I mentioned earlier that I would consider revisiting Butter Chicken, and I have. My guess is that the India: The Cookbook version of this recipe seemed a bit underwhelming because of two things: 1. Butter Chicken has been heavily westernized, possibly to the point that it’s only half Indian in origin. 2. In its natural state, the dish would most likely be accompanied with many other small flavors (lentils, chutneys, etc.) that Indian chefs in the west might add back in for us, since us Americans tend to expect only one entrée at fancier restaurants.
So, what follows is my attempt to get some of those seemingly essential Butter Chicken flavors back into the recipe, without compromising too much of its simple origin.
A quick warning: this is not health food. Don’t eat it every day. Or even every week.
Here’s the full recipe as I put it together:
2 1/4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thigh cut in rough 1” pieces
1 tbsp garlic paste (I used deep brand for both pastes)
1 tbsp ginger paste
2 tbsp chilli powder
2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala ( I used deep brand ground garam masala)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 1/2 cups plain yogurt
3 tbsp and 5 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
28oz can minus 1/4 cup crushed tomatoes (with no exceptions, this has to be fine-quality crushed tomato— no salt added, cento, red pack or pomi brand are suggested)
1/4 tsp whole cumin seed
1 medium onion, minced
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp dried kasoori methi (fenugreek leaf)— measured, then crushed
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup light cream
1 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro (coriander leaf)
pinch black pepper
If you are using frozen chicken thigh, be sure to thaw it well and rinse and thoroughly dry the pieces before cutting. Mix all of the dry ingredients for the marinade, along with the ginger and garlic pastes and lime juice first, then add the yogurt and mix well. Add the cut chicken pieces into the marinade, and set in the fridge for at least 2 hours. If you plan on marinating overnight, reduce the lime juice to 1 tbsp to prevent the acid from cooking the meat for you.
Put a small amount of oil in a good sized pot, heat it to shimmer and add the chicken and its marinade. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 20 minutes, when the pieces of chicken feel firm and there is no pink in the center if you cut one open. If you have an instant read thermometer, cook until two or three pieces read 165°F in the thickest part. If you have rice or other dishes to make, time them to finish about 30 minutes from when you start cooking the chicken. If you need to wait for the sauce to finish, turn the heat extremely low to keep the meat from overcooking
While the chicken is cooking, in a medium sized saucepan, melt the 3tbsp of butter and add the cumin seeds. Cook them over medium-low heat until you see a nice golden brown and they begin to release their scent. Add the onion and pinch of salt and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they turn a light golden color. Turn off the heat, wait a few minutes for the mixture to cool, add the tomato, and cook over slow heat until it begins to bubble and the mixture is heated through. Put in the rest of the butter, wait for it to melt completely, and add the dry ingredients for the sauce. Give it a taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed. After a few minutes of heat, turn off the burner and add the cream and cilantro.
It may be hard to let go— but strain out the marinade from the chicken (or pour off as much as you possibly can), pour in the sauce, and mix well.
Serve with rice or bread, and some vegetables to make up for all the fat!
This recipe has a few more of the complexities you’re probably used to than the recipe in India: The Cookbook, but keeps it simple compared to a lot of other recipes out there.