Butter Chicken

I like to think that what we call a dish is a pretty reliable indication of what the main components are.  For instance, if I say lemonade, you can pretty easily discern that a main ingredient is lemons.  If I say eggplant parmesan, you would most likely guess it has at least some eggplant in it.  And if I say bbq chicken, you would expect chicken bathed in some type of barbeque sauce.

So would someone kindly tell me what role butter plays in butter chicken?  Since the answer seems to be “nearly nothing”, why in the world is it called butter chicken?  When I hear butter chicken, I’m thinking the chicken is going to be dressed in some type of rich, buttery sauce.  I am most certainly not expecting my chicken to be swimming in a spiced tomato yogurt sauce.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy butter chicken.  Or that I wouldn’t make butter chicken again.  I just think that when the powers that be were handing out recipe names, someone was distracted when butter chicken’s turn came up.  I really shouldn’t fault the recipe that it has a bad name.  You shouldn’t either.  Forget I even brought the matter up.

Butter Chicken

BAH Note:  I was so thrown by the fact that there is  so little butter in butter chicken that I failed to pay attention to the fact that the chicken needs to sit in the marinade overnight.  So not only was I disappointed by a lack of butter, but I had to wait an extra day to find out whether this was a deal breaker.

Adapted from Anna Johnston

  • 6 ounces plain greek yogurt
  • juice from one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 14.5 ounces petite diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Combine the yogurt, lemon juice, tumeric, garam masala, chili, cumin, and ginger in a bowl.  Stir to fully combine.  Add the chicken and stir well to completely coat the chicken.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat the butter and oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onion, cardamom, cinnamon, and bay leaf and cook for approximately 5 to 7 minutes or until the onion begins to soften.  Reduce the heat to low and add the chicken, marinade, paprika, diced tomato, and chicken broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the cream and simmer for 10 minutes more.

Serve over rice and enjoy.

{printable recipe}

16 thoughts on “Butter Chicken

  1. That’s just wrong. There should be more butter or this should be called Tomato Yogurt Tumeric Lemon Chili Garam Masala Ginger Cardamom Chicken. Okay, okay, I guess that’s a little unwieldy!

  2. I always wondered if there was really that much butter in butter chicken. Clearly there isn’t! Perhaps it added some richness to the dish. Maybe if you tried making it without the butter, you might notice the difference? I recently made Bon Appetit’s pear and celery bisque, which, to my surprise, had no cream/milk whatsoever. However, it did feature 4 1/2 tbsp butter. The soup was in fact very rich (and I only used 2 tbsp butter + 2 tbsp EVOO)!

    1. Jan, maybe other butter chicken recipes are butter heavy but I didn’t think this one was (and I can’t recall right now whether I used less butter than the recipe called for). And the butter is for cooking the veg before the chicken even sees the inside of the pan. If I didn’t like the final dish so much, I would be far more bitter about feeling misled about the role butter plays.

      Love your yeasted donuts. They look divine.

  3. Oh Chicken Makhani . . . I love it, love it, love it. Not sure why it’s translated as ‘butter chicken,’ but a rose by any other name tastes just as good!

    1. That’s ok Ali. So many of the other recipes here take full advantage of my good friend butter that it’s a wash in the end. You’re getting the butter one way or another. And when you look at it that way, I think I’d rather have my butter in cake or cookie form.

  4. This is intriguing. I looked up butter chicken in The Asian Kitchen cookbook, but there is only a recipe. A dish that’s been lost in translation sounds like the best explanation. Anyway, I like the sound of tomato yogurt sauce; it sounds like it would be good with tofu.

    1. Jen, I like the “lost in translation” theory so I’m going to stick with that. Tofu you say? Why yes, I believe if tofu is your thing this would be a good way to enjoy it.

    1. You had the special sneak preview Beth. And yes, in my heart if the dish is called Butter Chicken I expect it to be buttery. It’s still a great meal though.

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