What is Butter Chicken?
One of the most popular Indian dishes, butter chicken, originated in Delhi, India, at the Moti Mahal- a restaurant known for its tandoori chicken recipe. To avoid food waste from leftover tandoori chicken, the restaurant created butter chicken (chicken makhani), which has since become famous in its own right.
What You Need to Make this Recipe
- Marinade: Marinate chicken in ginger paste, garlic paste, salt, yogurt, and Kashmiri chili powder.
- Chicken: Use boneless chicken thighs for the best flavor.
- Butter: Splurge for high-quality butter, like Kerrygold, since butter is central to the dish.
- Aromatics: Start the masala by toasting green cardamom and a cinnamon stick and flavor the curry with deep aromatics.
- Onion: Take the time to saute the onions and develop the flavor of the masala.
- Garlic: I suggest using four cloves, but don’t let my recipe tell you how much garlic to use -measure with your heart.
- Spices: Season the butter chicken masala with ground cumin, turmeric, garam masala, fenugreek, and Kashmiri powder.
- Roma Tomato: Use roughly cut fresh tomatoes alongside the onions to build a flavorful curry; you can also use diced canned tomatoes if you’re in a pinch.
- Heavy Cream: Heavy cream lends color and creaminess.
How to Make Butter Chicken Masala
The full recipe with measurements is in the recipe card below.
For the Chicken:
Step 1: Marinate the chicken with ginger and garlic paste, Kashmiri chili powder, salt, and yogurt in a mixing bowl.
Step 2: Fry the marinated chicken in a heavy-bottomed pan, heat with ghee. Set it aside.
For the Masala:
Step 3: Saute the whole spices in butter.
Step 4: Next, add the onions, garlic and ginger, then cook for another minute.
Step 5: Flavor the mixture with Kashmiri chili powder, 1 tablespoon of garam masala, cumin, salt, turmeric, and tomatoes into the mixture. Cook for 5-7 minutes.
Step 7: Return the mixture to the pan and stir in the butter and cream.
Step 8: Then, nestle the reserved chicken into the pan. Allow the dish to maintain a gentle bubble for 5-7 minutes.
Step 9: Season with ½ tablespoon of garam masala and ½ teaspoon fenugreek; give it a quick stir and simmer for another minute or two.
Step 10: Garnish with cilantro, green chilies, and drizzle with dahi; serve with basmati rice or naan.
Can I Make Butter Chicken Masala in the Instant Pot?
For the Chicken:
- Toss the chicken with ginger paste, garlic paste, Kashmiri chili powder, salt, and yogurt in a mixing bowl. Set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes. Try 6 hours for best results.
- Warm ghee in an Instant Pot in saute mode and fry the marinated chicken until the pieces turn golden brown, for about 15 minutes. Set the chicken aside.
For the Masala:
- In the Instant Pot, warm 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter in the saute mode. Add green cardamom and a cinnamon stick. Cook until the ingredients sputter, then add onions. Sauté until they become translucent and soften.
- Next, add garlic and ginger; cook for another minute.
- Stir in the Kashmiri chili powder, one tablespoon of garam masala, cumin, salt, turmeric, and tomatoes. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. Then, add the reserved chicken pieces to the Instant Pot.
- Secure the lid and set the Instant Pot to manual high pressure for 5 minutes. Let it release naturally for 5 minutes before doing a quick release.
- Remove the chicken and cinnamon stick; set them aside.
- Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor; blend until smooth. You can also use an immersion blender for this step.
- Return the mixture to the Instant Pot, and stir in the butter and cream until well incorporated.
- Then, nestle the cooked chicken back into the Instant Pot. Allow the dish to maintain a gentle bubble in saute mode for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Top the mixture with 1/2 tablespoon of garam masala and 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek; give it a quick stir and let it simmer for another minute or two.
- Garnish with cilantro and green chilies, and drizzle with dahi; serve with basmati rice or naan.
What to Do With the Leftovers
- Refrigerate – Store leftovers in an airtight container; it keeps for 3-4 days.
- Freeze – Once the butter chicken masala cools completely, transfer it to a freezer-safe container or bag for storage. Butter chicken freezes for three months.
- Thaw – Before serving, defrost it in the refrigerator overnight.
- Reheat – Warm the curry on the stovetop and prepare your sides.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is butter chicken masala made of?
To make this dinner favorite, start by marinating chicken pieces. Next, cook the marinated chicken over medium heat. To make the masala or curry, sauté onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and warm spices in a pan. Finally, add cream and butter to the pan to complete the curry and nestle the chicken to finish the meal.
Can I make vegetarian butter chicken? Can I make it vegan?
Here are a few suggestions to make this meal vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Use chickpeas, baked firm tofu, paneer, or roasted cauliflower as the main ingredient. If you want more protein, consider toasted cashews and adding them to the curry. Instead of regular butter, opt for either coconut oil or vegan butter, and replace the heavy cream with full-fat coconut milk.
Is butter chicken and butter masala the same?
Butter chicken and butter chicken masala refer to the same dish. The term ‘masala’ is the ‘curry’ or sauce component of the dish.
Is this recipe spicy?
Butter chicken is flavorful with a mild spice. Reduce Kashmiri chili powder and garam masala for less heat, or add two Thai green chilis for a spicier version.
What is the difference between chicken tikka masala and butter chicken masala?
Chicken tikka masala and butter chicken masala are both popular dishes, but they have distinct differences.
Traditional chicken tikka masala is more of a British dish than Indian dish. It often combines boneless chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, then grilled or roasted. The cooked chicken simmers in a rich tomato-based sauce with spices like cumin, coriander, and garam masala. The final dish is creamy and slightly spicy, with a smooth texture and a tangy tomato flavor.
However, butter chicken masala is mild and creamy. Tender chunks of boneless chicken simmer in a tomato-based sauce flavored with butter and heavy cream, giving the dish a velvety texture.
Butter Chicken Masala
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- 5 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon green cardamom, lightly crushed
- 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
- ½-1 tablespoon Kashmiri chili powder, depending on preferred level of spice
- 1 ½ tablespoon homemade garam masala, divided
- 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 4-5 medium Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon fenugreek leaves, dried
- cilantro finely chopped, to garnish
- 1-2 tablespoons dahi, to garnish
For the Chicken:
- Toss the chicken with ginger and garlic paste, Kashmiri chili powder, salt, and yogurt in a mixing bowl. Set it aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes (6 hours for best results).
- Heat ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan and shallow fry the marinated chicken until the pieces turn golden brown, for about 15 minutes. Set the chicken aside.
For the Masala:
- In the same pan, warm 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Add green cardamom and a cinnamon stick. Cook until the ingredients sputter, then add the onions. Sauté until they become translucent and soften.
- Next, add the garlic and ginger, then cook for another minute.
- Stir in the Kashmiri chili powder, one tablespoon of garam masala, cumin, salt, turmeric, and tomatoes. Cook for 5-7 minutes.
- Return the mixture to the pan over low heat and add the butter and heavy cream. Stir until well incorporated. Then, nestle the chicken into the pan. Gently simmer for 5-7 minutes, and adjust the temperature as necessary.
- Sprinkle ½ tablespoon of garam masala and ½ tablespoon fenugreek over the curry; give it a quick stir and simmer for another minute or two.
- Garnish with cilantro and green chilies, and drizzle with dahi; serve with Basmati Rice or naan.
- Marinate the chicken for 6 hours for the best results.
- If you have leftover tandoori chicken tikka or baked tandoori chicken, skip marinating and pan-searing the chicken. Proceed to make the masala for a quick and delicious meal.
- The nutritional information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for professional advice.