Butter chicken recipe: How to make butter chicken at home

Creamy, tangy, sweet, and a little bit spicy, butter chicken is one of the world's favorite Indian dishes. It's time to leave the takeout behind and make butter chicken at home! Here's our butter chicken recipe.

Butter chicken is creamy and delicious, and you can make it at home with this easy recipe.
Butter chicken is creamy and delicious, and you can make it at home with this easy recipe.  © Unsplash/Raman

There are few foods more universally loved than your classic butter chicken. Rich and creamy, aromatic and spicy, this is a curry that'll keep the whole family happy and one that has become an absolute staple of our Friday night takeout menus.

Mixed with some steamy basmati rice and fresh naan bread, butter chicken is truly special, but is it something that you can replicate at home?

Well, of course, it is! While not the easiest or quickest food to make, with our homemade butter chicken, you'll never need to return to the Indian takeout joint down the road. Here's TAG24's butter chicken recipe.

What is butter chicken?

Butter chicken is a north Indian dish that originates from the territory of Delhi, the region that's home to the country's capital city, New Delhi. Typically a spicy tomato-based sauce that features a heavy dose of butter (hence the name), butter chicken has become the staple dish of many Western Indian restaurants and takeout joints.

Traditionally known as murgh makhani in India, butter chicken first appeared in the West when it became the specialty of a restaurant in Manhattan, New York. Since then it has become an incredibly popular and anglicized dish served across much of the former British Empire, in countries such as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and, of course, the US.

Interestingly, many people assume that the dish originated outside of India because of its popularity across the world. This couldn't be further from the truth, as the dish was invented at the Moti Mahal restaurant in Old Delhi (a famous and historic establishment) back in the 1950s. It only became popular worldwide from the 1970s on.

Similar to chicken tikka masala, the chicken is generally cooked in a tandoori oven before it is made into a rich curry with a vast variety of spices. You don't need a tandoori oven for this recipe, though, don't worry!

What does butter chicken taste like?

If made right, butter chicken is not as sweet as most of us are used to from our Friday night takeout. Instead, butter chicken should feature a tang of lemon, a thick creaminess from the cream and butter, a bite of spiciness, and a complex aroma of different flavors from various herbs and spices.

If done right, each individual ingredient should pop in your mouth, creating a rounded, slightly sweet, and intensely flavored curry that coats your pallet and keeps you coming back for more. The aroma that comes from butter chicken is also incredibly important and a big part of the experience you get from the dish.

What's right and what's wrong? Butter chicken is a dish that's often incredibly fatty, sweet, and bland. It's not surprising, as it's often featured as a cheap takeout or ready meal. In reality, butter chicken requires a lot of time, preparation, and a variety of spices. There's a little bit of sweetness, but a truly good butter chicken should feature a great deal more complexity.

What is the difference between butter chicken and chicken tikka masala?

Butter chicken and chicken tikka masala are often mistaken for each other and while they are very different, it's not such a surprise. Both dishes use similar ingredients and heavily feature tandoori-cooked chicken, giving them familiar hints to one another. They are, at their core, however, very different meals.

You should expect a heavier and creamier dish from butter chicken, as it relies on whole tomatoes that have been puréed, a lot of butter, and cream. On the other hand, chicken tikka masala skips the dairy and uses tomato paste, lending it an earthier flavor.

Butter chicken is a little complicated, and takes a while, but it's also rather easy.
Butter chicken is a little complicated, and takes a while, but it's also rather easy.  © IMAGO/agefotostock

How to make simple and easy butter chicken: Recipe

While butter chicken is not a particularly difficult dish to get right, it'll take a bit of time to prepare. After all, you need to allow time for your chicken to marinade, prepare the spice mix, get it to the right consistency, and cook it properly - and that's all before you even start on the sides!

Allow yourself at least two hours to cook butter chicken (not including the marinating time, of course), and a bit of extra time to prepare whatever sides you have in mind. On top of that, while you don't need lots of fancy equipment, you're going to make a mess - be ready.

Here's the equipment you'll need when making butter chicken:

  • Blender (either a stick blender or a food processor)
  • Several big metal bowls
  • Cling wrap
  • A grill or smoker (if not, you can use an electric oven with a grill)
  • A big, heavy-bottomed pot
  • Plenty of wooden spoons
  • Pair of tongs
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Microplane or cheese grater

If you don't have some of the items on this list, feel free to replace them with alternatives. Just make sure that you are able to complete the steps described below.

Best butter chicken recipe | Ingredients

This is probably the most complicated part of the whole butter chicken-making experience: the shopping beforehand. There are an insane number of ingredients here, which is partially all of which are necessary if you want to make a delicious and authentic butter chicken.

Here are the ingredients you'll need when making butter chicken:

  • Chicken marinade:
    • Chicken, 1-1.5 pounds (boned or boneless)
    • Turmeric, 1 tsp
    • Cumin, 1 tsp
    • Coriander, 2 tsp
    • Chili powder, 1 tsp (to taste)
    • Garam masala, 2 tsp
    • Ginger
    • Garlic
    • Lemon
    • Salt
    • Pepper
    • Yogurt, 1–2 cups
  • Sauce:
    • Cardamom, 1 tsp
    • 5 cloves
    • 2 bay leaves
    • Turmeric, 1 tsp
    • Cumin, 1 tsp
    • Garam masala, 1 tsp
    • Chili powder, 1 tsp
    • Coriander, 2 tsp
    • Sugar, 1 tsp
    • 8 tomatoes
    • Roasted cashews, 7 oz
    • 2 medium onions
    • 1 green chili
    • Cream, 1/2 cup
    • Salt
    • Pepper
    • Water
    • Butter
    • Oil

On proportions: As usual, the proportions here can be adjusted according to however many people you are cooking for. Just remember to keep all the ratios the same. This recipe serves two people.

Best butter chicken recipe | Instructions

You are going to spend a couple of hours cooking this beast of a meal and a couple of days preparing it. It might seem like overkill, but all of these steps are important if you want to achieve the flavor that you're looking for. Let's be real: it's worth it, so just buckle up and go with the flow!

Here's how to make the best butter chicken you'll ever eat!

Step 1: Start off simple by making your ginger and garlic paste. Using a microplane or a cheese grater, suspended over a bowl, mince your ginger and your garlic and then mix it all together with a small spoon.

Step 2: Chop up your chicken into chunk-sized pieces, just how you like it. Once chopped, simply add all the spices we listed under the marinade as well as the juice of that lemon.

Step 3: Once fully combined and coated, add your ginger and garlic paste, as well as the yogurt, and continue to mix until everything is fully covered and no edges are left untouched.

Step 4: You should set the chicken aside to rest and marinade in your fridge, covered in cling wrap, for a minimum of 24 hours. Preferably you would leave it in there for 24-48.

Step 5: Now it's time for your sauce! Make another ginger and garlic paste and slice up all of your vegetables - so the tomatoes, the onion, and the chilies. If you haven't bought pre-roasted cashews, now's the time to get roasting!

Step 6: Add a large amount of butter (at least one stick) to your pot, as well as your olive oil, and toast off all the spices until they are highly fragrant and smell absolutely wonderful. Be careful not to burn anything, and keep the temperature medium-low.

Step 7: Add your onions, seasoning to taste with salt, and cook for around five minutes. Then add your paste and continue to cook, mixing thoroughly, until all the onions are a little bit caramelized.

Step 8: Now add the chili and your cashews. Add about 1–2 cups of water and the tomatoes you have already chopped up. Raise to a simmer and cook for a minimum of 45 minutes, preferably 1.5 hours, on low heat. If the sauce starts to dry out, feel free to add a bit of extra water to keep it wet but thick.

Step 9: While you are waiting for the sauce to cook, wack on your grill and cook up that marinaded chicken. You want to get it a little blackened, tasting equal parts smokey and fragrant. Once cooked through, set it aside (and have a taste).

Step 10: Get out your blender, remove the cloves and bay leaves from your sauce, and grind it until it's an insanely smooth sauce. You might have a bit of trouble with the tomatoes, so make sure that you're wearing an apron. It should appear smooth, with a nice light orange color.

Step 11: Bring the sauce back up to a boil, adding another stick of butter and all of that delicious cream. Mix thoroughly until your sauce is incredibly creamy and smells delicious.

Step 12: Mix in your chicken and cook for around five more minutes to bring the chicken up to temperature. Taste the sauce and season it accordingly. You're done!

Remember to serve your butter chicken with some beautiful fresh naan bread and a bowl of hot and steamy rice. Don't skip out on anything: you're going for flavor, not convenience!

What to serve with butter chicken

Naan bread is but one of many fantastic things you can serve alongside butter chicken.
Naan bread is but one of many fantastic things you can serve alongside butter chicken.  © Unsplash/Sweetyoga Justine

There are many great side dishes that can be served alongside your beautiful butter chicken. While it's possible to make a lot of these yourself, it's often a great idea to simply buy sides from your local takeout joint. For the bread or tandoori-cooked options, for example, they'll likely be able to make it better.

The most important side dish is, of course, properly cooked basmati rice. You don't want to go for thicker-grained rice here, like jasmine or Arborio, as it has the wrong consistency. Instead, basmati is an absolute must. If you have trouble cooking rice, don't worry, we've got you covered in our quick and easy rice cooking guide.

Here are a few additional side dishes to pair with your butter chicken:

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Tattoos Body mod addict who was almost blinded by ink gets radical new eye tattoo
  • Naan bread

  • Pakoras
  • Samosas
  • Chapatti
  • Paratha
  • Roti
  • Dosa
  • Papadum

Feel free to try and make some of these wonderful dishes, they can be a great go-to if you are looking for tasty and healthy snacks.

Many assume that butter chicken isn't a dish consumed much in India, and in many ways, they'd be right. The thing is, though, that the dish did originate in North India and is widely served in restaurants across Delhi and a variety of other cities. It's not as sweet as it is in the West, it's far spicier, and it's not people's go-to like it is in the West.

In the same way that "curry" is just an anglicized word for the sauces found in many Indian dishes (and there is no real concept of a "curry" in India itself), butter chicken is an anglicized version of a north Indian dish. As a result, feel free to try butter chicken if you ever travel to India - it'll be very different - but also try a vindaloo, a masala dosa, and a saag.

India features one of the best and most varied cuisines in the world and while butter chicken is one of the most basic of basic curries, it's worth making at home. You'll get a richer and spicier dish that's packed full of flavor - what's not to love?

Cover photo: Unsplash/Raman

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