Butter Fish – Why Not? (It’s just Butter Chicken . . . of the Sea) and Turmeric-Scented Rice and Peas

You said you wanted to eat more fish. Why not change up your Butter Chicken and make a mouthwatering dish of Butter Fish, and serve it with sunshiny Turmeric Rice?

Creamy butter fish with bright turmeric rice

I’m not sure how you’d say it in Hindi. Google Translate converts ‘butter fish’ to makkhana machalī and I have no idea if that is correct, but since ‘butter chicken’ is murgh makhani, it might be close. (In fact, I think it may be the name for the type of fish called ‘butterfish’.)

What I’m trying to tell you here is that I used fish in my recipe for Butter Chicken, and it was heavenly, no matter what we call it. When Andreas bounded into the house, hungry after school and a workout, he whooped with glee when I announced we were having Butter Chicken (ahem, fish) for supper.

That is my absolute favourite! he thrilled, squeezing me in a sweaty bear hug. I love it when you make Indian food! (I just love cooking for such an enthusiastic appetite.)

Well, I don’t make Indian food all that often – I am just learning about all the wonderful warm spicy dishes. But it is true that Butter Chicken is many people’s favourite Indian food, and it has become popular around the world. It’s like the macaroni ‘n cheese of North America – a comfort food.

If you are new to Indian food, Butter Chicken is a great place to start. It’s not too spicy (though you can certainly amp up the spice level if you like). It just leaves a nice tingly warmth in your mouth, and its complex, mellow, buttery-tomatoey sauce is what makes you keep coming back for spoonful after spoonful.

frying onions and spices for the butter chicken

frying the spices brings out the flavours

This recipe is a variation of the Butter Chicken recipe I posted a couple years ago. I swapped the yogurt for more tomato sauce, and added a touch of turmeric for a more golden hue (and its healthy benefits). I also dressed up the rice a bit to make the meal colourful and springlike – I think the weather outside calls for it, don’t you?

winter, feb 2014winter, feb 2014

Our ‘Butter Fish’ was born when I went to the chest freezer downstairs to look for chicken to thaw for the Butter Chicken recipe. I rooted around a bit and realized the frozen chicken was hidden somewhere in the icy depths, and I did not feel like making the finger-freezing effort to dig through it all. A nice big piece of halibut that Raymond had brought home from an ocean-fishing trip well over a year ago (vacuum-sealed, luckily) was staring reproachfully at me from the top of the pile of frozen stuff and making me feel guilty, so Fine, I’ll just use that instead.

Good choice.

cubing the halibut for the butter fish

partially frozen fish is easy to cut into neat cubes

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: There are as many different versions of butter chicken as there are of macaroni ‘n cheese, and I know the proper way to make butter chicken is to marinate your meat in yogurt and spices overnight, but I never seem to be that organized. My recipe is based partly on one from an authentic Indian cookbook that doesn’t marinate, so that’s good enough for lazy ol’ me! The taste is still awesome!

If you don’t have garam masala, just use an extra teaspoon of curry powder instead.

You can up the amount of cayenne pepper, or leave it out altogether if your family doesn’t care for much heat. There’s still a bit of warmth from the ginger and curry powder.

Instead of the tomato sauce, I have also used tomato puree or passata plus a tablespoon or two of tomato paste.

Don’t try to substitute light cream for the whipping cream as it will curdle.

Use a firm-fleshed fish for this dish, like halibut, snapper, cod, monkfish, mahi-mahi.

close-up of butter fish and turmeric rice

Creamy Butter Fish

adapted from “Authentic Indian cooking” by Madhuri Anand, and a pamphlet by “Smucker Foods of Canada Co.”

  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) butter
  • 1½ pounds (700gm) firm-fleshed white fish (I used halibut)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) freshly grated ginger (leave the peel on)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more or less to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon  salt
  • 1½ cups (or 1-14 oz/398ml can) tomato sauce
  • 1 cup (240ml) whipping cream
  • 2-3 tablespoons (30-45ml) cilantro, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Trim the fish and dice it into large bite-sized chunks.

Heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Cook the fish cubes, turning them gently so as to break them up as little as possible, until the outsides have become opaque and a few spots are golden, but the insides are still not fully cooked. They will continue cooking in the sauce. 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.

Stir in the tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Stir in the whipping cream.

Lay the partially cooked fish, plus all the buttery juices, on top of the tomato mixture in the saucepan, cover and simmer for 5 to 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally by just gently lifting and turning the fish cubes in the sauce, until the fish is cooked through and the sauce thickened to your liking. Be as gentle as possible to keep the fish intact.

Garnish with the chopped cilantro.

Serves 4 to 6. (Or three, if one of them is a sweaty hungry teenager)

 * * * * *

The Creamy Butter Fish is wonderful served with:

Scented Green and Yellow Turmeric Rice

  • 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
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup frozen peas

In a saucepan combine all ingredients except the peas. Bring to a boil, stir, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes without lifting the lid.

Open the pot and spread the frozen peas on top without disturbing the rice. Put the lid back on, turn off the heat, and let the rice steam for 5 minutes. This is just long enough to defrost the peas and keep them nice and bright green.

Remove the lid, fluff the rice with a fork, and remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods (if you can find them).

Guten Appetit!

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You might also like:

Butter Chicken with Scented Basmati Rice

Turkey Fricassee over Mashed Potatoes with Spring Radishes and Peas

Salmon Burgers with Dill and Feta Cheese

Fish Tacos – Fresh, Crispy and Colourful


Butter Chicken, Snowbanks on the Driveway

there’s been a lot of shoveling of the driveway going on

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14 Responses to Butter Fish – Why Not? (It’s just Butter Chicken . . . of the Sea) and Turmeric-Scented Rice and Peas

  1. Now, this is a BRILLIANT idea! I made butter chicken from scratch with my students… love it – though no one makes it in India, apparently it is a completely North American recipe. All my students told me this. Vanja detests it. Darn! I love the flavours and this “fishy idea” is brilliant!

    • Margaret says:

      Thanks, Valerie. Yes, you’re right – this is not a traditional ancient Indian recipe, but I believe, one that was developed in the 1950s at the Moti Mahal restaurant in New Delhi, partly to please visiting western palates, and apparently it has taken off and is now served in Indian restaurants around the world. I think I love it so much because it is just the right amount of spice for my wimpy palate! (I’m working at trying to toughen it up!)

  2. Sabine Macleod says:

    It sounds absolutely delicious. I will definitely make it very soon.
    Wish Andreas a most wonderful trip in Deutschland.
    Gute reise, Lieber Andreas


    • Margaret says:

      Thanks so much! Yes, Andreas is getting very excited and his mama is getting worried about the empty house. But I know he will have a great time!
      Have a lovely week!

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      Hi – you can type your address into the ‘subscribe’ bar at the top right of the blog posts on my site, where it says ‘subscribe via email’. Your email address will remain private, but you will receive new posts to your email address. They will be titled “WordPress” in your inbox. Have a great day!

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  6. suma says:

    lovely recipe, ‘Butter fish’, i am happy seeing new variety

    this comment is for canadian writer, butter chicken is d most common dish made in my country India, at all hotels and home(originally Punjabi recipe), This spicy gravy type of food and with spices is only Indian……and not american or british food..

    • Margaret says:

      Thanks so much for visiting my blog – and for clarifying that information. I appreciate hearing from my readers! Wishing you happy times in the kitchen!

  7. Steve McKegney says:

    I just made this for my vegetarian partner. It turned out to be absolutely amazing. Thanks so much for sharing. I will be making this for friends in the future for sure.

    • Margaret says:

      I’m so glad to hear that. It’s a pleasure for me to know people read and make my recipes. Thanks for visiting, and wishing you enjoyable kitchen times 🙂

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