The Ultimate Butter Chicken: An Iconic Indian Curry Worth Mastering

Butter chicken, also known affectionately as murgh makhani, is one of the most popular curries in Indian cuisine. This mild, creamy dish perfectly balances rich, buttery flavors and aromatic spices.

The Ultimate Butter Chicken: An Iconic Indian Curry Worth Mastering

While butter chicken may look complicated, it’s easy to make at home. With tender chunks of marinated chicken bathed in an incredible tomato and cream-based sauce, it’s no wonder butter chicken has achieved its legendary status.

In this complete guide, learn all about the origins of butter chicken, the key ingredients that set it apart, and step-by-step instructions for making the best, most flavorful version at home.

You’ll also find tips on customizing the heat level, storing and reheating leftovers, and what to serve with this iconic Indian curry. You’ll be hooked for life after just one bite of homemade butter chicken.

The Origins of Butter Chicken

Butter Chicken was created in New Delhi, India, in the 1950s. The chefs at Moti Mahal Delux restaurant invented this now-famous dish by chance. They had tandoori chicken – a popular Indian chicken dish involving a clay oven – left over at the end of the night and decided to create something new with it.

The chefs created a revolutionary curry by combining the grilled chicken with a mildly spiced, creamy, tomato-based gravy enriched with butter and cream. It proved so popular that it has become Moti Mahal and New Delhi’s signature dish for over half a century.

While we often interchange the names butter chicken and chicken tikka masala, they are different dishes with distinct ingredients. Butter chicken contains higher amounts of dairy and less spice than chicken tikka masala, which imparts a more complex, intensely aromatic flavor profile.

The Secret to Killer Butter Chicken is in the Prep

Great butter chicken relies first and foremost on the chicken – it should be tender and flavorful. Most recipes call for boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into bite-sized pieces. Chicken thighs are the best choice as they stay moist during cooking.

No matter your chicken cut, it must be marinated (ideally overnight, but at least 2-3 hours) in a yogurt-based mixture infused with spices like coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and garam masala. This marinade makes the chicken unbelievably tasty, and the yogurt also helps tenderize it.

The sauce is equally important. It strikes a careful balance between creamy and tangy. The base contains onion, garlic, ginger, and spices like cumin and garam masala sauteed in butter and oil. Canned tomato puree adds tanginess, while chicken broth provides moisture. Heavy cream or coconut milk lends the requisite rich creaminess.

Customizing Your Butter Chicken

Butter chicken is mild and subtle by nature. But that doesn’t mean you can’t customize the flavor and make this curry your own! Here are some tasty ways to put a unique spin on classic butter chicken:

Spice It Up: Add a pinch more cayenne pepper or red chili powder to heat it. Goes nicely with cooling yogurt.

Make It Creamier: Add cream or even cream cheese at the end for an ultra-lush curry.

Herby Twist: Mix freshly chopped cilantro leaves once the curry is done. Their bright flavor offsets the rich sauce beautifully.

Nutty Texture: Swap out half the cream for toasted cashew cream to add delicious nutty undertones.

Tangy Zip: Brighten the sauce with a splash of lemon juice before serving.

Smoky Essence: A teaspoon of smoked paprika gives great depth without overpowering.

As this recipe proves, Indian food doesn’t have to be overly hot or spicy to be loaded with addicting flavor. The beauty of butter chicken lies in its mild, creamy qualities punctuated by tangy tomatoes and warm, aromatic spices.

How to Make Authentic Butter Chicken Step-By-Step?

Follow these simple instructions for signature murgh makhani that rivals your favorite Indian restaurant.

Butter Chicken


For the chicken and marinade:

  • 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups plain full-fat Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala

For the curry:

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1.5 cups heavy cream
  • 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1⁄4 cup ground cashews or almonds (optional)
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish
  • 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes

Step by step Instructions for Cooking

1. Make the marinade: Whisk together yogurt, lemon juice, cumin, salt, turmeric, and garam masala in a large bowl. Add the chicken and turn to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours or overnight.

2. Start the curry base: Melt the butter with oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for 4-5 minutes until translucent. Mix garlic, cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, chili powder, and salt. Cook for 3-4 minutes until fragrant.

3. Simmer the sauce: Store the tomatoes, chicken broth, and cream. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes to meld flavors. Remove the cinnamon stick. Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce to the desired smoothness.

4. Simmer the chicken: Raise heat to medium-high. Add in marinated chicken pieces and any leftover marinade liquid. Cook for 8-10 minutes until chicken is nearly cooked through.

5. Finish the curry: Reduce heat to medium. Add tomato paste and cashews (if using). Simmer uncovered for 20-25 minutes until chicken is cooked and the sauce thickens.

6. Adjust seasonings: Stir in cilantro just before serving. Taste and add extra salt, chili powder, or lemon juice if desired. Enjoy with basmati rice or naan bread.

Take your butter chicken game to new heights with these expert tips:

  •  Choose chicken thighs over breasts – they stay so much more moist. And leave the bone in for maximum flavor!
  •  Plain, full-fat Greek yogurt has the ideal tangy flavor and marinade thickness. Low-fat yogurt won’t properly cling.
  • Marinate the chicken for at least 8 hours, or even 24. This extended time allows the spices to permeate deeply for intensely flavorful chicken.
  •  Cook the onions slowly so they caramelize versus turning translucent. It adds wonderful sweetness and complexity.
  •  Splurge on high-quality garam masala with warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and clove. The flavor payoff is immense.
  •  Finish with a splash of cream or grind in a tablespoon or two cashews to make the curry extra silky and luscious.

How to Store and Reheat Leftover Butter Chicken?

Like many curries and stews, butter chicken tastes even better than leftovers! Follow these handy storage tips:

  1. Storage: Let cool completely before transferring to an airtight container. Butter chicken will keep fresh in the fridge for up to 5 days.
  2. Freezing: For longer-term storage, divide cooled butter chicken into freezer-safe portions and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
  3. Reheating: For best results, reheat butter chicken in a saucepan over medium-low heat on the stovetop while stirring occasionally. Or heat individual portions in the microwave at 50% power.

What to Serve with Butter Chicken?

While butter chicken is rich, creamy, and protein-packed enough to be a meal all on its own, enjoying it with a few classic Indian sides rounds out the experience beautifully.

Here are some fantastic accompaniments that complement murgh makhani flawlessly:

  1. Fluffy basmati rice or jeera rice: The perfect foundation for soaking up every last drop of that incredible sauce. Basil or mint rice also pair nicely.
  2. Warm naan bread: Tear off pieces to dip into the curry for a doughy, comforting contrast. Garlic naan is next level.
  3. Cucumber raita: The cooling qualities of cucumber-yogurt dip offset the curry’s richness perfectly.
  4. Fried papadums or pappadams: This crispy, wafer-thin lentil crackers offer a satisfying crunch.
  5. Sweet mango chutney: Fruity, syrupy-tangy mango chutney balances out all the rich dairy and warm spices.
  6.  Spicy onion salad: Quick pickled red onions in lime juice wake up the palate.

For an elegant Indian meal, serve butter chicken alongside fluffy basmati rice, grilled paneer, saag aloo (spinach and potatoes), lentil dal, fresh chutneys, and raita, ending with sweet kulfi ice cream for dessert!

The Easiest Way to make Butter Chicken

While scratch-made, authentic butter chicken requires several components and spices, you can simplify things without sacrificing much flavor!

The easiest condensed version contains just these ingredients:

  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Plain yogurt
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Curry powder
  •  Canned diced tomatoes
  • Butter
  • Heavy cream
  1. Combine the yogurt with the garlic, ginger, curry powder, and salt to create an easy marinade.
  2. Coat the chicken pieces and let marinate while you simmer canned diced tomatoes with butter and cream to form an instant tasty sauce.
  3. Once thickened, add the marinated chicken and simmer until cooked through and soaked in sauce.
  4. Sprinkle with cilantro and enjoy over rice or naan bread like the traditional recipe. Delicious in a fraction of the time!

Butter Chicken

Why Homemade Butter Chicken is So Worth the Effort?

At first glance, making butter chicken at home instead of ordering Indian takeout may seem overly ambitious. But once you realize how truly simple this iconic dish is, you’ll never look back.

Here’s why it’s worth perfecting your signature version from scratch:

1. Cost Savings: Takeout adds up fast. Making butter chicken yourself costs just a fraction in comparison!

2. Customization: Tweak flavors and heat levels to suit your preferences. Can’t do that with premade dishes!

3. Quality Ingredients: Control exactly what goes into your food with high-quality spices, chicken, cream, and more.

4. Healthier Options: Skip unwanted additives or excess salt, oil, and sugars. Having it at home allows you to create a fresher, lighter version.

5. Impress Guests: Who wouldn’t be wowed to learn you crafted such an incredible Indian feast all on your own? Serious foodie credibility!

6. Leftovers for Days: A big batch yields delicious leftovers for easy weekday lunches and dinners on the fly. Saves so much time!

7. Deeply Satisfying: With its heady aromas and luxurious texture, homemade butter chicken completely envelops your senses. The very definition of comfort food!

Any fan of Indian cuisine must try their hand at creating their murgh makhani masterpiece. So grab the garam masala and get cooking – massive curry cravings await!

Explore another delicious recipe (Delightful Baked French Toast Recipe) that pairs wonderfully with our recent culinary discussions.

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