Dinner, Faster

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

January 11, 2018

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.

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.

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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.

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Top Comment:
“You can save half of the sauce, refrigerate it and use it on other dishes. I have only used butter and heavy cream once.. now I use coconut butter and coconut milk..”
— Bill S.

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.

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.

What do you like to make in the Instant Pot? Let us know in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Pam
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  • Ashley
  • Gail Lumpkin
    Gail Lumpkin
Dr. Urvashi Pitre is the President of a global marketing consulting firm, and also the author of the best-selling Indian Instant Pot Cookbook, one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2017. She combines her training as a scientist with her desire to make fast, healthy, authentic, global cuisine, and experiments extensively to create the most streamlined recipes that use fresh ingredients. WEBSITE: www.twosleevers.com FB PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/twosleever/ FB GROUP: https://www.facebook.com/groups/twosleevers/ PINTEREST: https://www.pinterest.com/twosleevers/pins/ INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/two_sleevers/ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/TwosleeversUrvashi


Pam May 20, 2018
Urvashi has created an amazingly delicious and easy recipe, and written a very readable and friendly book. The Butter Chicken is sooooo good. The initial list of ingredients ma be intimidating to those who don't have a loaded spice cabinet, but get them all, you'll be happy! I made this for the first time with the "help" of my 3 and 4 year old grandsons, who wanted to see, sniff, measure, dump in, stir, every single ingredient, and after all that was done, constantly asked "is it done yet?" They LOVED IT and these are kids who have not been exposed to a lot of international foods! Every time they come to grand mommy's, they want Butter Chicken, and the three year old declares, "Indian food is my favorite food!"

I LOVE that they want to help and are so proud of helping: They learned to peel garlic (with a silicone sleeve) and now do that no matter what I'm cooking. Each has his own measuring set, with measuring cups and spoons - when I'd say I need a Teaspoon of (whatever), they'd hold up random cups and spoons and ask, "is this a teaspoon?"
We made an Instant Pot cheesecake the same night; another huge hit. Love the pot, love Urvashi's butter chicken (she makes a multi-step process so darn easy!), and love the way it's gotten the Littles interested in cooking, helping, and trying new foods! Oh, and the cookbook - well organized, good intros to each recipe, good layout with photos and lots of white space - I read and re-read the whole preface because it was so interesting! Seriously, who reads (much less re-reads) the preface to a cookbook! We had butter chicken for dinner tonight, and it was deeeelllliiiiiccccciiiiiiiooooouuuuusssss!
cindy January 29, 2018
I would think you could do it in your dutch oven. This was my initial meal I've cooked in my instant pot - I cooked it tonight and it was delicious VEGETARIANS: here's what I did. I followed the instructions with tofu. At the end I added 1 14 oz block of tofu pressed and cut into cubes along with veggies steamed together: 2 cups of chunked carrots and 2 zucchinis quartered and chunky chopped. I also sautéed some mushrooms with some scallions and added them at the end. With the additional veggies, I did not save half the sauce. I used it all and could have probably added a bit more veggies. Next time I will try coconut milk and oil. Thank you Urvashi for helping us adapt this!
shortnsweet January 21, 2018
question on making this vegetarian: i don't have an instant pot, but the raves on the recipe makes me want to try it! considering doing one of these "riffs" this weekend. how long would you cook the sauce without an instant pot? could i stick it in my dutch oven on the stove top, or would i be better off with the slow cooker? thanks!
cindy January 29, 2018
I don't think you would need a slow cooker. Maybe 30-45 min for the sauce?
shortnsweet January 21, 2018
question on making this vegetarian: i don't have an instant pot, but the raves on the recipe makes me want to try it! considering doing one of these "riffs" this weekend. how long would you cook the sauce without an instant pot? could i stick it in my dutch oven on the stove top, or would i be better off with the slow cooker? thanks!
Ashley January 14, 2018
I'm really looking forward to making this dish for the family tonight! Can anyone out there tell me if it makes a huge difference in the taste or consistency if I go with the coconut milk as opposed to the cream? Thanks y'all!
Author Comment
Urvashi P. January 14, 2018
Many people have tried it with coconut milk and coconut oil, to make it dairy-free and they all rave about it. I'd definitely give it a shot.
Sharonzell January 18, 2018
I made it as suggested with the coconut oil and coconut milk. I thought I was going to be disappointed, but it was so delicious!
Pam May 20, 2018
Heavy cream is more than my calorie-conscious self can bear to use.....but I've done it with half n half and coconut milk, and prefer and half n half. It just gives it a creamier flavor.
Gail L. January 13, 2018
I make this about once a week. It’s so simple and delicious. If you can, definitely make the garam masala blend in the book.
Jeanie M. January 12, 2018
The first time I made this recipe, I doubled it, which made it a really great timesaver. We had guests and they loved it and I had enough for my husband and me for the next day. I froze the extra sauce and used it later with shrimp. After, I couldn’t wait until the cookbook came out.
Kathleen S. January 12, 2018
Urvashi’s Butter Chicken is the bomb! It’s a fail-proof, deliciously complex dish....makes a person wonder what makes it so good. She has really perfected this. This week we’re enjoying her tomato coconut soup....mmm. There are many more Urvashi recipes I’m wanting to try.
Mary L. January 12, 2018
This is one of our “go to” recipes. We always double the chicken without changing other ingredients. We make it at least 1x/month (and I rarely repeat dinner recipes).
Bianca V. January 12, 2018
Fabulous recipe, fabulous cookbook and phenomenal personality! Urvashi Rocks! Having Butter Chicken in my fridge right now is such a good feeling! It became a staple over night. Urvashi has a beautiful soul and it is a pleasure interacting with her. Can't wait to see what other delectable recipes she comes up with! 💕
Mary J. January 12, 2018
Best. Recipe. Ever! Urvashi Pitre has given us all the gift of exquisitely delicious food that’s fast, easy and always a crowd pleaser. Having tried most of the recipes in he cookbook, the Indian Instant Pot Cookbook, and so many more on her blog and FB group, I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed anything as much as her recipes. She is amazing!!
Mariana C. January 12, 2018
This is delicious, and quite easy to make. The cookbook is a pleasure to cook from -- no glitches.
m January 12, 2018
This is the recipe that everyone loves at my house... and at the neighborhood potluck... and at the family get-together... and, well, you get the idea. I make this Butter Chicken at least once a week and save the extra sauce to drizzle over steamed veggies. A keeper, for sure.
Ralene M. January 12, 2018
I made this recipe tonight for the first time, and it definitely will not be the last. The chicken was juicy, the sauce was flavorful and vibrant. Everything turned out exactly like intended. I cannot say enough good things about it. After a few failed Instant Pot recipes that just lacked flavor, this dish may have saved my IP from the marketplace.
. January 11, 2018
My husband and my love this dish. The recipe is easy to follow and has quickly become a favorite.
Dee G. January 11, 2018
This recipe is fantastic & only the beginning of so many wonderful recipes by this incredibly talented lady. Her blog, FB community page, & her cookbook can not be too highly rated!!!!
Jill S. January 11, 2018
She was just in my kitchen Saturday and she wow'd the crowd - she's an amazing, funny and inspiring person! And this recipe is out of this world!!!
Kristy R. January 11, 2018
Do yourself and family a favor and make this!!! It’s amazing and Urvashi’s blog will keep the picky kids fed and happy! My tip- double the recipe so you can make butter chicken pizza as well!!!
Deborah M. January 11, 2018
Is this where we sign up for Urvashi’s 12-step recovery program for Butter Chicken addicts? Yep, it’s that good!
Sheri O. January 11, 2018
Her recipes are always thoughtful and easy to prepare.