Indian Butter Chicken

Indian Butter Chicken

Some of the world’s great cuisines are in Asia – Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Indian.  Most of use spend too little time on these great cooking traditions.  In some cases, we have trouble finding and understanding the ingredients, but mostly we are afraid to step out of our comfort zone.  A good way to start experimenting with Asian cuisines is to try an easy to make classic that is not too dissimilar to American or European dishes.  Indian Butter Chicken is a perfect candidate – not too spicy with tomatoes and chicken as the main ingredients.

This recipe will introduce you to two of my favorite ingredients in Indian cooking.  The first is Garam Masala, which, like curry powder is a mixture of spices.  Garam Masala contains nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, cumin and black pepper.  Notice that there is nothing spicy or hot in the mix.  It gives a slightly sweet tone to a dish.  I think that it is hard to use too much.  Garam Masala is available at almost any supermarket or on-line at Penzey’s (maybe the best source of spices.)

The second ingredient is garlic ginger paste.  This is a key element of this dish and you should make your own since it is sometimes hard to find.  If you can peel ginger and garlic and have a food processor or blender, it is easy to make.  The instructions below will produce more than you need, but you can freeze the extra amount, since you will, I assure you, make more Butter Chicken.

Making Ginger-Garlic Paste

The ingredients are simple: 4 oz. peeled garlic, 4 oz. fresh ginger and olive oil.  If you don’t have a kitchen scale, 4 oz. is about ½ cup.  However, get a hold of yourself and get a scale if you don’t have one.  I suggest the Eat Smart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale – under $20 on Amazon.

Break the ginger apart into manageable pieces and use a vegetable peeler to remove the outside skin and any fibrous parts.  Peel the garlic cloves. 

Roughly chop the garlic and ginger and put into a food processor.  Turn on and slowly add olive oil through the top until you get a thick paste.  Finish at high speed to blend thoroughly.  Store in a freezer safe container

Servings: 12

Time:  1 hr. Prep

            1 hr. Cooking


For the Chicken:

  • 3 lbs. chicken breast or thighs – cut into ½ in. cubes.  (Hint: partially frozen makes the chicken easier to cut into cubes.)
  • 3 tbsp. peanut oil
  • 1 tbsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper


  1. In a large skillet or frying pan, heat the oil and garam masala over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the salt and pepper to the chicken and stir well. 
  3. Add the cubed chicken to the frying pan, stir well to coat and brown for about 7-8 minutes until chicken is golden brown.
  4. Turn heat off and leave chicken to rest

For the Sauce:

  • 3 tbsp. peanut oil
  • 6 tbsp. butter
  • 1-1/2 cups shallots – finely chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups onion – finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 tbsp. garam masala
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 1 28 oz. can of peeled tomatoes (Italian San Marzano are the best)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • ½ cup of water
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • ¼ chopped cilantro or parsley


  1.  Pour the tomatoes with the juice into a china cap or other strainer and puree the tomatoes, forcing them through the strainer with a wooden pestle or the back of a large spoon.  This should produce 3 cups of puree.
  2. In a large saucepan or stockpot, heat the peanut oil and butter over medium heat.  Add the shallots and onion and sauté until softened.  
  3. Add the lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste, garam masala, chili powder, ground cumin, salt, pepper and bay leaves.  Stir well and cook for about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato puree, yogurt and half-and-half.  Stir well.  Reduce heat and gently simmer uncovered for 15 minutes stirring frequently.
  5. Mix the cornstarch and water, add to the sauce and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  6. Add the cooked chicken to the sauce and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  7. Serve with jasmine or basmati rice; garnish with parsley or cilantro. 

The final result should be a thick sauce.  If too thin, gently simmer for additional time. 

Serve with naan, if desired.  This is very typical.  Check the Bravado website for a great naan recipe – easy to make at home.  Some add cayenne pepper to this dish, but I like it better without the heat.  However, if you feel the need, add one-half tsp. of cayenne, but no more. 

This dish is almost a meal in itself, but it also goes well with any green vegetables like green beans or broccoli.  There are many wonderful Indian vegetable dishes but maybe we should not worry about that now.  Let this be your first baby step into the world of Asian cuisine.

Categories: Classic Chicken Dishes, Classic Indian Dishes

Tags: ,

5 replies

  1. Yummy! Can’t wait to try making it!

  2. We loved your Indian Butter Chicken when you served it last week! Soooo happy to have the recipe! It’s a ten!

  3. Hi Bill,

    Hope you and Barbara are doing wel. If you ever get to Texas please visit us. We added RD a wine cellar to our home and I the center is Rombauer Chardonnay you first exposed me to at your blind wine tasting.

    Best regards, Roland Johnson President, Pecan Place Townhomes Ft. Worth HOA, Inc. 618 E 1st Street, Fort Worth, TX 76102 Cell 817-422-1795


  4. This sounds and looks delicious! I’ll give it a try

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