian cuisine has a lot of vegetables in their diet so there is no veggies in this recipe besides the onion and garlic. If you really wanted to add a vegetable, diced bell peppers would work well.
Yoghurt: I want to say that you use sour cream or coconut cream if you don't have plain yogurt. In essence, yes you can but I also think we have to be careful of not straying too far from the authentic butter chicken recipe.
Garam masala: Is a spice blend readily available in supermarkets and online.
Heavy cream: I'm sure you can substitute this too but if you want the richness of heavy cream then add it. I added part coconut cream and part coconut milk (more cream less milk) at the end of the recipe. I need the spices and pastes to really cook in and shine and they did!
Cilantro: Also known as coriander. I should say coriander also knows as cilantro because here in South Africa we know it as coriander first. If you don't like it, (and many people don't) use another herb like parsley or mint. If I don't have coriander, I may use parsley or nothing because I truly appreciate the finishing flavor of coriander in a curry.
If you have any leftover Butter Chicken, it's important to store it properly to keep it fresh and safe to eat. Here are some storage tips:
Allow the Butter Chicken to cool to room temperature before transferring it to an airtight container. It can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
If you want to store the Butter Chicken for longer, it can be frozen in an airtight container for 2-3 months. Make sure to label the container with the date and contents.
To reheat the Butter Chicken, warm it up in the microwave or on the stovetop over low heat, occasionally stirring, until heated through. You may need to add water or cream to loosen the sauce.
FAQ's - Unconventional Butter Chicken
Is Butter Chicken spicy?
Butter Chicken can be mildly spicy or hot, depending on the chili powder or cayenne pepper used.
If you prefer a milder version, you can adjust the amount of spice to suit your taste preference.
Is Butter Chicken the same as Chicken Tikka?
As you can see there are two names to this recipes hence these are 2 different recipes. Although it's easy to perhaps think they are the same since they both carry heavy sauces. Butter Chicken is cooked in butter as one of the ingredients and is a more burnt orange to brown color. Chicken Tikka on the other hand is cooked in oil and uses tomato paste, has a richer sauce with more of a red color and is cooked in onions
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This recipe is the result of a whole lot of reading and I mean a LOT! We visited a few restaurants in and around our city and some really authentic Indian restaurants! On the long weekend away a few months ago, we sought what was the best Indian restaurant. I've been feeding my family butter chicken and chicken tikka non stop but living with a food blogger it's a given????
I've also pulled up recipe books, especially my spice books and notes and spent long hours sweeping carefully through as I made notes. I'm sharing this with you so that you can understand and appreciate what we as food bloggers bring to you, it's not just a recipe.
I even watched so many YouTube videos I hate to count and watched about 100 different Food Network stars like Maneet Chauhan and the ever so amazing Tarla Dala.
Eventually, with my mothers influence on curry recipes and our individual tastes and inspirations I came up my Unconventional Butter Chicken recipe.
There you go, that's my Unconventional Butter Chicken recipe that I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to leave me a comment and/or rating below.
Unconventional Butter Chicken
For The Chicken
- 500 grams chicken breast cut into roughly 3 to pieces each breast.
- ⅓ cup yogurt
- 2 tsps. turmeric
- 1 ½ tsps. cumin ground
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 tbsp. curry powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic and ginger paste
- 1 teaspoon curry paste
- 1 teaspoon chili paste this 2 ingredient paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
For The Chicken Sear
- 3 tbsps. ghee or unsalted butter
For The Sauce
- 1 onion roughly chopped
- salt pinch
- 1 tbsp. garlic and ginger paste for less heat, omit it or use 1 tsp
- 400 grams canned tomatoes chopped
- ½ cup water
- 1 teaspoon curry paste please omit for less heat
- salt to taste
- ¼ cup water unless you've omitted the curry paste
- 1 tbsp. fresh coriander
Heat The Sauce and Season
- 3 tbsps ghee or unsalted butter divided 1 to 2 parts
- ½ teaspoon fenugreek ground (added at the end of the recipe)
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- salt to taste
- ½ cup cream
- 2 tbsps. fresh coriander divided
For The Chicken Marinade
- Chicken: Dry the chicken and cut into fairly larger pieces. One chicken breast should give you about 3 pieces
- Add all the ingredients in the chicken marinade group (except the 2 tablespoons of oil) into a bowl and combine making sure that the chicken is well coated. Finish off with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. 2 Ingredient Chili Paste Set aside and leave to marinade from 20 minutes up to overnight. Cover while in the fridge.
Brown the Marinated Chicken
- Remove the chicken from the fridge and in a large non stick pan, melt the ghee or butter or oil till hot and start browning the marinated chicken pieces.
- Brown the chicken on both sides till charred, repeat the next batch until all the chicken is done.Remove from the pan and set aside, covered. (Don't wash the chicken marinade container just yet!)Try not to overcrowd the pan because when the chicken overlaps, it steams rather than brown. Don't wash the pan we use it in the next step for the sauce.
Make The Sauce
- Same Pan: Lower the heat and remove all the brown bits in the pan and discard that leaving the remaining oil. To this oil, add the onion (add a little more if needed) with a pinch of salt and fry until the onion is soft and golden brown. This will take about 10 minutes with the stove on low to medium heat.
- Add the garlic and ginger paste (if using, remember that you can omit it in this step for less heat or use half) - mix it in and cook for a minute or so then add the canned tomatoes.
- Pour about half a cup of water into the empty canned tomatoes, pour that into the bowl that had the marinated chicken in and then toss it all into the sauce.This purely to leave nothing out and add all the flavor bits in. Now you can wash the container!
- Cook the tomato sauce for 15 minutes on a low simmer. While the tomatoes simmer, add a teaspoon of curry paste (for less heat, please feel free to omit this step or use half the amount). Add a pinch of salt to taste, and an additional quarter cup of water. Leave the sauce to simmer for 15 minutes. If you have omitted the curry paste in this step there's no need for the extra quarter cup of water.
- Pour the sauce into a blender, (don't wash the pan, still the same pan) add the fresh coriander and blend till smooth. Taste for salt.
Heat The Sauce And Season
- Same Pan: Heat the pan on low to medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of ghee or butter to melt.
- Pour the blended sauce in. Heat the sauce for a couple of seconds, stirring gently while the butter melts and fully incorporated into the sauce.
- Add fenugreek, garam masala, salt and butter. While the sauce simmers on very low, add the cream (you can do half now and half later after the chicken).
- Pour part of the cream into the blender and mix it with what's left in the blender then pour that into the sauce and mix. (This step is optional, purely for extra flavor and leaving nothing to waste).
- Return the browned chicken pieces, add the remaining fresh coriander and increase the heat from very low to medium-high to bring the sauce back up to a simmer and simmer for a minute or two until you have a slightly thicker consistency.
- You can top the butter chicken with the remaining cream and serve with rice, naan or a salad.
- 2 Ingredient Chili Paste
- Curry paste