Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani, is a classic Indian chicken recipe made with tender juicy chicken pieces cooked in creamy, mildly spiced tomato sauce. Often confused with chicken tikka masala, this butter chicken recipe is rich, flavorful, and just as delicious – if not better – than even your favorite Indian restaurant.
Butter Chicken is one of my top five favorite Indian food recipes. Creamy, delicately spiced, and loaded with tender pieces of chicken, it is literally impossible to resist this fan-favorite Indian dish.
Mild and creamy, butter chicken is the perfect introductory dish for anyone new to Indian spices and flavors – even kids love the rich buttery curry sauce.
Traditionally served with basmati rice, Murgh Makhani is meant to be eaten with your hands rather than utensils by scooping up chunks of chicken and sauce in torn-off pieces of naan bread or chapati.
No matter how you choose to enjoy Butter Chicken, this easy and flavorful Indian chicken curry is guaranteed to be an instant family favorite.
What is Butter Chicken?
Butter Chicken, also known as Murgh Makani, translates literally to “chicken with butter”.
Created in the 1950s, Butter Chicken was created by three Punjabi Hindu Indians who were the founders of the restaurant, Moti Mahal in Delhi. The dish was made when leftover chicken was mixed in a mild tomato gravy rich in butter and cream.
Difference Between Butter Chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala
There are a few main differences between butter chicken and chicken tikka masala.
- Chicken Tikka Masala typically has an overall greater amount of spices. This leads to a brighter, more complex, and more spice-flavored curry sauce.
- Another difference is the amount of butter that is added to the dish. Now, Tikka Masala does include butter, but only about half as much.
- And then there’s the difference in origin. Butter Chicken was founded in India, while Chicken Tikka Masala was created in the UK.
Ingredients in Butter Chicken
There are two parts to this recipe- the marinade and everything else. The marinade is extremely important. It’s where all of the spices are and your chicken will hang out for at least a couple of hours (longer if you have the time).
- Chicken. For the best flavor, butter chicken should be made with boneless skinless chicken thighs.
- Plain full-fat yogurt. It doesn’t really matter what kind of yogurt you use as long as it’s plain, unsweetened, and, full-fat. Yogurt is the ultimate meat tenderizer and will also play a critical part in the overall taste of the sauce.
- Fresh lemon juice. Please use fresh lemon juice, not the concentrated kind.
- Turmeric. Turmeric is a bright orangish-yellow spice popular in many Asian dishes. It has an earthy aroma and gives a somewhat bitter flavor to foods.
- Garam Masala. Garam Masala is actually a blend of spices including black pepper, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg, and green cardamom. The garam masala blends will differ between brands and regions, but this is one that I recommend.
- Ground Cumin. A staple in much of Indian cooking, cumin gives an earthy, warming, somewhat peppery flavor to food.
- Salt. Just a pinch or so.
- Butter. I’m a big fan of salted butter. If you’re watching your sodium intake, however, use unsalted butter.
- Yellow onions. Yellow onions are my top pick for this butter chicken recipe since they’re the mildest.
- Fresh garlic.
- Fresh ginger. Like garlic, fresh ginger has the best flavor. I typically use a Microplane to grate mine.
- Cumin seeds. The seeds give a completely different flavor from ground cumin. I do not recommend substituting with ground cumin as it will change the overall taste of the dish.
- Cinnamon Stick. The whole stick, not powder.
- Diced tomatoes. I added one 28-ounce can of tomatoes. You may add more if desired, just add additional time to allow the water to simmer off before adding the cream.
- Red chili powder (not cayenne). Most red chili powder is not spicy. However, if you or your family are super sensitive to spicy foods, start with less or omit it completely.
- Broth. I added low-sodium chicken broth. You may also use veggie broth or water.
- Cream. Yes, the full-fat kind. You can use half-and-half, but it will not taste as rich and luxurious.
- Tomato paste. Just a couple of tablespoons to thicken up the sauce.
- Ground cashews. Ground cashews are often added to sauces and curries as a thickener. If your sauce is already super thick or you’re not a fan of cashews, feel free to skip them.
- Fresh cilantro. I love cilantro so I always sprinkle a little fresh cilantro on top of my butter chicken. This is optional.
Chicken Thighs or Chicken Breasts
Traditionally, butter chicken is made by marinating chunks of chicken for several hours in a spice-filled yogurt sauce and then it is grilled or cooked in a tandoor (traditional clay oven) to make beautiful, smoky, delicious chunks of chicken.
Unless you have access to a tandoor oven, chicken thighs will give the best flavor and texture. You may absolutely use chicken breasts if you prefer, but I highly recommend marinating the chicken for at least overnight for the best flavor.
How to Make Butter Chicken
1. Marinate the Chicken:
Begin by chopping the chicken into large chunks and marinating them for several hours. This step is essential to the overall taste and flavor of this wonderful dish, so please, don’t skip it – even if you only have enough time to marinate the chicken for 30 minutes or so.
To do this, add all your marinade ingredients (yogurt, lemon juice, turmeric, garam masala, ground cumin, and salt) to a large mixing bowl and whisk well to combine. Add your chicken pieces and mix well to coat.
Tip: You may marinate the chicken up to three days ahead of time. Simply add to a container with a tight-fitting lid and keep stored in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
2. Start the Sauce.
When you’re ready to begin cooking, grab a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and set it over medium-high heat. Once the pan is nice and hot, add the oil and butter. Allow the butter to melt completely before adding the onions.
I highly recommend that you dice your onions as small as possible- especially if you don’t plan on blending the sauce in a blender (more on that in a bit). You may also grate the onions using a cheese grater.
Once the onions turn translucent and start to brown a bit, add the fresh garlic, ginger, and cumin seeds. Mix well to combine and continue to cook, stirring often, for an additional 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat if needed to prevent the onions from burning. Next, add the cinnamon stick, diced (or crushed) tomatoes, red chili powder (if using), and salt. Mix well and allow the mixture to simmer for approximately 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Note: If you added extra tomatoes, you may need to simmer for a few extra minutes.
Optional: Blending the tomatoes and onions
We have the option to leave the sauce somewhat chunky or blend it all together in a blender. This is entirely up to you. I didn’t blend mine. At least not this time.
When I made my chicken tikka masala, I did. But for this butter chicken recipe, I decided to chop everything as fine as possible and let the slow simmering do the job of breaking everything down and mixing it together.
3. Add the Chicken and marinade.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken plus all of the marinade to the simmering tomatoes and onion. Mix well to combine. Cook the chicken for 8-10 minutes, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium if the tomatoes start to burn.
4. Finish and serve.
Stir in the chicken broth and bring to a gentle boil. Once at a boil, immediately reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then remove the lid, and continue to simmer for an additional 20-25 minutes, stirring often.
By this point, the chicken will be cooked and the sauce should be thick. The onions and tomatoes should have dissolved into smaller and smaller bits and pieces.
Finally, add the heavy cream, tomato paste, and ground cashews. Mix well to combine and allow to simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes.
Season with salt, pepper, or a dash of cayenne pepper, if desired.
Frequently Asked Questions
In general, butter chicken is not usually very spicy. As written, this recipe is quite mild. Add 1/2 or more teaspoons of cayenne powder to kick it up a notch.
Yes, this recipe is gluten-free.
Lamb, beef, mutton, cauliflower, or even paneer all taste wonderful in butter chicken.
Storing, Freezing, and Reheating
- Storing: Keep leftovers stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Freezing: Yes, you can freeze leftover butter chicken. Allow the chicken and sauce to cool before transferring them to freezer-safe storage bags or containers. Freeze for up to 3 months.
- Reheating: Allow frozen leftovers to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating. Easily reheat leftovers on the stovetop or in the microwave until heated through.
What to Serve with Butter Chicken
More Chicken Recipes
- Spinach Artichoke Chicken Recipe
- Easy Moroccan Chicken Recipe
- Gumbo Recipe
- Hungarian Chicken Paprikash Recipe
- Cheesy Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Recipe
- Easy Chicken and Dumplings Recipe
- Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Dip
- Baked Harissa Chicken Recipe
If you try making this Butter Chicken Recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know! I always love to hear your thoughts.
Chicken and Marinade
- 8 tablespoon butter - (1 stick, 1/4 pound)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- 2 yellow onions - diced
- 8 cloves garlic - minced
- 3 tablespoon fresh ginger - peeled and grated
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds - (not ground cumin)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes - or tomato puree
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt - plus more to taste
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
- 1.5 cups cream
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- ¼ cup ground cashews - optional
- fresh cilantro - to garnish
For the Marinade
- Combine all ingredients for the marinade in a large mixing bowl. Whisk well to combine. Add the chicken and mix well to coat.
- Cover and allow the chicken to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to three days.
For the Curry
- Heat the oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the butter and allow it to melt completely. Add the onions and mix well to combine. Sauté for 4-5 minutes, or until starting to soften and turn translucent.
- Add the garlic, ginger, and cumin seeds to the pot. Continue to cook until the onions start to brown, approximately 3-5 minutes. Stir often.
- Mix in the cinnamon stick, tomatoes, red chili powder, and salt with the onions. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring often.
- Optional– remove the cinnamon stick and transfer the onion and tomato mixture to a food processor or blender. Process until smooth and creamy then return the tomato sauce back to the pot.
- Increase heat to medium. Add the marinated chicken (plus the marinade) to the pan. Mix to combine. Cook the chicken for 10 minutes, stirring often.
- Stir in the chicken broth and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Mix in the cream, tomato paste, and ground cashews. Allow the curry to simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves if desired.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)