Garam Masala Tuesdays: Butter Chicken

by Shumaila

I actually look forward to calling people home. Not only does it feel nice to have a a house full of friends and laughter, but it forces me to to clean my house- and no, I am not talking about the “it-would-do” kind of cleaning but the “your-mom-will-give-a-pat-on-your-back” kind of cleaning.

Now, when you call people home or host a party of any sorts, you do expect certain hiccups. You expect it would be too hot to cook. You also expect that you would be out the previous day of the party and get a heat stroke and get a mild migraine because of that. You also expect that the party would fall on that day of the month when women get their stomach cramps and the likes. So you are cooking with a slight migraine, stomach cramps in a hot kitchen. Well, you expect all that and don’t think any of it would cause a big problem. And then you hear a shatter- more specifically you hear glass shattering and that too on your kitchen floor. Ohh..kay… – its a setback but one can get past it- its just a bottle, you can clean that. But then your realize- the bottle had oil. Not only is there glass on the floor but there is oil on the kitchen floor ( and of course you needed that oil for your party!) Now who could anticipate that! You wouldn’t, right! But, I do, thanks to my track record. I have butter fingers and I am very serious when I say that. Ask my friends. Things just slip from my hands and the more I am careful the more likely they are to slip! In fact the degree of the damage I do always depends on the cruciality of the whole situation.

But then when you have a husband like V whats there to worry. He knew I was upset plus he knew I was in all probability to slip on the oil or prick my finger on broken glass (the latter happened and the former almost did), so he opted to mop the floor when my cleaning with the newspaper trick did not work.

Well, thanks to my husband’s helping hands, I was able to get the house clean and ready for the party at home. We had our eclectic International friends for dinner and I made Indian. The menu consisted of butter chicken, dal makhani, mixed vegetable, raita and roti. For dessert, we had mango kulfi and these awesome gluten-free cupcakes that our friend had got for us. I have already posted the recipe for Dal Makhani previously on Garam Masala Tuesdays (GMT). Check it out here. I will be posting the recipe for Mango Kulfi next week. For today’s GMT, I will be talking about Butter chicken.

Originating from the period of the Mughal Empire, Murgh Makhani aka Butter chicken has survived through the ages and continues to grow in popularity due to it’s rich and flavorful gravy. It is said that the modern version of the Butter Chicken recipe was invented by a person working in the kitchen of the original Moti Mahal restaurant in Daryaganj, Delhi, during the 1960s to use up leftover Tandoori Chicken.

Butter chicken is a definite order at restaurants in India and has become quite famous abroad as well, though in a slightly modified version named Chicken Tikka Masala.

Well back in India, restaurants do not serve CTM, at least I have never seen it. I have never read it on any menu card in India, even though chicken tikka is always there under appetizers but no chicken tikka masala. Butter chicken, on the other hand, is a must in every North Indian restaurant.

CTM, primarily is a UK born dish.

Chicken Tikka Masala was apparently invented in Great Britain about the same time as the modern version of butter chicken. There is a popular story that some restaurant owner poured Campbell’s condensed tomato soup on top of Chicken Tikka because a customer demanded gravy. The topic, though, is controversial as some claim it to be originating from street food in India.

CTM became popular when it was declared as British National Dish by Robin Cook (nope, he is not the famous author of Coma, Brain and the likes, but was UK’s foreign secretary). Robin Cook’s Tikka Masala speech states CTM as “a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences.

For long I thought chicken tikka masala is what foreigners called butter chicken. But, after googling I found there are slight differences, though the concept is pretty much similar- grilled chicken in a tomato based curry. The slight differences arise in the preparation of the gravy, the kind of chicken used and the spices added.

Whereas, Butter chicken uses fresh tomatoes, CTM generally uses canned tomato puree. The gravy for butter chicken also is pretty heavy on the butter and cream, while CTM doesnt use butter at all (though I have seen recipes of CTM that do! confused? so am I!) and instead has onions. Another supposed difference lies in the kind of chicken used- one uses tandoori chicken and the other uses chicken tikka (nope, no points for guessing which uses which). Also, CTM always uses boneless chicken (since that’s what the recipe for chicken tikka calls for), whereas butter chicken is best prepared with chicken with bones, though one could use boneless pieces too. Someone also observed the use of thigh pieces or whole chicken in butter chicken, whereas CTM uses breasts pieces. Dried fenugreek leaves play a heavy role in the chicken marination for butter chicken, while they do not feature in the other, instead CTM uses cilantro/coriander in the marination.

I can not confirm the authenticity for these difference, since it is based on my observation of different recipes online and personally I feel that since both are modern recipes, originating in restaurants, the difference is primarily one of nomenclature- a difference that arose because people wanted to get attributed to the origin of the dish. For me, though, the authentic Indian dish will always be butter chicken and that is what we are making for GMT today.

Butter chicken is made by marinating chicken overnight in a yogurt, garlic, ginger paste, pepper, dried fenugreek leaves, cumin and red chilli powder mixture. The chicken is traditionally cooked in a tandoor (how I wish I had one at home), but can also be grilled, or broiled in the oven.

Makhani, the sauce, true to its name is cooked in butter (calories! but so worth it!) and pureed fresh tomatoes with various spices. Kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves) which is also added to the dish, lends most to the characteristic flavor of the dish. Cashew paste can also be added, and will make the gravy thicker and richer (translate: yummier).

The recipe that I use is a mix of my mother’s and Nandu’s, our cook in India. My mom gives the recipe a nice smoky twist by cooking the gravy in charcoal smoke. It adds a lot of flavor to the gravy and is pretty easy to do!


STEP 1: Wash

  • 8 medium pieces of Chicken (preferably with bones but boneless would do- I used boneless)

STEP 2: First marination:

  • 1 tsp ginger paste (freshly ground)
  • 1 tsp garlic paste (freshly ground)
  • Juice of a lime
  • salt, to taste

Marinate the chicken with salt to taste, lime juice, ginger and garlic paste for 3-4hrs.

STEP 3: Second marination:

  • 1 cup hung curd (I used greek yogurt since its already strained)
  • 2 tbsp mild cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 tbsp cream
  • 1 tsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves), crushed
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • Red chilli powder, to taste
  • 2 tsp mustard oil ( I used vegetable oil)
  • 2 tbsp ground cashew paste

Mix together the second marination ingredients and add to the chicken. Keep it for 4-5 hrs and then grill it for about 20-25 mins at 220 deg. (I broiled the chicken at high setting for 20 minutes, turning the chicken over once). Once done, cover the chicken with a wet cloth so that it doesn’t dry up.

STEP 4: Preparing the makhani sauce:

  • 4 medium sized tomatoes
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 inch piece of ginger
  • 3-4 green chillies, slit lengthwise
  • 1 tbsp butter (add more if you feel like- the more the tastier the results)
  • 2-3 tbsp cashew paste
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped coriander/cilantro
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup/puree (optional)

Boil the tomatoes with the ginger and garlic. Then churn it in a blender.

Heat butter in a pan and saute the green chillies in it. Add the tomato puree and cashew paste. Add the puree/sauce to give the gravy a some red colour. Add grilled chicken along with the marinade and cook till the gravy is thick and coating the chicken. Add the cilantro. You can add some butter and cream once the gravy is cooked to give it a richer taste.

STEP 5: Giving the gravy a smoked flavor!

If you have charcoal, heat it to red hot on the stove fire. Put a steel bowl (or make bowl one out of aluminium foil) in the pot with the gravy. Once the charcoal piece is red hot, quickly put int he steel/aluminium bowl. Add some butter or ghee on top. (You can also add 2 pieces of cloves on top of the charcoaljust make sure it doesn’t fall in the gravy and stays only in the aluminium/steel bowl) and cover the pan. Do it two three times to get the smoke flavor.

Serve the chicken garnished with chopped cilantro with either Naan or rice.

Enjoy cooking and then eating!

This post has been linked to the “Hearth and Soul” Tuesday blog hop.

Hearth and Soul Hop at Premeditated Leftovers