Truly the best Butter Chicken recipe. It’s a creamy and perfectly-spiced Indian curry (also known as Murgh Makhani) with tender chicken and lots of sauce to mop up with warm naan.
What Does Butter Chicken Taste Like?
Butter chicken, also called Murgh Makhani, consists of bite-sized pieces of succulent boneless chicken thigh simmered in a creamy and super flavourful spiced tomato and cream sauce.
It has a perfect balance of spicy and sweet, but is definitely mild on the spice spectrum of Indian curries.
Even the littlest kids love this yummy sauce with its warm, cozy spices and chunks of tender chicken.
What is Indian Butter Chicken Sauce Made of?
Butter Chicken’s sweetness comes from slowly cooking the onions to a deep, soft golden colour. You don’t want to rush is this caramelizing of the onions. It’s a really important layer of flavour in any Indian curry, and especially in a sweeter one like this.
Tomato is a secondary player in butter chicken sauce. Notice in the recipe there are actually more onions than tomatoes? The onions break down fully and actually become the gravy or “curry” in many indian dishes.
Heavy cream is an important ingredient, and butter adds a final silkiness to the finished sauce (and is why this curry is called Butter Chicken!).
How to Make This Easy Butter Chicken Recipe
Most butter chicken recipes require cooking the chicken separately first, and then later simmering it in the sauce.
I don’t think this extra cooking step is necessarily crucial, especially for the sake of an easy weeknight dinner.
The marinade, however, is important because the chicken breasts don’t take long to cook. This means that they won’t absorb much of the flavour from the sauce itself.
Here is the most time-efficient way to make incredible butter chicken:
- Start marinating the chicken (see below for details).
- Begin cooking the onions before you start prepping the rest. The onions take the longest time.
- While the onions are slowly cooking down to sweet, golden perfection, use this time to chop and measure your remaining ingredients.
- Saute the garlic and spices with the onions to bloom their flavours.
- Add the tomatoes, cream and butter and puree the sauce.
- Add chicken to the sauce to gently simmer until just cooked.
Tips for Marinating the Chicken
Even a quick marinade in some super flavourful ingredients really makes a difference.
- If you are a planner, marinate the chicken overnight for maximum benefit.
- If you are making this spontaneously, even giving the chicken half-hour to mingle with the marinade while you prep the sauce will make a difference.
- If you are a planner AND a perfectionist, feel free to add an extra step and char the marinated chicken cubes a bit on a grill/grill pan, or under a broiler for a few minutes before tossing them in the sauce.
Chicken Marinade Ingredients:
- Fresh garlic. This recipe relies on the aromatic flavour of lots of garlic.
- Lemon juice. A bit of acidity cuts the richness and makes all the flavours bright and beautiful.
- Garam masala. This is a shortcut! A super-flavourful spice blend consisting of up to 10 different Indian spices (including cumin, ground ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, etc.), using garam masala saves you buying individual spices you’d need in only small quantities.
- Salt. Salt in the marinade is crucial or the chicken will be bland. It doesn’t require much time to simmer, and won’t absorb enough seasoning from the sauce.
How to Make Butter Chicken in the Pressure Cooker
A few simple changes if you prefer to make this recipe in an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker:
- Reduce the tomatoes from 2 cups to 1 1/3 cups. Prep the sauce as directed but don’t add the cream.
- Pressure cook on high for 3 minutes with a quick pressure release.
- Remove chicken and set aside.
- Stir cream into the sauce and blend with an immersion blender.
- Return chicken to sauce and serve.
How to make Butter Chicken in the slow cooker:
If you’d like to make this recipe in a CrockPot instead, the most noteable difference is to leave the chicken breasts whole. This avoids drying them out, and they have plenty of time to absorb flavour from the sauce.
- Marinate the chicken breasts whole instead of in pieces.
- Prep the sauce as directed then top with marinated chicken breasts (left whole instead of chopped) without adding the cream.
- Slow Cook on high for 3 hours then remove the chicken and cut into chunks.
- Stir cream into sauce and blend with an immersion blender for a lovely creamy texture.
- Return chicken to sauce and serve.
What to Serve With Butter Chicken
I think Butter Chicken is most delicious served with warm, buttery homemade naan to mop the creamy sauce off the plate.
In India, it’s common to eat curries with just flatbread (naan, parotha or chapati which are similar to whole wheat tortillas) as the starch. No rice is served typically if bread is offered. In fact, no utensils either. You use your hands and just scoop the chicken and sauce off your plate inside warm bites of of warm bread. It’s heaven.
In Indian restaurants around here, a bowl of basmati rice is usually on the table, too, as a staple.
If I’m making this recipe for guests, I’d probably make a batch of rice to bulk up the meal.
For vegetable side dishes, I love to serve curry with my father-in-law’s Cucumber-Yogurt Salad. This adds a cooling sauce as well as a fresh salad component to the meal.
Another great vegetable side with Indian food is this dish called Poriyal (South-Indian stir-fried veggies with coconut). I made it there with green beans but it can be made with most other veggies (grated carrot, thinly-sliced cabbage, chopped zucchini, etc.)
FAQs, Substitutions and PRO TIPS
- If you’d like to make this vegan, feel free to use coconut oil in place of the butter and full-fat coconut milk in place of the heavy cream.
- To give the sauce more heat and make the butter chicken more spicy, add 1 tbsp finely-grated fresh ginger along with the garlic to the sauce and add 1/4 tsp cayenne with the spices.
- To add move flavour to the sauce, add a few pods of whole green cardamom and a cinnamon stick (remove them before pureeing).
More Must-Try Indian Recipes
If you love butter chicken, I’m sure you’ll love some of these other fan favourite recipes!
Best Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)
For chicken and marinade:
- 2.2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast cut in 1" – 2" cubes
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2 ½ cups chopped onion about 2 medium-large
- 2 tbsp garlic coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp garam masala
- 2 tsp paprika
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
- 2 cups diced tomatoes no-salt-added if canned
- ¾ cup heavy 35% or whipping cream
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp cilantro chopped, to garnish (optional)
- For marinade:Combine all ingredients in a zip-top bag or shallow baking dish, massaging the marinade into the chicken. Let stand at room temperature while you prepare the sauce, or marinate in the fridge overnight.
- Heat oil over medium heat in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Add onions and slowly cook until golden, about 20 minutes, reducing heat if they are getting crispy or browning quickly.
- Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in garam masala, paprika, cinnamon and salt; cook 1 minute more. Add tomatoes; cook 2 minutes, then add cream and carefully puree using an immersion blender (or standing blender, but do it in batches or the steam will blow the top off).
- Return sauce to saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove chicken from marinade and it to the sauce (discarding remaining marinade). Cover, and simmer over medium-low heat until cooked through, about 12 minutes (remove a couple of pieces to make sure they are no longer pink inside). A gentle simmer is required to gently cook the breasts so they don’t become tough, and you don’t want to overcook them.
- Stir in butter, taste and add more salt to taste. Serve sprinkled with cilantro, if desired.
Last Updated on November 6, 2022 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD