My sister, Nancy, first told me about Butter Chicken several years ago. She said that’s what her family always ordered when they went to their favourite restaurant. Her children loved it. I’d never heard of it before, but I was intrigued, for I love all things dairy. They are my weakness – butter, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream (oh,yeah!) – just not milk (don’t really like it – much prefer almond or soy milk).
Not yet having eaten a lot of Indian food at that time, I imagined chunks of chicken in a creamy, buttery sauce (I think I was imagining a kind of Alfredo sauce). Well, when I finally did get to taste it, I was wowed. Yes, it was creamy and kind of buttery, but the spices and the tomato made it totally unexpected. It was so much more complex in flavour than just butter and cream would suggest. I was hooked.
Now that I’ve eaten my fair share of butter chicken, it has become almost like a comfort food. It is more mildly spiced than a lot of Indian food, but still has a warm, tingly mouth-feel. My family loves it, and it is not difficult to prepare at home. Even some of the commercially prepared, bottled butter chicken sauces I’ve found are not bad in a time-pinch, but then you miss the fulfillment that comes from chopping and stirring and creating a delicious meal from fresh ingredients.
So when I read about the #IndianFoodPalooza on JennCuisine and Creative Culinary, my mouth started watering for Butter Chicken, in all its tomatoey, creamy deliciousness, and I needed to make it again. The craving was strong.
You can make this dish with chicken breasts or thighs or a combination of the two. You can make it with just cream or with the cream and yogurt both. You can adjust the spice level to your family’s taste (omit the cayenne altogether if making it for young children or those who have a low-spice palate, or up the amount if you want some fire when eat your butter chicken.) Next time I make it when my daughter with a dairy allergy comes home, I think I’ll try it with home-made cashew cream and I’ll use ghee (clarified butter). It should work well, too. I’ve combined and adapted two different recipes that my sister likes to use. The only important thing is to make sure you have lots of sauce to smother the rice. I like to serve it with scented basmati rice and naan bread, and a side dish of spinach sauteed with some garlic and onions and lentils. Mmm…mmm…mmm.
Comfort food of a new and different kind.
Kitchen Frau Note: If you can’t find garam masala, just use an extra teaspoon (5ml) curry powder instead.
Butter Chicken (Murg Makhani)
adapted from “Authentic Indian cooking” by Madhuri Anand, and a pamphlet by “Smucker Foods of Canada Co.”
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) butter
- 1½ pounds (700gm) chicken breasts, thighs, or a combination of both
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) freshly grated ginger (leave the peel on)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) garam masala
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) curry powder
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) cumin
- ¼ teaspoon (1.25ml) cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) salt
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- I cup (250ml) whipping cream
- ½ cup (125ml) plain yogurt (optional)
- 2-3 tablespoons (30-45ml) cilantro, chopped, for garnish (optional)
Trim the chicken meat and dice it into bite-sized chunks.
Heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Lightly brown the chicken pieces and remove them to another bowl.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon (15ml) butter, plus a splash of water (to loosen the browned bits at the bottom) to the saucepan and saute the onion and ginger until soft.
Add the garlic, spices and salt, and cook for another minute or two, until they smell wonderfully aromatic. Return the chicken, plus all the buttery juices, to the saucepan.
Stir in the tomato sauce and bring slowly to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.
Add whipping cream and yogurt (if using), and simmer for 10 to 15 more minutes, stirring frequently, until chicken is cooked through and sauce thickened to your liking.
Garnish with the chopped cilantro.
Serves 6 (or 4, plus lovely leftovers to take and heat up for your lunch and drive your coworkers crazy the next day)
I like to serve it with:
Scented Basmati Rice
I make this by combining in a saucepan:
- 1½ cups (325ml) well-rinsed and drained basmati rice
- 2½ cups (625ml) water
- 3 whole cardamom pods
- a 2-inch (5cm) piece of cinnamon stick
Bring to a boil, stir, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove the cardamom pods and cinnamon stick. Fluff with a fork.