Butter Chicken

side view of a red saucy chicken breast on yellow rice with green cilantro scatter over top.

A chameleon recipe that works for all occasions.

by Erin Henderson

A year ago I took a tremendous Indian cooking course that changed my kitchen – and spice cupboard – forever.

I seem to lean into Indian dishes more in the winter, when I need the warmth of spices to fortify me. But butter chicken is an exception because it's just so accommodating to any kind of weather: rich and luscious for the cold months, but easily grilled on the barbecue, when it's too hot to turn on the oven. 

overhead view of cooked chicken pieces on a baking tray

You do need a day’s notice, preferably, as it’s best when the marinade soaks into the meat for a full 24 hours, but if you have last(ish) minute visitors, you can get away with preparing the chicken in the morning and cooking that evening. It’s this lengthy marinade time, however, that makes butter chicken perfect for a dinner party meal. It must be done in advance, so all the work is fait accompli before friends darken your door.

I am a creature of habit and general enthusiast of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” so I make the menu exactly how it was laid out for Class 2 of Indian Cooking: with jeera pulao (basmati rice with cumin), and onion paratha (a griddled flat bread). I may add a cucumber salad to the menu, as well. 

This recipe is courtesy of my Indian cooking instructor, Chef Sean Mendonca from George Brown College in Toronto.

Overhead view of a red saucy chicken breast on yellow rice with green cilantro scatter over top.

Butter Chicken

Don’t confuse the length of ingredients or the time involved with difficulty. This is actually a very easy dish to prepare. Garlic-ginger paste is a time saver and can be found in the international section of any well stocked grocery store, and, of course, online. Also take note of the spices that are divided, as half are used in the marinade as well as the sauce.

Makes: 1 whole chicken
Chef level: easy

Ingredients: 
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces (here's a fantastic video on how to do it.)
  • 2 Tbsp garlic and ginger paste, divided
  • 2 tsp chili powder, preferably Kashmiri, divided
  • 2 tsp ground coriander, divided
  • 2 tsp ground cumin, divided
  • 2 tsp garam masala, divided
  • 1 Tbsp salt, divided
  • .5 tsp turmeric
  • 1 Tbsp Tandoori spice
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt, pressed
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Pinch orange colour powder, optional
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 100g butter
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 100ml 35% cream
  • 1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves, toasted
  • 1/2 bunch fresh coriander
How to Make It: 
  • With a sharp knife, lightly slash the chicken to help the marinade penetrate.
  • Mix the marinade: blend HALF the garlic and ginger paste, chili powder, ground coriander, cumin, garam masala, and salt with ALL the turmeric, yogurt, lemon juice, tandoori spice, orange colour powder, and oil. Using gloves so your hands don't stain, add the chicken pieces and work the marinade into the chicken. Cover and let rest in the fridge, preferably overnight, but at least 8 hours.
  • Set the oven to 400°F. Remove the chicken from the marinade, wiping off excess, and roast on a parchment-lined baking sheet until cooked through, about 25 minutes.
  • Make the butter sauce: Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Cook the onion until pale gold. Add the tomato puree, sugar, and the remaining half of the ground spices, reserved from the marinade, and cook until fragrant and thickened slightly.
  • Add the cooked chicken and cream and bring to a light simmer.
  • Just before serving, add the fenugreek leaves, stir through, and adjust for additional seasoning. Serve chicken on basmati rice, sprinkled with fresh cilantro.
Wine Pairing: 

Butter chicken is deeply flavourful with spice but is not fiery hot. True to its namesake, the sauce has loads of butter and cream, so pair with a white wine of equal substance. A rich, Alsatian Pinot Gris, which has a silky, oily texture and stone fruit flavours works particularly well.

For red wine lovers, Chianti's bright acidity is a classic pairing with tomato sauced dishes. 

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