Butter Chicken

My husband and I ordered take-out one night with some friends, and we wanted Chinese. So our host sent her other half to go pick up the food from our favorite Chinese restaurant. He came home with said food….AND with some butter chicken from HIS favorite Indian restaurant.

Ask me who ate ALL the butter chicken and saved NONE for anyone else. And the flatbread (naan)! Oh man, I snarfed that up too. I felt like Goldilocks, only my porridge was JUST right, and the bears were totally OK with me eating it.

So to our kind friends for letting me snarf all the Butter Chicken, I dedicate this recipe to you! (And I just found out THEY have a butter chicken recipe too. Hers is a little spicier than mine, but delicious nonetheless. Go check it out at www.jocooks.com).

There are a lot of butter chicken recipes out there with varying ingredients and ways of layering the flavors. And most of them are good. It just depends on what you are going for–sweet, spicy, nutty, creamy, acidic, all of the above… But every good butter chicken recipe must have the following basic ingredients:

1. Garam Masala (a combination of spices–like curry–that yields a very specific flavor)

2. Tomatoes

3. Lots of garlic and onions

4. Cumin

5. Cream or coconut milk

Ginger is another spice commonly found in this dish. So is cinnamon, turmeric (huge fan), coriander, cashew nuts and lemon juice. You can pretty much throw everything in the pot and it will be amazing. But I prefer only a mild heat with an emphasis on the slightly acidic taste that comes from the tomatoes and lemon juice. So I eliminated the ginger and upped the lemon juice and tomatoes to get that effect, and I am pleased as punch with the way it turned out.

But feel free to tweak this recipe to your liking!


butterchicken17  butterchicken10

The marinade: Mix the spices together, add the lemon juice, garlic, and oil, and put it altogether in a ziplock bag with the chicken. Let it marinade for at least a few hours. Overnight is preferable.



butterchicken15 butterchicken21

The sauce: cook the onions, add the garlic and spices, and finally add the tomato puree.



Before: butterchicken4   After: butterchicken7

Reduce the sauce: It’s important to “reduce” the tomato sauce so the acids and sugars of the tomato and lemon juice really stand out undiluted. Add the coconut milk and the chicken, simmer for 15 minutes on medium low, and serve on basmati rice with naan bread.




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Butter Chicken
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
  • 2.5 lbs chicken drumsticks
  • 4 T lemon juice
  • 4 T vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 T garam masala
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 T coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes (no salt added)
  • 2 T garam masala
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 3 T lemon juice
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • 2 T butter
  • Chopped cilantro, to garnish
  1. Mix the marinade ingredients together and pour over the chicken in a freezer bag. Marinade overnight in the fridge.
  2. Heat oil in a dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly until soft and golden (about 10 minutes).
  3. Meanwhile, puree the tomato paste, canned tomatoes, and lemon juice together in a blender or food processor and set aside.
  4. Once the onions have cooked, add the garlic and cook until fragrant (about a minute).
  5. Add the remaining spices--garam masala, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, onion powder, and salt--and cook for one more minute.
  6. Add the tomato puree and cook at medium heat until moisture is mostly reduced, stirring often. It should take about 20 minutes to get a slightly pasty consistency.
  7. Add the coconut milk and butter and whisk gently until smooth.
  8. Finally, add the chicken drumsticks to the pot, cover and simmer on medium low for 14 - 15 minutes (or until the meat is no longer pink).


*Helpful hint: wear an apron. That turmeric and tomato paste will get you every time.

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