Authentic Butter Chicken

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

Butter chicken, or Murgh Makhani, was created  in the 1950’s at the legendary Moti Mahal restaurant in Old Delhi. It has since spread around the world, becoming many peoples favourite. Butter chicken must be one of the most loved Indian dishes in Britain, and with good reason. Pieces of juicy, slightly charred chicken in a fragrant tomato sauce, enriched with cubes of cold butter that are slowly whisked in. The cardamom and ginger make it incredibly mouth watering. Although, when the tomatoes are simmering away with their exotic spices, it is uncanny, and slightly disconcerting how similar the sauce smells to Heinz tomato soup.

Butter chicken is a sophisticated dish, and actually takes quite a bit of time to prepare, which can be depressing since it always gets scoffed in about ten minutes. However, it is such a luxurious dish that it feels like a special occasion, simply because you are eating it. This recipe comes from a wonderful book, curry, published by Dorling Kindersley. It is supposed to be exactly how they make it in Old Dehli.

To be completely authentic, the chicken should be cooked in a tandoor. Failing that, I set the grill as high as it will go, and place the chicken on a rack as close to the grill as possible to achieve the charring on the outside, which is important to the flavour of the dish.

This recipe makes enough for 4 – 6 people. Serve it with pilau rice or naan bread.


For the Chicken Marinade

2 tsp ginger paste

2 tsp garlic paste

1½ tsp salt

1½ tsp chilli powder

Juice of ½ lemon

800g (1 ¾ lb) boned chicken thighs, skinned and cut in half

100g (3 ½ oz) plain Greek-style yoghurt

¼ tsp ground garam masala

For the Sauce

1.25kg (2 ¾ lb) tomatoes, cut in half (I use two tins of plum tomatoes instead)

2.5cm (1in) piece fresh root ginger, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled

4 green cardamom pods

2 cloves

1 cinnamon or bay leaf

1 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder

60g (2oz) butter cut into small pieces

2.5cm (1in) piece fresh root ginger, finely chopped

2 green finger chillies (hot) each slit into 4

75ml (2 ½ fl oz) double cream

1 tsp salt

1tsp ground dried fenugreek leaves

¼ tsp ground garam masala


First make the sauce. Place the tomatoes in a large pot with 125ml (4fl oz) water and add the 2.5cm chopped ginger, garlic, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon/bay leaf. Cook slowly until the tomatoes are completely broken down and soft.

Preheat the grill – make it as hot as you can, and arrange the shelf so the chicken will be as close to the grill as possible – you want to partly char the chicken.

While the sauce is cooking away make the marinade for the chicken – mix together the ginger paste, garlic paste, salt, chilli powder and lemon juice in a large bowl. Add the chicken and, using your hands, coat the pieces with the mixture. Set aside for 20 minutes. Mix the yoghurt with the garam masala and apply to the marinated chicken. Set aside for another 10 minutes if you have the time.

When the tomatoes have cooked down remove from the heat and, using a hand-held blender, puree the mixture. Press through a sieve to make a very smooth sauce.

Place the chicken on a rack with something to catch the juices underneath. Cook under the grill until charred on both sides. It does not necessarily need to be cooked through as the cooking will be finished in the sauce.

Return the puree to the pan and bring to the boil. Stir in the Kashmiri chilli powder. Cook until the puree starts to thicken, then slowly incorporate the butter, little by little, stirring constantly. The sauce will become glossy.

Add the chicken and the juices collected from grilling. Simmer for 5-6 minutes. As the sauce begins to thicken add the 2.5cm piece chopped ginger, slit green chillies and cream. Continue simmering until the sauce is thick enough to coat the chicken.

Remove from the heat before the fat separates out and comes to the surface of the dish. (If that does happen, simply stir in 1 – 2tbsp water and 1tbsp more cream and remove immediately from the heat. Add the salt, ground fenugreek and garam masala and mix well. Check the seasoning.

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