This easy recipe for Butter Chicken is as authentic as it can get! Make classic Butter Chicken or Murgh Makhani at home, just like the one you get at your favorite Indian restaurant.
(This recipe was first published in June 2020 and has been updated)
Butter Chicken aka, Murgh Makhani or Chicken Makhani is the ‘little black dress’ of Indian cuisine - a classic, easy-to-make dish that will never go out of style. I have the best memories of eating butter chicken, lapping up every bit of gravy with a tandoori naan.
What is Butter Chicken or Chicken Makhani?
Butter chicken aka, Chicken Makhani literally translates to chicken that is cooked in butter. The dish is said to have been invented when an enterprising Dhaba- owner (dhabas are restaurants on Indian highway) tried to give a longer lease of life to his leftover tandoori chicken. He came up with a sauce made with tomatoes and dairy (cream, butter), and simmered the tandoori chicken pieces in them, thus creating an entirely new dish. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Butter chicken is a great social leveler. It is hugely popular all over the world, from the version sold in the humble dhabas (restaurants along the highways, usually serving as truck stops ) to its fine dining avatar in the best Indian restaurants. And always, always, served with freshly baked tandoori naan and a dollop of butter on top!
There are several recipes for butter chicken, with so many versions of this dish around, its best to just stick to the classic version – a sauce made with tomatoes, cashews, butter and a hint of cream. I have tried a few recipes for butter chicken, and this is the one that I really enjoy and comes very close to the authentic version.
What is butter chicken sauce made of?
Most of us know that the sauce for butter chicken is made with tomatoes, cream and butter. There is a misconception that butter chicken needs oodles of butter - nope it doesn't! This recipe uses minimal amounts of dairy – there’s just a little butter and only a hint of cream - having less butter and cream doesn't mean that we compromise on the taste in any way!
The role of spices is also very important to making a delicious butter chicken sauce. Some of the key spices and aromatics that go into classic butter chicken are garam masala spice blend, kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves), cashews and honey.
For the meat, use boneless chicken pieces – thigh or breast. The one thing that should not be omitted is the kasuri methi, which adds an earthy, mildly bitter taste that brings out the flavor of the butter chicken and nicely balances out the tang from the tomatoes, the slight sweetness of the honey and the richness of the cashews.
Why this recipe works
- Authentic recipe, just like what you get at your favorite Indian restaurant!
- Ideal for families - not too spicy, you can adjust the amount of heat/spice
- Perfect for making ahead or freezing for later - the flavors of the butter chicken improve over time
List of Ingredients
Ingredients for the chicken marinade
- Boneless chicken pieces (thighs or breast)
- Garam Masala
- Ginger and garlic paste (or use minced ginger and garlic)
- Kashmiri chili powder (can substitute with paprika powder)
- Turmeric powder
- Ghee or butter
- Salt (as per your taste)
Ingredients for the butter chicken sauce
- Ginger-garlic paste or minced ginger and garlic
- Tomato puree
- Cashews - Soak them in warm water for 15- 20 minutes
- Turmeric powder
- Kashmiri chili powder
- Kasuri methi
- Garam Masala
How to make Butter Chicken
Butter chicken is typically made by first marinating the chicken pieces in a yogurt-based marinade, then grilling the chicken, then making the sauce and finally, adding the grilled chicken into the sauce and cooking them together for a few minutes.
Start with marinating the chicken with all the ingredients listed for the marinade, and keep the marinated meat in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Tip: Gently score the chicken before marinating it. This helps the meat catch more of the marinade and gives it more surface area to get a little char when we grill it later. Reserve any leftover marinade to add into the butter chicken sauce later.
Once the chicken is done marinating, skewer the pieces and grill them. I like using a stove-top grill pan, but you could use the oven broiler as well. Let the meat char a little, and flip to over midway through, to cook evenly.
Once the chicken is done, keep aside. Move on to the sauce. In a heavy bottom pot on the stovetop, heat some butter. Once the butter melts, add ginger and garlic paste followed by turmeric and red chili powder. Saute briefly, and add the tomato puree.
Add any leftover marinade from the chicken pieces (step 5), followed by the kasuri methi leaves, and then the garam masala powder.
Prepare the cashew paste - in a blender, blend together the pre-soaked cashews with a little water to form a smooth paste.
Add in the cashew paste and honey, and then blend together all the ingredients using a stick blender. Add salt to season and let this sauce simmer for 3-4 minutes. Then add the grilled chicken pieces and mix into the sauce. Add a tablespoon of cream and simmer the butter chicken for 4 - 5 minutes and you're done!
Butter chicken is best eaten with:
Frequently Asked Questions
Dried fenugreek leaves, aka kasuri methi or kasoori methi leaves add a mild earthy bitterness to the dish and you will notice that the flavors become more pronounced and complex when you add them. I highly recommend adding the lasoori methi leaves is you want the flavors to be authentic. However, if you are in a hurry and want to skip them, you most certainly can!
No, curry powder is not a substitute for garam masala - the ingredients that go into both are very different. For more details on how different spice blends differ from each other, take a look at my guide to Indian Spices.
The key differences between the two recipes are that butter chicken does not use onions or cumin but does use honey as a sweetener. Also, butter chicken was invented in India and chicken tikka masala is actually a British invention.
Yes, chicken (aka, murgh) makhani literally translates to butter chicken, and the two are the same!
More Indian Chicken Recipes
Butter Chicken - Murgh Makhani
- 600 grams Chicken breast cut into chunks
For the marinade
For the butter chicken sauce
- 75 grams butter or 5 tablespoons butter
- 1 tsp Ginger garlic paste or minced ginger and garlic
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri Chili powder or use paprika powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- ½ cup raw cashews soaked in warm water for 15- 20 minutes
- 1 cup tomato puree 1 cup = 250 ml
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tablespoons kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
- 1 tablespoon cream
- Salt to taste
- Start by marinating the chicken - lightly score the chicken pieces and mix together the chicken with all the ingredients for the marinade. Keep the chicken pieces into a bowl, cover with cling film and transfer to the fridge.
- Let the marinated chicken sit for 30-40 minutes in the fridge, or if possible, overnight.
- Skewer the chicken on barbeue skewers and grill them either on the barbeque or stovetop or in the oven in grill mode. Turn the pieces over halfway through, to cook them evenly. The chicken pieces should have a little char on them. Once griled, keep aside for later.
- Prepare the cashew paste – in a blender, blend together the pre-soaked cashews with a little water to form a smooth paste. Keep aside for later.
- In a heavy bottom pot on the stovetop, Heat some butter. Once the butter melts, add ginger and garlic paste followed by turmeric and red chili powder. Saute briefly, and add the tomato puree.
- Add any leftover marinade from the chicken pieces, followed by the kasuri methi leaves, and then the garam masala powder.
- Add in the cashew paste and honey and turn off the heat.
- Blend together all the ingredients using a stick blender, forming a smooth sauce.
- Add salt to season and let the sauce simmer for 3-4 minutes.
- Then add the grilled chicken pieces and mix into the sauce.
- Add a tablespoon of cream and simmer the butter chicken for 5-6 minutes. Turn off the heat once cooked.
- Serve hot with naan or basmati rice.