Butter Chicken (Chicken makhani)

Butter Chicken (Chicken makhani)- the quintessential North Indian dish that is synonymous with Indian food abroad- it is creamy, flavourful and oh so delicious!

Although you will hear every foreigner speak about naan bread and butter chicken as being representative of Indian food, it is extremely hard to find good butter chicken (in India or abroad). Let me quickly add here that, although butter chicken has its place in the Indian cuisine, you’d be fooling yourself if you do not go beyond this dish and explore the cuisine.

Almost all restaurants serving North Indian or Mughlai food have this in the menu but very few get the dish right. And I for one, I’m extremely particular about my butter chicken.

Delhi does that to you I suppose!

Butter chicken will always be synonymous with Delhi for me. And the city will always have a very special place in my heart, for more than one reason.

I moved to Delhi soon after graduating from law school and took up my first job.  I had declined a well-paying corporate job to clerk under a judge in the High Court. I will admit that as a young lawyer, I was filled with my doubts about being able to survive in a brutal lawyer’s world.

But the city embraced me with open arms and taught me to live on a meagre income. It gave me dreams and showed me how your work can create a difference in the lives of others. It taught me that some days might look hard, but your life will be filled with happiness if you keep your friends close, look for beauty around you and find joy in the small things. That life is larger than your everyday comfort and that you need to work extremely hard on things that you’re passionate about and quickly adapt to new surroundings.

When I look back, I see how the warmest of memories I made didn’t cost money- late night visits to India Gate for chai or ice-cream, visiting Old Fort or Humayun’s Tomb on a Sunday morning with a bedsheet, food, books and lot of laughter, spending all day in Chandni Chowk hogging on spectacular food in the tiniest of places, going for art, dance, music or theatre shows in Mandi House or India Habitat Center, eating hot momos and dosa at the same time while gazing at art from different parts of the state in Delhi Haat, the innumerable house parties with old Hindi music, kebabs ordered from Rajinder dhaba and musings of the future that lay ahead of us, taking walks in Lodhi garden after work, quick catch up after court hours at Triveni over chai and aloo tikki chat and the list goes on.

As a young woman in her early 20s, I couldn’t have asked more. I learnt to work really hard for my dreams, to be independent and to value relationships above all. I learnt that in order to be happy, I needed work that was meaningful and avenues to release my creativity. I learnt that there will be times when I don’t make as much money as I’d like, but as long as I’m doing work that I’m passionate about, money won’t make a lot of difference. It taught me that life can be relentless but if you know what you want and if you are persistent, life will bow down in front of you.

I briefly went to Mumbai for a high paying job in the best law firm of the country then. But Delhi called me back with all its charm and most importantly to pursue my calling. It once again compelled me to choose passion over run-of-the-mill work. It was in my second stint that I truly unleashed myself and discovered parts of my personality never known to me. I gave everything I had for my work, and that brief training has kept me in good stead in my career ever since. Delhi gave me avenues for working in Courts and the best NGOs in the country, while keeping my love for food, art and plants alive.

The city had a huge role to play in making the woman that I am today and for that Delhi, you will always be home for me!

Recipe Notes:

  1. In this recipe, I teach you to make the tikkas on a tawa. Feel free to make it on a grill or tandoor. If you’re making it in an oven, after roasting it make sure you grill it or transfer to tawa for that char. It is that slight char which gives the butter chicken it’s earthy flavour.
  2. I have used ripe tomatoes here. If you are unable to get good tomatoes, adjust the flavour with readymade tomato puree.
  3. It is best if you marinate the chicken overnight. That way your effort and cooking time also gets distributed.
  4. For hung curd, tie curd in a cloth and hang it for one hour. Squeeze out all the water. Hung curd ensures the masala sticks well and you do not waste any of the masala in the discarded curd water.

Moving on to the recipe:

Course: Main Course

Cuisine: North Indian/ Mughlai

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Resting time: 75 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Servings: 4-5

Ingredients:

For the marinate:

  • 500 gms boneless chicken (cut into kebab sized pieces- roughly 2/3rd of your index finger is a good size)
  • 4 tsp hung curd (Use 100 ml curd to get approximately 4 tsp hung curd)
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 2.5 tbsp tandoori masala (I use Everest)
  • 3 tsp homemade ginger garlic paste

For the gravy:

  • 2 tbsp + 1 tbsp oil
  • 13-14 grated garlic
  • 3 chopped green chillis
  • ½ tsp roasted cumin powder
  • 1.5 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp salt (adjust according to taste)
  • 6 tomatoes (make a puree)
  • 2 medium sized onions, chopped
  • 1.5 tbsp vinegar
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 10 cashew nuts (made into a paste)
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup milk
  • 4 tbsp cream
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 1 tbsp kasuri methi

Instructions:

Preparation

  1. Make hung curd by putting the curd in a muslin cloth and tying it to a tap over the kitchen sink. This ensures that the curd remains hung over a sink where you can collect the excess water and not worry about spilling the whey water. Alternatively, you can keep it over a strainer and keep something heavy over it to ensure that all the water comes out.
  2. Let the curd hang for 1 hours. I also press the cloth once in a while it’s hung so that all the water comes out.
  3. Marinate the chicken overnight with ingredients mentioned under marinate. Do this process a day before making the dish. This will ensure your effort and time gets distributed.

4. Make a puree of tomatoes. Separately, make a paste of cashew nuts. It is best if you soak the cashew nuts in warm water for 15-20 minutes before you make a paste.

5. Soak skewers in water for an hour. If you marinated the chicken overnight, take the chicken out an hour before making tikkas.

Making the chicken tikka

6. Add 6-7 pieces of chicken in a skewer. Add ¾ tbsp oil in a tawa. I use my dosa tawa for this because it has a flat surface and some depression towards the sides where the oil gets collected and ensures easy cooking of tikkas. You can do this with very little oil.

7. Cook till the tikkas get cooked properly from all sides and has brown edges. You can use a spatula to scrape the tikka from the tawa every few minutes. This will ensure that the tikkas don’t get stuck in the pan.

Process before making a paste

8. Heat 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp oil. Add grated garlic to it. Let it cook properly for 3-4 minutes till it becomes golden brown.

9. Add green chilis, roasted cumin powder and red chilli powder. Cook for a minute.

10. Add onions when you smell the flavours of the masalas being emitted. Cook till it turns translucent.

11. Add the tomato puree and cook for 10 minutes. Add sugar and vinegar and cook till the masala leaves oil. Transfer the contents to a blender.

12. Cool this masala and make a paste of it.

Cooking with the paste

13. Heat 1 tbsp butter again in the kadhai. Add the paste by straining the blended paste through a sieve. This will give the fine and creamy texture that butter chicken has. Please don’t skip this step.

14. Add the cashewnut paste and ketchup. Cook till the masala leaves oil.

15. Add water if required at this stage. Add milk and cream and cook for another 5 minutes.

16. Add garam masala and kasuri methi and give everything a good mix.

Serve hot with naan/ lacha paratha, some onion rings and methi pulao!

Thanks for Reading !!