There are few things I can eat as often as a well made hot, buttery naan with butter chicken. Sometimes I wonder if that’s not played some subtle subconscious role in my falling in love with Atul…. some latent sub-conscious urge to get closer to the genes that created butter chicken. Since forever, I have measured life in terms of butter chicken. If a book is good, it will have the right butter chicken recipe in it. If the foodie is real, s/he will recognise the real orangish hue of butter chicken from the fake brown one, if a restaurant is good, they will know not to add any onions… if the lachcha parantha is smart, it will know to shine next to a perfect butter chicken.
I hunted for the right recipe for the longest time but to be honest, once I arrived ar it, I secreted away the treasured recipe for even longer. Till I recently shared this recipe with my friend Kanu when he wanted to learn a chicken recipe. A Punjabi kookad recipe for a punjabi boy. A testament of my love really that I could part with this child of mine. But the experience taught me that by stashing away this traditional secret, I was doing the world, and you, my trusting readers, too much injustice. Not fair to have so much yumminess to myself. So here it is..THE butter chicken recipe. After much trial and error, the indescribable, elusive silken sweet-buttery-tangy gravy smothered over tender chicken. At last, I part with thee…
First, a few myths debunked. Get this down real well before you start walking down this sacred path. I know I am being a bit of a purist here but honestly, if you can’t accept the below, you can’t make the recipe that the follows.
1. Real butter chicken is a tandoori chicken smothered in a sacred satin smooth classic makhani gravy, a dish originated in the north. Just adding butter to any regional chicken curry of your choice does NOT make it butter chicken. Get used to it.
2. Real butter chicken = NO onions. This silky gravy is mainly the magic of tomatoes and… but of course, butter! Cashew lends it a characteristic creaminess further accentuated by cream.
3. Real butter chicken is tangy sweet. That’s a fact. If you find it too sweet or want a spicy brown oily gravy dish, laden with chillies, you don’t deserve butter chicken. You may find the brown stuff tasty. Sometimes, when I am not after butter chicken, I may too. But this will never make it butter chicken.
4. Butter chicken is called so because it has loads of butter. When you eat something called BUTTER chicken, expect it to have butter. Now quit crying about it. Or hop into your gym shoes and walk to your closest subway. Don’t even look at the recipe below. And stop pretending to be a foodie.
5. The best butter chicken is made in Delhi. Or used to be. Now you can make it too. Almost
To start with, I used the recipe from Prashad, Cooking with Indian Masters as a base. (This book, for me is one of the very best books on Indian cooking. In my last post, I wrote about how I loved the amazing recipe for mutton belli ram from this same cookbook). From there on, some tweaking, twisting and turning, and we have…
Step 1: The tandoori style chicken
- 1 kg chicken, cut into largish pieces. I prefer to use thigh meat for its succulent quality. Only using one kind of cut will also ensure even-ness in cooking time
- 2-3 tsp kashmiri red chilli powder
- juice of 3 limes
- 1/2 tsp salt (use more depending on your taste)
- 1/8 cup plain yogurt
- 1/8 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp grated or ground ginger
- 1 tbsp grated or ground garlic
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- butter or oil for basting/ pan frying or baking
- Rub red chilli powder, lime juice and salt onto the chicken and set it aside for about 15 minutes.
- Whisk together yogurt and cream and then add grated ginger, grated garlic, garam masala, saffron and paprika and mix well. Add this marinade to your chicken and ensure that the chicken is coated well with this mixture.
- Marinate chicken for 4 hours for best results. When in a rush i do this for about an hour and when preparing for the next day, I may allow the mixture to marinate overnight.
- Remove chicken from the marinade. (Discard the marinade.) Broil the chicken on high for 5 minutes. Turn it over, baste with butter and broil for another 5 minutes. If you use chicken breasts, remember it may take a bit shorter. Also, remember the meat will do well to be a wee bit undercooked since you do want it to cook in the gravy too. Over cooking is not a problem you will be able to solve and you will be left with stringy fibrous chicken. Ouch!
You can also shallow fry the chicken in a non stick pan, bake it in a tandoor or an oven with the regular bake function. Just ensure that the chicken is partly cooked, the flavours are absorbed but the meat is pink inside.
Step 2: The Makhani gravy
- 200 gms butter
- 3 tbsp grated ginger
- 3 tbsp grated garlic
- 1 tsp kasoori methi
- 1-2 black cardamom
- 1 kg diced tomatoes
- 1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
- 1 tsp shahi jeera
- 5-7 green chillies. Slit vertically, deseeded and rinsed (use more if you want to up the heat)
- 5 tsp ground cashewnuts (soaking will make it easier to grind up the cashewnuts)
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (or cayenne pepper and red paprika)
- 1-2 tsp sugar
- 1/3 cup cream
- salt to taste
- chopped coriander for garnish
- Melt about 1/3 of the butter in a kadhai and add grated ginger and garlic along with the kasoori methi and black cardamom.
- Stir over medium heat for a few minutes until the fibers turn a golden color.
- Add diced tomatoes and about 2 cups of water. Cover and cook down until the tomatoes are soft and some of the water has evaporated .
- Blend the cooked tomatoes into a smooth mixture using a hand blender or mixie. Sieve the smooth mixture and set aside.
- Melt another 1/3 butter in a kadhai and add the shahi jeera, chopped ginger and green chillies. Cook for a few minutes and then add ground cashewnuts and stir till the paste is dry-ish. Make sure that the mixture does not stick to the pan.
- Add the pureed tomatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer till the raw taste of tomatoes recedes. (about 15 minutes)
- Add enough sugar, salt and kashmiri chilli powder to add the desired balance to the sauce. Add a pinch of cardamom powder if you feel that the fragrance is not coming through.
- Gently add the chicken with any pan juices from the cooking and simmer for 5-7 minutes till the chicken is cooked through. If the gravy needs to further thicken after the chicken is cooked, spoon out the chicken peices while you continue to cook the gravy and add the pieces back in once the gravy is done.
- Stir in the cream and remove from heat. Garnish lightly with chopped coriander/ chopped green chillies and serve hot with naan, roti or with rice.