Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

One of the most popular Indian dishes, this Indian Butter Chicken recipe (Murgh Makhani) is packed with an incredible depth of flavor that will leave your taste buds singing!  Rivaling your favorite Indian restaurant, it’s phenomenally delicious!

Along with Chicken Tikka Masala and Tandoori Chicken, this Butter Chicken is one of the most popular and most requested Indian dishes!

butter chicken recipe authentic traditional indian murgh makhani best restaurant style

What is Butter Chicken?

Butter Chicken is an enormously popular dish and you find it served in practically every Indian restaurant around the world.  Tender chicken in a rich tomato-butter-cream sauce with bold flavors and a heavenly fragrance, it is well deserving of its reputation and is one of my all-time favorite Indian dishes.  This Indian butter chicken recipe consistently gets rave reviews and we’re confidant you’re going to love it as much as we do!

Where Did Butter Chicken Originate?

Of Punjabi origin, Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani, has been popular since the day it was created in 1948 by Chef Kundan Lal Gujral, who also created dal makhani and the equally famous tandoori chicken.  In India this dish is usually made with bone-in chicken and outside of India boneless chicken is more commonly used.  As with any dish, bone-in chicken will always give you the most flavor, but feel free to use whichever you prefer.

Traditionally the marinated chicken is cooked in a tandoor prior to being added to the sauce.  Tandoors are used throughout Southern, Central, and Western Asia and are cylindrical clay pots used for cooking and baking.  The heat is generated by a wood or charcoal fire at the bottom of the tandoor and the air inside the tandoor can reach upwards of…900 degrees Farenheit, yeeeouch!  Tandoors are often left lit for hours at a time and a consistent temperature is maintained.


How Do You Cook the Chicken?

In the absence of tandoors, Westernized versions will instead grill or roast the chicken in an attempt to replicate the flavor generated by the tandoor.  Depending on what you have the time and means for, grilling the chicken on a barbecue will definitely generate more flavor than roasting it in the oven will.  Alternatively you can also pan-fry the marinated chicken (shaking off the excess marinade before adding it) until it’s browned or you can take the easiest route and cook the chicken along with the other ingredients in the pan.

Flour vs. Ground Nuts for Thickening Sauces

Westernized versions of Indian dishes will usually use flour or cornstarch to thicken the sauces but in India these are virtually never used for that purpose.  Instead, ground nuts are commonly used as thickeners including for this Butter Chicken where grounds almonds are used.  Ground nuts not only thicken the sauce but provide additional depth of flavor.  And wherever more flavor can be added, I’m all for it!

Which Spices Do I Need to Make Butter Chicken?

Butter Chicken calls for a variety of Indian spices.  As I’ve emphasized in some of my other Indian recipes, if you haven’t heard of or used some of these spices before don’t be afraid of them!  Some people equate unfamiliar ingredients with a higher level of cooking difficulty and that just isn’t the case at all.  It just means that instead of using staples you’re used to like basil, oregano and thyme, you’re using spices like turmeric, cardamom, coriander and garam masala.  It’s just as easy, the names of the spices are just different.

Some Indian spices are a little more challenging to find in regular grocery stores in the U.S. but can be conveniently purchased online (I link to several in the recipe box below) and in case you’re worried about spending the money on more spices than you’ll need for this dish, the spices will keep for a long time if you store them in airtight jars in a dark, cool place.  So you’ll be able to have them on hand any time you make Indian food.

butter chicken recipe authentic traditional indian murgh makhani best restaurant style

Is Butter Chicken Spicy Hot or Kid Friendly?

Butter chicken is one of the mildest curries in terms of heat so it’s an especially great choice for kids or for adults who are heat-sensitive.  That said, if you happen to like a lot of heat feel free to increase the amount of red chili power or cayenne!

Can I Make Butter Chicken Ahead of Time?  

YES, in fact we recommend it because butter chicken only gets BETTER with time as the flavors develop.  Make it, let cool completely, refrigerate and enjoy it the next day for optimal flavor.

Butter chicken also freezes well if you don’t add the cream.  Simply freeze the chicken, gently reheat it on the stovetop and stir in the cream.

This Butter Chicken recipe is so simple to make with relatively few steps and the result is a wonderfully flavorful dish you’ll want to make again and again.

butter chicken recipe authentic traditional indian murgh makhani best restaurant style

Butter Chicken Recipe

Let’s get started!

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, almonds, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, sugar, garam masala, turmeric, ground cardamom, salt, minced ginger, garlic, crushed bay leaves and chili powder.  Stir to combine.

Add the chicken and stir to thoroughly coat.  Marinated for at least 2 hours or overnight if possible.

preparing the marinade

The marinated chicken can then be either:  Grilled on the barbecue or roasted on a lined baking sheet in the oven until nicely browned.  If you want to skip these steps you can pan-fry the marinated chicken in some oil until it’s browned or you can simply cook it along with the other ingredients.  Whichever route you go be sure to save the marinade because you’ll still need it for the sauce.

grilling the kebabs

Heat the ghee in a large pan or medium stock pot over medium-high heat and cook the onions until soft and translucent and beginning turn golden, 5-7 minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.

Stir in the chicken with all of the marinade.  If you’re choosing to cook the chicken in the pan, bring it to a simmer and cook until the chicken turns white.

cooking the onions and adding the chicken

Add the tomato puree and black cardamom pod.  Return to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the butter and cream and stir until dissolved.  Add salt to taste.

adding the tomato, spices, cream and butter

Serve with steamed jasmine or basmati rice and/or naan bread and garnish with some chopped fresh cilantro.  A cucumber raita also makes the perfect accompaniment.  If you like, stir in a little extra heavy cream for a nice creamy swirl.  Note:  This dish tastes even better the next day once the flavors have had more time to meld.

Enjoy this with a refreshing Mango Lassi or Fruit Chaat!


butter chicken recipe authentic traditional indian murgh makhani best restaurant style

More more delicious Indian food be sure to try our:

Originally published on The Daring Gourmet December 30, 2014

Image of tandoor courtesy timtom.ch, creative commons CC licensing


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