My first introduction to Indian food was via London. With its sizable East Asian community, London turns out to have many wonderful, inexpensive Indian restaurants. As a college student traveling to London on a tight budget, I discovered the joys of Indian food there and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Recently I’ve begun cook Indian, and Indian-inspired food, at home. First there were chutneys: cranberry chutney and apple and caramelized onion. Next I did curried cauliflower steaks and aloo paratha. And now I’m onto Indian butter chicken, known as murgh makhani.
I made this dish for May’s Secret Recipe Club post, from my assigned partner, Anna and her blog, Cheese with Noodles. If you aren’t familiar with how Secret Recipe Club works, we each get randomly assigned another blogger, whose site we check out and introduce to our own readers. Then we pick a recipe from that site to make, or to use as inspiration.
Cheese with Noodles is a wonderful, eclectic mix of recipes. I like Anna’s adventurous spirit. She is willing to try many different types of recipes, posting only those that she and her husband truly enjoyed. Her links back to original recipes and comments on how she has adapted them are helpful. I’ve bookmarked several that I’d like to try, including her own green tomato salsa, and her adaptations of pineapple zucchini bread and black and white turkey chili.
Anna lives in the interior of Alaska and doesn’t have any apparent connection to India or Indian food. No matter. We thoroughly enjoyed the Indian butter chicken and devoured even the small amount I had hoped to save for lunch the next day.
I served it with string beans and rice. Although I photographed the dish with naan, I made the dish during Passover, when we don’t eat bread. Next time I make it – and there will be a next time – I’ll definitely serve it with naan of maybe even aloo paratha.
Anna adapted an Indian butter chicken recipe that she found on AllRecipes. In turn, I adapted her version, adding more chicken and upping the garam masala, in addition to slightly revising the directions. The bottom line is that you make a sauce with onion, spices, and, of course, butter, then you cook chicken cubes, and finally you simmer the cooked chicken cubes in the sauce to meld the flavors together. One note – don’t be intimidated by the number of ingredients. If you measure out and organize them (remember mise en place?), cooking the dish is easy.
Indian Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)
- 3 tablespoons unflavored oil (grapeseed canola or similar), divided
- 1 small onion and 1 shallot both chopped (total - 1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons garlic ginger paste made from 2-3 cloves of garlic and a knob of garlic mashed together in a small food processor or by hand
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1-2 pinches cayenne pepper ground hot red
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice about 1/2 a lemon
- 1 cup tomato sauce 8 ounces
- 1/3 cup ground cashews
- 1 cup half and half can substitute or 1/3 cup heavy cream + 2/3 cup nonfat milk
- 1/4 cup unflavored yogurt regular or Greek
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt kosher or sea salt
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breast or thighs cut into bite size pieces
- 1+ cups chicken broth Optional - for thinning out the sauce, which tends to be thick.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the chopped onion and shallot and cook under medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, until the pieces start to become transparent.
Add the butter, ginger garlic paste, bay leaf, garam masala, chili powder, cumin, coriander, cayenne, and lemon juice. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring to mix all the spices. Add the tomato sauce and cook, stirring frequently for 2-3 minutes more.
Stir in the ground cashews, dairy (half and half or cream/milk and yogurt), and salt. Simmer the sauce under a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Cool the sauce down slightly and blend, either in a blender or with an immersion blender in a tall glass or bowl. Set aside.
Either clean the skillet or use another one. Add a tablespoon of oil (the second of three) and sauté half the chicken cubes on medium-high heat. Leave enough room around each cube so that they do not touch and turn them to brown on each side. Once those cubes are seared on all sides, remove them from the skillet to a plate, add the third tablespoon of oil, and sauté the rest of the chicken cubes the same way.
Once all the chicken cubes are finished cooking, add the sauce back into the skillet and simmer the sauce on a low heat for 20 minutes. If you prefer the sauce thinner, add in small amounts of chicken broth until you get the consistency you want.
If you intend to prepare the chicken ahead of time, reheating it later, then simmer the sauce in the last step for only 10 minutes and keep additional chicken broth in reserve for thinning out the sauce upon reheating.