What to CookWeeknight Cooking

Butter Chicken

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Butter Chicken

- Jenny

With so many fabulous recipes on this site sitting there out in the open, like free Hope diamonds waiting to be snapped up, I sometimes think my most added-value role here is to ferret out the hidden gems -- the ones you may have avoided because you didn’t quite understand them, or felt intimidated by the vessel they called for -- and to assure you that it will all be okay.

So on that note, let’s talk about Butter Chicken. I stumbled upon this bad boy because I was in search, yet again, for something fresh to do with chicken. For the home cook, poultry really is like your family –- you can’t escape it, really, but you can make the best of it, and pair it with alcohol.

So, let’s deal with the possible impediments to enjoying butter chicken, which is, my friends, a deeply delicious dish. According to what I have read, butter chicken is a well known dish in India, also known as Murg Makhani. Most of the recipes I have read online subsequently call for yogurt, while this version is just a rub.

This is a dish that pauljoseph, our prolific recipe contributor from Kerala, India, wants you to make in a clay pot. I have no doubt that this is the proper method for making this dish, and it reminds me that I need to buy one. However, I made it in a cast iron pan with good results.

Let’s take the recipe itself step-by-step here, with my interpretations, beginning with ingredients. This is basically Indian Shake 'n Bake. It’s good.

Our recipe writer asks you to buy a pound of chicken pieces. I suggest you use a few legs with their thighs, and a drumstick if you come up short. He says you need a cup of tomatoes, but later you will see as you get cooking, they are actually sliced. Just buy the biggest, nicest tomato you can afford. If that is in a grocery store, and they have put your $4-a-pound heirloom in the cold section, take an extra minute to fume in vain to the produce manager, who will no doubt shrug and go back to his onions. Your kids, if they are with you, might say something at this point like, "Why do you always do stuff like that?" Ignore them. They will understand the price for mealy fruits in their own due time.

You mash your ginger, garlic, and chili powder together, preferably with mortar and pestle, and from here on it is referred to as “ground masala.” There is no heat specified here: do your butter and tomatoes over a medium flame, then add your chicken, sprinkle the sugar, and turn it the heck down to low and cover it. Turn your chicken after about 15 minutes. Cook until tender means about 35 minutes give or take. He doesn’t say to, but take the chicken out and platter it, then add the cream to your sauce.

Yes, you do want the cilantro.

Butter Chicken

By pauljoseph

Serves 4

  • 1-inch piece ginger, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 pound chicken pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cream
  • Fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves (optional)

1. In a mortar and pestle, grind together the ginger, garlic and chili powder -- this is called masala. Marinate the chicken with ground masala, garam masala, lime juice and salt and set aside for 1 hour.

2. In a clay pot, heat the butter, fry the sliced tomatoes for few minutes, and then add the marinated chicken and sugar. Cover and cook till tender.

3. Add the cream and serve hot. If you like cilantro, garnish with fresh leaves.


By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, is the Los Angeles Bureau Chief for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.

Jennifer Steinhauer
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Dinner, Faster, Everyday Cooking