Butter chicken is a Pakistani and Indian restaurant staple. We all know and love the velvety textured sauce of flavors and aromas that are sopped up with tender freshly baked naan or steamed basmati rice. This scrumptious dish originated in New Delhi giving a saucy home for tandoori chicken. As it is traditionally cooked in restaurants, pieces of tandoori chicken are cut up and folded into the luscious sauce. You can use this sauce as a base for paneer makhani, vegetable makhani, or even as a pizza sauce topping for your next makhani pizza creation – once you’ve got it down, you can use it for anything!
The version I will be showing you today uses simple pantry ingredients (if you happen to cook Pakistani or Indian food often) and some boneless skinless chicken breast. I choose not to puree the sauce because I liked the texture that day, but to get the restaurant quality velvety-ness, please puree in a blender! I will show you where in the recipe you should do this. This recipe is not the most healthy recipe and uhm I hope you weren’t expecting one – the title has the word “butter” in it after all. It’s not an every day dish, but for company or an occasional treat, this definitely hits the spot!
There are a few steps to this recipe and it does require some time and love but it is worth it. I hope you try it out!
Since I don’t have a tandoor lying around (do you?) I am going to do my best to mimic juicy, succulent chicken that will get folded into this wonderful sauce. To start, we will want to brine our chicken. I am using three boneless skinless chicken breasts for this recipe, but I would recommend using three large, or four smaller chicken breasts. If you wanted the meat to be even more juicy, use boneless skinless chicken thighs in place of the breasts, and follow along with the recipe. I used what I had, and it was still delicious. Brining is simply any salty water that the meat will soak in to allow the salt to distribute into the thickness of the meat. A normal quick marinade flavors the outside of the meat but to penetrate into the heart of it all, brining is the way to go. Remember osmosis? It’s simply that. We are creating an area of higher concentration of salt (the brine) and an area of lower concentration of salt (the meat) and bringing them together over a period of time that will allow the brine and the meat to become the same concentration allowing for the brine water and meat to flow between each other carrying flavor and moisture. This is the same way I get my Thanksgiving turkey so darn juicy. Mmm…
Add two to three tablespoons of salt (I keep some iodized salt lying around for bringing and salting up rice/pasta water) into three cups of water in a bowl. Taste the water before you add the chicken, it should not be heavily salty like the sea, but enough so you taste the salt. Dissolve any remaining salt crystals at the bottom of the bold with a quick swish with your hand.
The beginnings of awesome. We’ll finish the chicken component of this dish before moving onto the sauce. To finish off the chicken, you’ll want to take the chicken breasts out of the brine and place them on a few layers of paper towels and pat it dry. We are about to fry our chicken up in a little bit of masala and we want the masala to stick to the chicken and not slip off wet chicken.
For the makhani sauce, you will first want to prepare the spice mixture. By making this ahead of time, you will save yourself the headache (and heartache) of pulling out these spices and tossing them in while making sure not to burn what you have in the pan.
In a bowl mix gather 3/4 cup store bought fried onions (I know, I know, I should make my own…one day…), two teaspoons ground cumin powder, two teaspoons ground coriander powder, two tablespoons of kashmiri chili powder, one and one half teaspoon ground up dried fenugreek leaves, one teaspoon kosher salt, two and a half teaspoons sugar, five tablespoons of water, and two tablespoon of ginger and garlic paste. You should have a nice stiff paste ready for your sauce.
Take eight cloves of garlic and a 1/4 inch piece of ginger along with two tablespoons of water and blitz it away in a food processor. I have a cute mini one that I use often for this task.
A quick note on two of the spices, you NEED to use a kashmiri red chili powder for this recipe. This will give the entire dish it’s color. Kashmiri chills don’t carry a lot of heat with them, but their beautiful red hue is irreplaceable. Well it is replaceable, with food dye, but we don’t want to have to resort to that. Your tomatoes that you use in this recipe will also not give us the color that we’re looking for. You can purchase kashmiri red chili powder at your local Pakistani or Indian market. The one I am using looks like this. Ask someone in the store for it, they might not be Walmart-greeter excited to see you, but they will internally appreciate your business.
For the dried fenugreek, be very careful with this herb, if you add too much of it your entire dish will become bitter. Also, similar to dried oregano, crush the leaves in the palms of your hand to release the oils that are in the dried leaves before adding it into this dish. This herb is what gives butter chicken its unique flavor that distinguishes it from other typical currys and karahis.
After the butter heats up and foams, add in two tablespoons of flour and cook this mixture (roux) for one minutes stirring occasionally. This will provide the thickening that we need for our sauce. The flour will suspend throughout the sauce similar to what it does in a gravy. Delish!
Mix this into the mixture and lower the heat to medium (it will splatter!) and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want to fully cook out any raw tomato flavor and give the sauce a chance to develop. After this point, you can take this entire mixture and blend it. I would have actually preferred doing that but for some reason I preferred the texture in the sauce the day I was making this for the blog. To get the restaurant quality silkiness, blend away.
Serve this with some perfect steamed basmati rice or naan and enjoy!
- three tablespoons iodized salt
- three large boneless skinless chicken breasts (or chicken thighs)
- one teaspoon red chili powder
- one teaspoon ground coriander powder
- two tablespoons of butter
- ¾ cup store bought fried onions
- two teaspoons ground cumin powder
- two teaspoons ground coriander powder
- two tablespoons kashmiri red chili powder
- one and a half teaspoon ground up dried fenugreek leaves
- one teaspoon kosher salt
- two and a half teaspoons sugar
- five tablespoons water
- two tablespoons ginger and garlic paste
- three tablespoons butter
- two tablespoons of all purpose flour
- one 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
- ¾ cup of heavy whipping cream
- for the chicken:
- mix three tablespoons of iodized salt into three cups of water into a large bowl
- add in the chicken breasts or thighs and brine for 4 hours or till overnight
- after chicken is brined, take chicken out of the brine and pat dry with paper towels and sprinkle with one teaspoon of red chili powder and one teaspoon of ground coriander powder
- sauté the chicken in two tablespoons of butter heated on medium high in a nonstick frying pan till they are nicely browned on both sides
- lower heat to medium and cover and steam for 10-15 minutes
- dice chicken into bite size chunks and reserve in the frying pan with the juice and melted butter till ready to add into the sauce
- in a bowl mix together fried onions, cumin powder, coriander powder, kashmiri red chili powder, dried fenugreek leaves, salt, sugar, five tablespoons of water, and ginger and garlic paste to make a stiff paste
- melt three tablespoons of butter into a large nonstick pan on medium high heat
- add in two tablespoons of flour and cook together for one minute or until the flour starts to foam and smells nutty
- add in the spice mixture with one cup of water and cook for five minutes or until oil droplets appear on the top of the mixture
- lower the heat to medium and add in the can of crushed tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally
- half cover the pan as the sauce will splatter
- after 15 minutes, take the entire mixture and blend until smooth
- add in the chicken and cook for 10 minutes
- add the heavy cream and cook for five minutes
- adjust salt and sugar to taste