Making Restaurant Style Butter Chicken or Murgh Makhani has never been easier. This recipe is authentic but EASY, and the flavours are mind blowing. Serve it with butter naan and rice!
I have really high standards when it comes to my favourites. And Butter Chicken tops the list. So it annoys me when butter chicken is too sweet or too oily or just doesn't have a punch of flavour that makes you want to dive into the sauce.
For a lot of people, making butter chicken at home might translate into long hours spent in the kitchen. That's not true at all. This recipe takes a little under an hour from start to finish, and we are not using a ton of butter or cream to give it that luxurious, creamy taste either. How? I'm going to show you.
Ingredients for Indian Butter Chicken
To start with, here's what you'll need to marinate chicken for the butter chicken masala:
- Best cut of Chicken: I recommend using either skinless bone-in chicken or boneless, skinless chicken thighs for this recipe. The chicken is first marinated, then pan fried and then cooked in the gravy to get maximum flavour. And boneless chicken breasts will not retain their juiciness through this process. I love using boneless, skinless chicken thighs because you can cut the meat into bite sized pieces and they stay juicy right to the end.
- Yogurt: Greek yogurt or hung curd. Acts as a tenderiser and helps the spices stick to the chicken
- Spices: Red Chilli powder (use paprika or cayenne as a substitute), coriander, turmeric, salt and garam masala (preferably homemade - here's my garam masala recipe)
- Ginger Garlic paste: Use store bought or homemade - basically ginger and garlic ground together
- Onions: Some recipes don't use onions at all, but I like to use them in a very small quantity to balance the flavours
- Tomatoes: Mainly tomato based gravy. Use roma tomatoes if possible
- Cashew nuts: Add flavour and creaminess without all that extra fat that can sometimes get too much and make you feel bloated. The cashew cooks with the tomatoes and softens which makes them really easy to blend later.
- Butter: Contrary to popular belief, butter chicken doesn't need a lot of butter. The butteriness comes from the smooth tomato gravy, cashews and a little cream
- Dried Chillies: Dried Kashmiri Chillies work best because they add flavour and colour without the heat. These aren't spicy or hot
- Ketchup: Not a super authentic ingredient, but it has the perfect balance of sweet, salty, tart and adds a little extra something
- Kasuri Methi: A must have ingredient if you cook Indian food. 100 grams will last you a while because a little goes a long way. Helps round off the flavours in Indian curries
Tip: If you don't have cashews, feel free to substitute with blanched almonds (almonds soaked in water and skin taken off). Cashews and almonds naturally add creaminess to the gravy.
Origins of Butter Chicken
Butter Chicken is an 'accidental' dish. It was developed by Kundal Lal Gujral of the famous Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi who wanted to make use of leftover tandoori chicken. So he would throw in tomatoes, spices and leftover shredded tandoori chicken in a pot and slowly this came to be called 'butter chicken' or chicken makhani or murgh makhani.
Now it's one of the most popular and loved Indian dishes across the world. A restaurant favourite, but if you ask an Indian, it's probably a 'special occasion' dish at home.
Step by Step Butter Chicken Recipe
Here's a step by step breakdown of this easy chicken curry. It's a really simple dish that actually doesn't take too much time or effort to recreate at home.
Marinating and Roasting Chicken
1 Start by mixing all the ingredients under marinade and adding the chicken to it.
2 Mix well, cover and set aside for 15-30 minutes while you make the gravy.
3-4 Once the chicken has been marinating for 15-30 minutes, heat a tablespoon of oil in a cast iron skillet or a non stick pan. Add the chicken pieces and sear them on each side for 2-3 minutes on high heat, till theres a char on them. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
Here's a pro tip: If you'd like, use cooked chicken tikka or tandoori chicken and skip the whole process of marinating and pan frying the chicken. I do this when I have leftover tandoori chicken from the previous night
Butter Chicken Sauce
5 For the gravy, heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet or pan.
6 Add cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, whole red chilies and garlic. Saute for a minute or so till fragrant.
7 Add onions and saute on high heat for 2-3 minutes till pink and translucent.
8-9 Add tomatoes and cashew nuts. Mix once, reduce the flame to a simmer and cover and cook for 10-15 minutes till the tomatoes start breaking down and becoming slightly pulpy. Switch off the flame. Let the mixture cool completely.
10 Once the mixture is cool, transfer to a blender or liquidiser, and blend till smooth.
11 Transfer the puree back to the pan
12 Add chilli powder, ketchup, salt and ¼ cup water. Bring this to a boil. Reduce the flame to low, and cover and cook for 20-25 minutes. The colour of gravy will change as it cooks and become a deep orange
Cooking Chicken + Smoking the Gravy
13 Add the chicken pieces and simmer for 10 minutes.
14-15 Stir in the kasuri methi and fresh cream.
16 To smoke the chicken, place a small steel bowl (please don't use plastic) in the middle of the butter chicken while it's still in the pan. Heat a piece of charcoal or lump coal on an open flame till red hot and then place it in the bowl. Pour a teaspoon of oil or ghee over it, and as soon as it starts smoking, cover the pan with a lid. Smoke for 3-4 minutes. Remove the bowl and serve with naan or rice.
Naturally orange gravy
I have to forewarn you about this. If you've always had reddish butter chicken gravy, it's because of food colour. The butter chicken gravy is naturally orange-ish because of the tomatoes and the spices.
This recipe makes lots of sauce or gravy, so you can always reserve some for later. Use the same makhani gravy to add tofu, paneer, cauliflower etc. That butter chicken sauce is sooo good!
Tips to make the Best Butter Chicken
- Marination: Don't skip the marination. It helps inject flavour into the chicken so that every bite is tasty
- Chicken: Chicken thighs work best here, because they remain juicy right till the end of the cooking process where breasts can dry up
- Tomatoes: Use toma tomatoes or canned tomatoes for best results. If the tomatoes are too tart, it'll make the gravy or sauce too tangy
- Kasuri Methi: This is the unsung hero of the Indian kitchen and the one thing that takes butter chicken to the next level. Try not to skip it - it's easily available at all Indian grocery stores or Amazon if you live outside India
- Make ahead Butter Chicken: You can make all the elements of the dish ahead of time - pan fried chicken (1 day ahead), makhani sauce (2-3 days ahead or frozen upto 3 months ahead) and just simmer the chicken in the sauce the day you want to serve it
- Freezing Butter Chicken: The butter chicken sauce or gravy can be frozen upto 3 months ahead of time. I always stock some in the freezer - that way I can just thaw it, throw in some cooked chicken or store bought tandoori chicken and whip up chicken makhani in a jiffy!
Serve these with Butter Chicken
Watch the Recipe Video
Easy Restaurant Style Butter Chicken Masala (Murgh Makhani)
- 1 kg Chicken Thighs skinless and boneless , cut into 1.5 inch pieces (or use bone-in Chicken pieces)
- 1 tablespoon Oil
For the Marinade
For the Gravy
- 1 tablespoon Oil
- 1 tablespoon Butter
- 1 inch Cinnamon
- 2 Green Cardamom Pods
- 3 Cloves
- 5 Kashmiri Red Chillies dried chillies
- 6 Garlic Cloves
- 1 Onion roughly chopped
- ¼ cup Cashew Nuts
- 7 - 8 Tomatoes approx 500 grams, roughly chopped (or 1 (15-ounce) can canned diced tomatoes)
- ½ teaspoon Red Chilli Powder
- 2 tablespoons Ketchup
- 1 tablespoons Kasuri Methi dried fenugreek leaves
- ½ teaspoon Salt taste and adjust
- 3-4 tablespoons Fresh Cream
- Start by mixing all the ingredients under marinade and adding the chicken to it. Mix well, cover and set aside for 15-30 minutes while you make the gravy.
- For the gravy, heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet or pan. Add cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, whole red chilies and garlic. Saute for a minute or so till fragrant. Add onions and saute on high heat for 2-3 minutes till pink and translucent. Add tomatoes and cashew nuts. Mix once, reduce the flame to a simmer and cover and cook for 10-15 minutes till the tomatoes start breaking down and becoming pulpy.
- Switch off the flame. Cool completely and transfer to a blender or liquidiser, and blend till smooth.
- In another pan, heat a tablespoon of oil. Add the chicken pieces and sear them on each side for 2-3 minutes on high heat, till theres a char on them. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
- Transfer the puree back to the pan, add chilli powder, ketchup, salt and ¼ cup water. Bring this to a boil. Reduce the flame to low, and cover and cook for 15-20 minutes. You'll notice the colour of the gravy change to a deep orange.
- Add the chicken pieces and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the kasuri methi and fresh cream.
- To smoke the chicken, place a small steel bowl (please don't use plastic) in the middle of the butter chicken while it's still in the pan. Heat a piece of charcoal or lump coal on an open flame till red hot and then place it in the bowl. Pour a teaspoon of oil or ghee over it, and as soon as it starts smoking, cover the pan with a lid. Smoke for 3-4 minutes. Remove the bowl and serve with naan or rice.
- Chicken: Boneless, skinless chicken pieces work best. The pieces should be cut into 1.5 inch size. You can also use skinless, bone-in chicken thats cut into medium sized pieces
- Tomatoes: Substitute fresh tomatoes with a 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes. Or use 1 ½ cups Tomato Puree or Tomato Passata
- Garam Masala: I use homemade garam masala, but you can substitute it with any store bought garam masala. Please note that garam masala is different from curry powder
- Butter: I love adding butter to this dish, but you can substitute it with ghee
- Sweetness from Ketchup: I think a really mild sweetness in butter chicken is actually nice and it balances the sourness from tomatoes. But feel free to reduce or increase the amount of ketchup based on what you like.
- History of Butter Chicken: It is said that butter chicken was invented by Kundan Lal Gujral of the famous Moti Mahal chain of restaurants, who added leftover cooked tandoori chicken to a tomato gravy, in an attempt to use it and the rest is history. The dish became really famous. It is called Murgh Makhani on their menu. So if there is a debate, you know that butter chicken is definitely an Indian dish, unlike its counterpart Chicken Tikka Masala which was invented in the UK and is spicier and slightly different.