Butter Chicken

In Australia butter chicken is as ubiquitous as chicken tikka masala is in the UK. I make the comparison with reason because they’re virtually the same dish. This does lead me to wonder whether all the stories about how chicken tikka masala was invented in the UK are true. The most common one of these is that it was a way Indian restaurants had of refreshing chicken cooked in the tandoor and not sold, i.e. by putting it in a spicy tomato sauce and reheating it. In fact, the practice of marinating chicken in spiced yogurt and cooking it in the intense dry heat of a tandoor, then adding a delicious sauce of slow cooked garlic and ginger with chilli, coriander, cinnamon, tomato, cream and a paste of cashew and pumpkin seeds, is an Amritsar classic.

For how many? Serves 4-6


4 large chicken breasts, skinned, each cut into 2 or 3 pieces at an angle.

For the first marinade:

  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
  • 1 tsp salt

For the second marinade:

  • 50g natural yogurt
  • 50g double cream
  • 20g/4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 25g/5cm ginger, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ¾ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp beetroot powder (for colour; optional)

For the sauce:

  • 50g ghee 25g/5 cloves garlic, finely crushed
  • 25g/5cm ginger, finely grated
  • 400g tomato passata
  • ½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp desiccated coconut
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 200ml water
  • 25g cashew nuts
  • 25g pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tbsp boiling water
  • 1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves
  • ½ tsp caster sugar
  • 45ml double cream
  • Pinch of Chat masala (optional)
  • Handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • 15g/3cm ginger, finely shredded


For the first marinade, mix the lime juice, chilli powder and salt together in a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces to the marinade, then cover and transfer to the fridge to marinate for 1 hour.

For the second marinade, put all the ingredients apart from the chat masala into a mini food processor. Blend until smooth, then add this to the marinated chicken and stir well to coat. Cover and transfer to the fridge to marinate for 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 240°C/Gas 9 (or 220°C if your oven doesn’t go that high).

Thread the chicken on to lightly oiled metal skewers (you can put more than one piece per skewer, but leave space between them) then suspend the skewers above a roasting tin. Alternatively place them on a wire rack over a roasting tin. Roast for 15–20 minutes, or until lightly charred in places but not completely cooked through, as you’ll finish cooking them in the sauce.

For the sauce, while the chicken is cooking, heat the ghee in heavy-based saucepan or karahi over a medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a minute, then stir in the tomato passata and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Add all the spices, coconut, salt and 100ml of the water and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

In a mini food processor, or using a pestle and mortar, blend the cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds and boiling water into a paste. Stir this into the sauce followed by the chicken pieces and another 100ml water.

Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked through, then stir in the fenugreek leaves, sugar and cream and cook for a further 2 minutes. Sprinkle with chat masala, garnish with fresh coriander and ginger, and serve.

From Rick Stein’s India by Rick Stein.

Mike Powell

Leave a Reply