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.
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?
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.
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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.
Use a firm-fleshed fish for this dish, like halibut, snapper, cod, monkfish, mahi-mahi.
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)
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The Creamy Butter Fish is wonderful served with:
Scented Green and Yellow 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).