How to Make Butter Chicken

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Learn how to make butter chicken, or murgh makhani, a popular Indian dish packed with the flavors of garam masala, turmeric and ground cumin.

There’s no doubt that butter chicken is one of the most popular Indian dishes to order out. But it’s not difficult to learn how to make butter chicken at home, This dish combines marinated chicken thighs, aromatic spices and cream to make a smooth and delicious sauce. Vegetarian? Learn how to make paneer at home instead.

What Is Butter Chicken?

Butter chicken, or murgh makhani, is a popular Indian dish that was created by chance in 1947 in Delhi, India when a restaurant mixed together leftover chicken and a creamy tomato sauce. The sauce was made with a mixture of cream and butter, which is why it became known at “butter chicken.”

The recipe for the sauce combines cream, crushed tomatoes, butter or ghee, onion, garlic, ginger and spices. The spices used include garam masala, turmeric, cumin, coriander and red chili powder. (Fortunately, all of these spices can be easily found at your grocery store.) The final dish has a smooth gravy that mild in flavor and slightly sweet. Serve this chicken with a side of grilled garlic naan and basmati rice.

Butter Chicken Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried fenugreek

You will also need chopped cilantro, naan bread and basmati rice for serving.

Editor’s Note: To make this dish non-dairy, you can replace the ghee with olive oil and the heavy cream with coconut milk or coconut cream.

Tools You’ll Need

  • This blender from Ninja is necessary to blend your sauce once it has simmered to make an ultra smooth sauce. If you choose to blend the sauce, you can roughly chop the onions, garlic and ginger instead of finely mincing the ingredients.
  • This 5-quart saute pan from GreenPan is the perfect size and depth for sauteing your chicken and simmering your sauce without making a mess. The nonstick coating will make it easy to clean when you’ve finished cooking, too.
  • A Rubbermaid container is perfect for using to marinate your chicken in the yogurt mixture. The top snaps on tight to avoid spills and is dishwasher safe!

Directions

Step 1: Marinate the chicken

Marinade ingredientsApril Preisler for Taste of Home

In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, lemon juice, spices and salt until well combined. Add the chicken thighs and stir well to coat. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes or refrigerate until you are ready to cook. The chicken can marinate for up to 24 hours, but no less than 30 minutes.

Step 2: Sear the chicken

Searing Chicken in panApril Preisler for Taste of Home

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken, but do not shake off excess yogurt mixture. Sear the chicken to lock in the juices for 2-3 minutes on each side. The chicken does not need to be cooked through as it will finish cooking later in the sauce. Place the chicken into a bowl or on a plate and cover. Set aside.

Step 3: Prepare the sauce

Onions in PanApril Preisler for Taste of Home

Heat ghee in the same skillet. Add the onions and saute until they begin to soften, scraping up any browned bits left from the chicken. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 additional minute. Add the cumin, coriander and garam masala and continue to cook for about 1 minute.

Sauce in BlenderApril Preisler for Taste of Home

Next, add the tomatoes to the skillet, along with the chili powder and salt. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture thickens and it has a deep red color. If you have chopped your onion, garlic and ginger finely you can leave the mixture as-is, but if you want a super smooth sauce, spoon the contents of the skillet into a blender and pulse until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons of water.

Step 4: Return the chicken to the pan

Butter Chicken in PanApril Preisler for Taste of Home

Pour the blended mixture back into the skillet and add in the cream, sugar and fenugreek (if using). Stir the mixture to combine and then add the chicken to the sauce along with its juices. Simmer the chicken for an additional 8-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick.

Step 5: Serve the chicken

Butter Chicken HorizontalApril Preisler for Taste of Home

Serve the chicken with steamed basmati rice, a sprinkle of cilantro and naan bread. (This guide explains how to make basmati rice.)

How to Store Butter Chicken

You can keep the leftovers stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

More Butter Chicken Tips

Can you reheat butter chicken?

Yes! You can prepare this dish ahead of time and reheat in a skillet or the microwave. Note that it can only be reheated once, so only take out and heat as much as you plan to eat.

Can you freeze butter chicken?

You can absolutely freeze any leftovers. Just be sure to store in a container with an airtight lid. I also like to place plastic wrap over the chicken mixture to keep it from getting freezer burned. Thaw the chicken for 24 hours before reheating and only store for up to 3 months for the freshest taste.

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April Preisler
April is a food and travel lover, wine enthusiast, ice cream obsessed and the vision behind the blog, Food n' Focus. Her favorite cuisine is Italian and loves to cook international recipes.