How to make an easy version of Butter Chicken or Murgh Makhani.
Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani, is a well-loved Indian dish because it suits so many tastebuds! It’s one of the Indian dishes that’s not spicy – though you can make it spicy – and has a sweet and tangy tomato-based gravy with a hit of richness of cream.
Butter Chicken is one of those first few dishes that I learnt how to make. As a noob in the kitchen then, making this famous curry was slightly intimidating. Years on, butter chicken has become one of my easy “close-eyes” sort of dishes, and I finessed the recipe to make it as effortless as possible, but does not discount on flavour.
Not an authentic recipe, but quick and easy; this is what I gravitate to all the time.
What type of Chicken to use for Butter Chicken?
Curry dishes fare better when left to stew for long, which is why bone-in chicken is typically preferred.
Butter Chicken is one of the rare curry dishes that can work with boneless chicken breasts and thighs. Since the chicken is cooked to 80% beforehand, you have less chances of overcooking and drying out the chicken. I almost exclusively use my boneless chicken parts to cook this!
If you are using bone-in chicken, you have the option of stewing it along with the tomato gravy at the reducing step.
How Buttery is Butter Chicken?
Butter Chicken gets its name from, you guessed it, the butter. You don’t actually need a lot of butter to taste it… although I say the more butter the better! As a last final step, I like to add a dollop of butter on top, and let it melt into the butter chicken.
Instead of butter, I sometimes like to use ghee, which is clarified butter. In this recipe I’m using ghee, and you would notice I do not add a final touch of the ghee. Ghee is much stronger tasting than butter, and not really a pleasant finisher. You have the option of using butter instead to top the butter chicken.
Why is this Butter Chicken easy?
The chicken marinade and the butter chicken curry sauce uses the exact same spices! The real-deal Murgh Makhani requires additional cumin powder, coriander seeds and a pinch of cinnamon – which I always have in my pantry, but I almost always never use for my butter chicken because this shortcut misses out none of the flavour.
The main spice here is Garam Masala, which is widely available in supermarkets. Any brand or combination will work.
I also used curry powder in this butter chicken recipe, which is not an ingredient used in Indian cuisine. I love the convenience of having so much flavour with just one item.
In this recipe, I pureed the tomato gravy so it’s a smoother consistency. Sometimes I don’t do this! I don’t mind having some visible tomato chunks in my butter chicken.
Now, even though this is an easy recipe, it’s not a shortcut version. I like to stew my tomato gravy for a while, to let it reduce and develop its flavours fully. I absolutely do not enjoy Butter Chicken that has a strong tomato flavour to it.
Why is my Butter Chicken so sour?
Easy answer: tomatoes. Yes, Butter Chicken has a tang to it, but it’s a pleasant flavour instead of that raw sourness.
This is also why I do not recommend shortcutting my way to butter chicken.
With tomatoes, you want to cook it and reduce it as much as possible in order for it to lose the raw, sour, tomato flavour. 15 minutes on the stove is not quite enough to remove that raw sourness. Same concept with bolognese or ragu – there is simply no such thing as GOOD 10-minute bolognese.
30 minutes to simmer should be the minimum amount to allow it to reduce. You want the tomato gravy to turn from a bright red, to a deeper, darker shade of red.
A couple of ways you can work around this if you REALLY need to shortcut:
- Use more onions: like I did in this recipe. As onions cook, it releases sweetness to balance out the sour flavours.
- Use good quality canned tomatoes: generally San Marzano tomatoes tend to have a good balance of sweet and acidity. I used regular *discount* canned tomatoes in this recipe… and most recipes! Canned tomatoes are a staple in my pantry so I like to buy in bulk.
- Add more sugar: I don’t like to add more sugar than I need, so I don’t do this.
- Add more cream: adding too much however can make it too thick and pale.
Alternatives to Heavy Cream
Heavy cream is typically used for butter chicken. You can however substitute with Coconut Cream – which is my go-to since it’s what I always have in my pantry.
Another option is to use evaporated milk, although note that evaporated milk is runnier than cream.
What to Serve this with:
- Naan bread – my easy, foolproof recipe for soft and fluffy naan here!
- Raita | easy, quick Indian yoghurt salad
- Nasi Minyak or Ghee Butter Rice
More recipes like this:
If you enjoyed this recipe, you might like these:
- Easy Chicken Curry
- Cheesy Curry Baked Rice
- Ayam Masak Merah | Tomato Stew Chicken
- Opor Ayam | Indonesian White Curry
Easy Butter Chicken | Murgh MakhaniCourse: Recipes
- Chicken Marinade
400g boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsps plain yogurt
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, grated
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp salt
- Butter Chicken Gravy
2 tbsps Oil
2 tbsps ghee (or butter)
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp chilli powder
400g (or 1 can) crushed tomatoes
2 tsps salt (or to taste)
1 cup of heavy cream or coconut cream
1 tbsp sugar
handful of cilantro, to garnish
1-2 tbsp of butter, to top
- Combine the marinade ingredients with the chicken and allow to marinade for at least half an hour. Overnight would be best.
- Heat oil in pan, and over medium-high heat, pan fry the marinated chicken for just a couple of minutes on each side to get a sear on the chicken. The chicken need not cook fully, we are just getting some browning on the chicken. Remove from pan and keep to one side.
- In the same pan, add more oil if needed, and add butter or ghee. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and stir to combine. With a spatula, scrape the bottom of the pan to combine any spiced browned bits with the ghee.
- Once fragrant, add garam masala, curry powder, chilli powder and tomato paste. Stir to combine and become fragrant.
- Add crushed tomatoes, salt and sugar. Let it come to a boil, and lower the heat to let it simmer for 20-30 minutes to reduce. Stir occasionally.
- Once reduced to preference, option to add this to a blender and puree the sauce to a smooth consistency.
- Pour the pureed gravy back into the pan. Add the heavy cream and chicken. Stir to combine and allow to cook until the chicken is fully cooked.
- Turn off the heat and stir in cilantro. Add a dollop of butter over the top and allow it to gently melt in the residual heat. Serve!