Butter Chicken

It takes a lot of will power to resist butter chicken. Far more will power than I have. In a nutshell, I made this on Sunday for the second time in a week, and I very rarely do that. We had it for dinner last night, I had a bit after work for a snack. Gabi took her little spoon and ate a plateful for dinner this evening. Her face smeared orange with sauce, she tapped her little fingers together demanding “Mo?”

Twenty-four hours later, this double batch of butter chicken is about gone. Good homemade Indian food is one of life’s best pleasures. The smells of the spices, the complexities of sweet, sour, spicy. If you’ve never had butter chicken, it’s very much like chicken tikka malsala, one of the most common dishes Americans order at Indian restaurants. The chicken is marinated for a few hours in spiced yogurt, then roasted.

The sauce is velvety and rich, a creamy tomato gravy that  involves heating butter and sauteing garlic, ginger, tomatoes, cumin, mace, cardamom pods, chili powder. You strain the mixture into a bowl, puree the solids, then strain it again. The first time, I added about 1/4 cup of the solids to the strained sauce and preferred the flavor intensity to what I made Sunday, which was just the strained sauce. You put the sauce back on the heat, then stir in dried fenugreek leaves, cream and honey. Mmmmmmm mmmm!

A word about ingredients: this recipe and others you’ll see on this site from time to time call for ginger and garlic paste. It’s available at most international markets and will keep in your refrigerator forever. If you can’t find it, you could substitute by finely chopping 10 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons minced ginger and a teaspoon of water in a mini-food processor. Whir until a paste-like consistency forms. It’s not a perfect substitute, but in this case the paste is only needed for the marinade. This substitute should work.

For the roasting, I used metal skewers. Wooden ones require soaking, and why do the extra work if you don’t need to?

Butter Chicken
adapted from How to Cook Indian

1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt

for the marinade

1 cup plain yogurt, preferably Greek-style
4 teaspoons ginger garlic paste (see explanation above)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 teaspoons salt

for roasting

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

for the sauce

2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves, or kasoori methi (if you can’t find this at international markets, omit)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon ground mace
2 teaspoons chili powder
10 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
12 medium tomatoes (if they’re in season), roughly chopped, OR 3 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons half-and-half cream

Serve with steamed rice

Prick chicken cubes all over with a fork. Put them in a large bowl and toss them with the chili powder, lemon juice and salt. Cover bowl and chill for 30 minutes.

Make the marinade. Put the yogurt in a large bowl, whisk in ginger-garlic paste, chili powder, garam masala, salt. Add chicken to the mixture and stir to coat. Cover and chill for 3 to 4 hours.

Roast the chicken. Preheat the oven to 400° F. If using wooden skewers, soak in water for 30 minutes.

Thread the chicken onto the skewers. Arrange them on a baking sheet and roast 14  minutes, or until almost cooked through. Baste with the melted butter and roast 2 to 3 minutes more. Test a piece of chicken to ensure the meat is cooked through. Remove chicken from skewers and place on a plate. Set aside.

Place a nonstick saucepan over low heat and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. When it melts, add the cardamom pods and mace. Cook until fragrant.

Stir the chili powder and 2 tablespoons of water together in a small bowl to make a smooth paste. Add it to the pan and stir. Add the ginger, garlic and tomatoes, and stir well. Cook for 20 minutes, still over low heat, or until the tomatoes become pulpy.

Strain the mixture by pouring it through a strainer set over a large bowl. Transfer solids in the strainer to a food processor and process until smooth. Pour this into the strainer, set over the bowl, pushing down on the mixture to get as much liquid into the bowl as possible. Add about 1/4 cup of the solids to the strained sauce.

Wipe out the saucepan with  a paper towel. Over low heat, add remaining 2 tablespoons butter. When it melts, add the strained sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

Add the dried fenugreek leaves, if using, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the salt, honey and cream, and stir. Cook 2 minutes longer.

Add chicken pieces and cook 3 minutes.

Serve hot with steamed basmati rice.

Serves 6


4 Responses to “Butter Chicken”

  1. April 5, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Yum — sounds good. And it gives me the barest of excuses to offer my ginger tip: Keep the root in a ziploc bag in the freezer. When you need ginger, bring it out and grate whatever you need right off the frozen hunk (peeling that part first, if you want — it’s much easier to peel with a paring knife when it’s frozen). Put the rest back in the freezer. It’s really easy, and ginger is much easier to handle frozen. It also keeps forever, and doesn’t seem to lose any of its potency.

  2. 2 Meopi
    April 5, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Agreed! Ginger is a horrible thing to waste. Thanks for the tip.

  3. 3 Betsy
    May 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Hi Elisa,
    The blog looks great. So I have a question for you. If I were to cook one recipe from here, which is your absolute favorite? I’m sure you’ll say it depends on what I want, but I figured I’d leave it open-ended to get your opinion. Also, have I ever told you about my saffron risotto and asparagus recipe? It was actually one I cut out from People magazine, a dish designed by Matt Damon’s trainer when he was getting into shape for The Bourne Identity. Low-fat and surprisingly tasty! I will try to dig it up if you are interested. -Bets

    • May 29, 2011 at 9:15 pm

      Let me think about this and get back to you. As for the risotto, you have not told me about it and I am very interested. I was thinking the other day that it was about a year ago that you and Ava came over for a final hurrah before I had to go back to work. I miss those days soooo much! Maybe we’ll see you some Saturday at Tower Grove? I’ll come up with a fave and let you know.

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