Butter chicken can be a divisive dinner–overlooked by some, beloved by others. Let this recipe show you why it truly is a remarkably tasty dish. Layers of spice from garam masala, cumin, coriander, cumin, garlic, fenugreek, and more, make the creamy tomato sauce and chicken thighs the stuff of dreams.
It’s safe to say that butter chicken masala is one of the most popular Indian curry dishes worldwide. Here is my simple weeknight recipe to recreate your favorite Indian take-out chicken dish at home quickly and easily, no marinating required! (A traditional way of cooking butter chicken masala requires marinating the chicken overnight). This yummy dish is packed with protein, loaded with antioxidant spices, and is low in carbs. Enjoy with rice for a mouth-watering lunch or dinner!–Mish Sen
WHAT IS GARAM MASALA?
A spice blend used extensively in South Asian cuisine, garam masala is used alone or with other seasonings. It isn’t a particularly spicy blend, even though the name means warm (garam) and spice (masala), but it does tend to get hotter the farther south you go in India and Pakistan. It adds warmth, floral notes, a little sweetness, and a touch of heat. Nearly every home has its own blend for garam masala but the general ingredients are cinnamon, peppercorns, cardamom, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, mace, and nutmeg.
- Kadai or wok
- 1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil or butter
- 2 medium (14 oz) onions chopped
- 2 teaspoons garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon chili powder plus more to taste
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger peeled and minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ground garam masala
- 1 teaspoon sea salt plus more if needed
- 2 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces
- 1 can (8 ounce) tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon store-bought or homemade ketchup
- 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasurimethi)
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) unsalted butter for garnish
- Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
- In a kadai or wok over medium heat, warm the oil. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in turmeric, cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Sauté for a minute or so. If you notice the spices sticking to the bottom of the pan, sprinkle in a little bit of water.
- Stir in ginger, garam masala, and salt and sauté for about 30 seconds. Fold in chicken, cook for 1 minute, then add tomato sauce and ketchup, stirring to combine well. Cook, covered, over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add dried fenugreek leaves and continue cooking, covered, until chicken is fully cooked, 10 to 12 minutes.
☞TESTER TIP: If the sauce seems too thick while cooking, drizzle in a tablespoon or two of water to thin it out.
- Gently mix in heavy cream until well distributed. Simmer for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more chili powder or salt, if desired.
- Garnish with a pat of butter and cilantro leaves. Serve warm.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I never really used to choose butter chicken on menus at Indian restaurants. I don’t know why, besides the fact that it just seemed kind of basic. I’d usually go for spicier lamb dishes, or eggplants and okra. I think the first time I really remember trying butter chicken was only two or three years ago, and it felt like one of those “Aha” moments. I was thinking, “why have I never had this before?!” I’ve come to appreciate the menu items that appear to be more “basic” at restaurants. If they’re taking up space on a menu, there’s usually a good reason for it.
In this dish, the warming spices and acidity of the tomato sauce are softened just enough by butter and cream to create a very satisfying sense of balance. The chicken thighs are the perfect tenderness, and on the whole, this dish comes together very quickly! I’m really excited to have the leftovers tomorrow and see how much more the flavor develops overnight.
We served the butter chicken with saffron-infused basmati rice and some lightly sautéed kale. I think I’ll try making some naan bread and another veggie side next time to pair with it.
Butter chicken is always a bit of a toss-up when you go out to eat–it can be sublime–or it can taste like chicken in ketchup. This recipe is definitely more on the sublime end, and is also relatively easy to make, how lovely!
I don’t own a kadai or a wok, so I used my 12-inch cast-iron skillet, which worked perfectly well for this. The mixture does seem quite dry, even after you put in the tomato sauce and ketchup, but don’t worry, the first covered simmer brings out more liquid and when you go to add the fenugreek you’ll see that the sauce has loosened up and the chicken will be starting to cook on the exterior. By the end of the covered cooking, the sauce texture will be exactly right.
This has a lovely mild but well-spiced flavor but I think next time I make it I’ll add just a little more of all the spices. I don’t have fenugreek leaves and so I ground up some whole fenugreek, and it tasted great. I think next time I’ll cut the cream back to 1/2 cup, I don’t think it really needs the full 3/4 cup.
This quick version of butter chicken is dynamite! It’s so deeply flavorful that I didn’t miss my more laborious overnight version. The recipe calls for a kadai, which I don’t have; I used a large carbon steel skillet and it worked just fine. I wanted a non-dairy version so I substituted coconut oil for the butter and full-fat coconut milk for the heavy cream and it was dreamy.
I think the mild sweetness of the coconut really highlights the flavors and the spices. I was lucky to have Kashmiri chili powder on hand because for my palate it lent a perfect amount of heat to the dish, I could definitely feel it but it didn’t blow out my taste buds.
This recipe for butter chicken is fairly fast and very easy to make. It has a mild flavor, but with the use of several spices, it is very flavorful and aromatic. I increased the chili powder to 2 teaspoons.
The chicken comes out very tender and went well served with naan. It would also go well with rice. You need something to sop up the delicious sauce. I used a wok to prepare this dish. Because you need to work quickly when using a wok, I measured and combined the ingredients I would need to add at each point in the recipe.
This weeknight-friendly butter chicken curry was easy, healthy, and fresh in flavours. Bonus is that although the sauce has a lovely richness (thank you cream, and a light touch of butter), it didn’t feel heavy. I’m glad I waited until I could find dry fenugreek leaves, because they DO have a very special scent and flavour and are worth seeking out (look for Sadaf brand spice packets in an international market).
Making an easy, straightforward dish like this really is a good reminder that you can exceed a jarred sauce with just a little planning. Maybe chop your onions ahead of time, enlist a helper to chop garlic and ginger, and bake your rice in the oven so you have hands free.
This is very satisfying comfort food and worked for both of us. No one was sad about having leftovers–it yielded cheerfully received bonus meals.
Originally published September 26, 2021