What to CookIndian

All-in-One (Instant) Pot Butter Chicken—With a Few Vegetarian Riffs

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One day, while minding my own business—literally minding the marketing business I own—I decided to publish a quick and easy recipe for Indian butter chicken. Seemingly overnight, it became hugely popular on my blog, and to many people, I became “The Butter Chicken Lady.” It started with a post in the Instant Pot Community on Facebook, and turned into the Indian Instant Pot Cookbook. Here’s how that happened.

When it comes to cooking, I am lazy—although I prefer the term efficient. I also want authentic, great-tasting food, and I want it fast. As such, I am obsessed with my Instant Pot.

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What We Learned from the Instant Pot in 2017
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What We Learned from the Instant Pot in 2017

In my defense, I was crazy about it long before it became fashionable. Five years ago, after more than 30 years of pressure cooking, I found the Instant Pot and fell in love. So I wanted to create an Indian butter chicken that was authentic and easy, and made in the Instant Pot. Butter chicken, or murgh makhani, is often referred to as the “gateway drug” to Indian cuisine. I wanted to show how easy it is to enjoy great homemade Indian food, and inspire readers to make and sample other Indian dishes.

I set about creating this butter chicken recipe like I do everything else in my life—somewhat obsessively. Many tries later, after many less-than-perfect renditions, I knew I’d nailed it when my husband tried this particular recipe and beamed. This was the one. There was just one small problem—the recipe made too much sauce. Something that few people understand when they first start pressure cooking is that liquids hardly evaporate in a pressure cooker. Pressure cooking retains all of the water that meats and vegetables release, making a rich infusion of flavor. But mix a can of tomatoes, some chicken, butter, and cream, and before you know it, you have twice too much sauce.

I began experimenting, cutting this and that, but always, the best recipe was still that “one.” Then, I had an epiphany—what I thought of as a bug might actually be a great feature. It’s not a problem to have too much sauce when that sauce is absolutely delicious. You cook butter chicken once, and save the extra sauce for the next meal. Surely that is the epitome of lazy/efficient cooking? That’s why I named it “Now and Later Butter Chicken.” What's great about this particular recipe is that it tells you how to cook rice at the exact same time.

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Now and Later Instant Pot Butter Chicken
Now and Later Instant Pot Butter Chicken

Let’s talk flavors. A good murgh makhani is sweet with tomatoes, savory with chicken, creamy with butter and cream, and complexly nuanced with spices. This recipe relies on one important ingredient: garam masala. Invest in a bottle, which can be found in a number of grocery chains, Indian shops, and online. You can also make your own. If your butter chicken is bland and flavorless, a lack of garam masala is to blame. Make your own, and you’ll never buy a bottle of it again.

Vegetarian Riffs

These can also be made vegan, if you swap butter and cream for coconut oil and coconut milk.

  • Peas Paneer Makhani: In Step 1, add 1/4 cup of water or vegetable broth, omit chicken, and cook sauce as directed. Add 1 cup cubed paneer and 1 cup green peas to the cooked sauce, and heat through before serving.

  • Chana Makhani: In Step 1, add 1/4 cup of water or vegetable broth, omit chicken, and cook sauce as directed. Add 2 cups of drained, cooked chickpeas to the cooked sauce, and heat through before serving.

  • Tofu Makhani: In Step 1, add 1/4 cup of water or vegetable broth, omit chicken, and cook sauce as directed. Add 2 cups cubed tofu to the cooked sauce, and heat through before serving.

  • Mixed Vegetable Makhani: In Step 1, add 1/4 cup of water or vegetable broth, omit chicken, and cook sauce as directed. While the sauce cooks, steam your selection of vegetables in the microwave or on the stovetop. Add steamed vegetables to the cooked sauce, and heat through before serving.

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Now and Later Instant Pot Butter Chicken

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Serves 4-6
  • For the rice:
  • 1 cup aged basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • For the butter chicken:
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2-1 teaspoons cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons good-quality garam masala, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, left whole
  • 4 ounces butter, cut into cubes (use coconut oil, if dairy free)
  • 4 ounces heavy cream (use full-fat coconut milk, if dairy free)
  • 1/4-1/2 cups chopped cilantro
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What do you like to make in the Instant Pot? Let us know in the comments!

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Tags: Indian, One-Pot Wonders, Dinner, Faster