This easy 30-minute Butter Paneer recipe is one of my half-Indian family’s most cherished dishes. Rich, creamy and totally rivals an Indian restaurant.
Why You’ll Love This Butter Paneer Recipe
Filled with sumptuous mild spices and fresh ginger, this is one Indian dish that will have even picky eaters coming back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. My kids are obsessed.
- Love Butter Chicken? Butter Paneer is the vegetarian version. In fact, most Indian restaurants use the same rich sauce for both dishes. This is arguably one of the most delicious vegetarian Indian recipes.
- The rich, silky sauce has a restaurant-worthy (to-die-for) flavor and creamy texture.
- It is quick, easy and can be easily prepared at home with simple spices that you probably have on hand.
- The paneer is spiced separately while the sauce is prepared, to soak up maximum rich, delicious flavor.
Serve it with a batch of warm, buttery homemade naan and prepare to fall in love.
Here’s What You Need
Gathering the right ingredients and tools is the first step to making delicious butter paneer. Let’s break it down.
Butter Paneer Ingredients
Let’s make sure our ingredient list is up-to-date with the perfect mix for our butter paneer recipe. Here’s the revised list:
- Paneer: The star! These cheese cubes add texture and protein. If you’re feeling adventurous, homemade paneer is the way to go! It’s not that hard to make, and it tastes so much yummier than store-bought paneer. Plus, it’ll make your dish that much more impressive to your guests.
- Vegetable Oil: Used for marinating paneer and cooking, it’s a neutral base.
- Lemon or Lime Juice: Adds a bright, acidic touch to the marinade.
- Garlic: Adds a sharp, aromatic flavor that’s essential.
- Ginger: Brings a warm, spicy kick. (You could swap in ginger garlic paste for the garlic and ginger)
- Garam Masala: The heart of the dish, providing warmth and complexity.
- Turmeric: Offers a beautiful color and a hint of earthiness.
- Cayenne (or Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder): Adds a spicy kick.
- Coarse Salt: Balances and enhances all the flavors.
- Onion: They cook down to golden and mild and provide a natural sweetness to the sauce. They essentially melt right down and become the sauce itself.
- Paprika: Offers a mild, sweet heat and color. You could use a little red chili powder if you like heat.
- Cinnamon: A hint of this adds a subtle, sweet spiciness.
- Diced Tomatoes: I chop up some fresh cherry or grape tomatoes because I always have them on hand. Easier than saving half a can of tomatoes, but either works.
- Heavy Cream: (Aka whipping cream) has a lush texture and can quickly thicken a sauce. It also adds a decadent richness, making it a key ingredient in this delicious recipe.
- Butter: A few tablespoons make this recipe silky and lush.
- Cilantro: Optional, for a fresh garnish.
Note on Indian Spices Used
- The garam masala is a blend of spices that replaces the need to source individual coriander powder, turmeric, cinnamon, etc.
- You can also add red chillies for a spicy kick.
- Feel free to add a few whole spices, like a few cardamom pods, a bay leaf, a few cloves and/or a whole cinnamon stick if you’ve got them on hand.
- Adding bit of Kasuri methi made from dried fenugreek leaves lends additional authentic flavor to this paneer butter masala recipe.
Grab these Tools
Having the right tools on hand makes the cooking process smoother. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Mixing Bowl: For marinating the paneer.
- Large Saucepan or Dutch Oven: Ideal for making the sauce and cooking the dish.
- Immersion Blender: (Optional) For blending the sauce to a smooth puree. A regular blender works too, just be careful with hot liquids. If I’m feeling lazy, I don’t bother with the pureeing step. I don’t mind the texture of the onions.
Variations and Substitutions
A few tweaks to consider.
- Coconut Milk: Swap for cream for a lighter option.
- Halloumi or Firm Tofu: Great substitutes for paneer. They cater to different diets and preferences. Reduced the salt in the recipe if using halloumi, as it’s quite salty. Tofu and cashew cream in combination would make a vegan version.
How to Make Butter Paneer Masala: An Easy Guide
Making restaurant style paneer butter masala is simpler than you might think. Here’s a step-by-step guide to nailing this creamy, comforting dish.
Preparing the Paneer
First up, let’s get our paneer ready.
In a bowl, combine vegetable oil, lemon or lime juice, garlic, garam masala, turmeric, cayenne, and salt.
Toss the paneer cubes in this mix gently. Aim for an even coat without breaking the cheese.
Marinating paneer like this adds incredible depth before it even hits the sauce.
Don’t be put off by this extra bit, it only needs to marinate while you do the other recipe steps.
Prep Your Base
First things first, melt the butter in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat.
Then, add the onions.
Caramelize onions in a saucepan or dutch oven over a medium flame. This is where an important part of the flavour is developed, so take your time.
Cook them slowly until they’re golden. This takes about 20 minutes. If they start to crisp or brown too quickly, just lower the heat.
Add Aromatics and Spices
Once the onions are ready, it’s time for garlic and ginger.
Cook them until they’re fragrant, about 1 minute.
Then, stir in the spices. Cook for another minute.
Warming the Indian spices gently for a few moments develops them more deeply and makes them more fragrant.
Blend in Tomatoes
Next up, add the diced tomatoes.
Let everything simmer together for 2 minutes. This step allows them to soften and the flavours to meld.
After that, add the cream.
Carefully puree the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth.
Puréeing the sauce creates a creamy, dreamy smooth and rich gravy.
If you’re using a standing blender, do it in batches to avoid any accidents with the steam.
Simmer and Serve Your Butter Paneer
Return the sauce to your saucepan and bring it to a gentle simmer.
This is when you add the butter and paneer cubes.
Let it cook until just heated through, about 2 minutes.
Finally, top your Butter Paneer with cilantro if you like. Now, it’s ready to serve.
Notes about Paneer
Paneer is simply a fresh Indian cheese very similar to strained ricotta. It’s also called Indian cottage cheese. It is chewy, milky, bouncy, and super addictive.
Paneer is quite easy to make at home – it’s made simply by adding lemon juice to boiled milk, then straining and pressing.
If you want to DIY, you can hop on over to my homemade paneer recipe here – How to Make Paneer at Home: My Foolproof Step-by-Step Guide.
If you’re looking for a quicker option, not to worry – it’s pretty easily accessible in most well-stocked grocery stores, and definitely any Indian grocer.
How to Make Store-Bought Paneer Taste Better
Sometimes, store-bought paneer can be a bit bland or rubbery. But don’t worry, I’ve got some tricks to enhance its flavor and texture.
Marinate for Flavor
Give your paneer a quick marinade. Use spices like turmeric, chili powder, and salt mixed with a bit of oil. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the sauce. This step infuses the paneer with extra flavor and a hint of color.
Here’s my guide to How to Marinate Paneer.
Pan-Fry for Texture
Here’s an optional extra step that I don’t always do, but you certainly can.
Pan-frying adds a wonderful texture.
Heat a bit of oil in a pan. Once hot, add the paneer cubes. Fry until they’re golden on all sides. This method gives the paneer a crispy exterior with a soft interior.
Soak in Warm Water
If the paneer feels too firm, try soaking it in a cup of water. Do this for about 20 minutes before cooking. It helps make the paneer softer and more absorbent for flavors.
Psst! Don’t miss these 52+ delicious Paneer Recipes.
What to serve with Paneer Butter Masala
- Indian Flatbreads: Roti, chapati, butter naan or paratha are all delicious choices for dipping in this yummy masala sauce.
- Rice: My viral basmati rice recipe went totally viral after my Indian mother-in-law shared her game-changing method.
- Non-Veg Protein Dishes: Any favourite Indian meat dish with more sauce would complement butter masala well, if you’re hosting a bigger dinner. Try Tandoori chicken, Juicy Beef Kafta, Lamb Vindaloo, Chicken 65 or Lamb Chops in Fenugreek Cream Curry.
Make Ahead Butter Paneer Instructions
Make this entertaining-worthy dish ahead of time with this time-saving tip:
- Prepare the sauce up to 3 days in advance without adding cream or paneer and refrigerate it in an airtight container.
- On the day of serving, reheat it until it comes to a gentle simmer then add the paneer cubes and heavy whipping cream.
FAQs About Butter Paneer
Just skimming through? Here are some quick answers to the commonly-asked questions.
Butter paneer is made of paneer cubes in a creamy tomato sauce with butter, cream, and spices. It’s a rich and flavorful dish.
Yes, indeed. Canned tomato purée is usually thicker than fresh tomato puree so it even imparts a preferred consistency to the sauce. If it’s too tangy for your taste, add a pinch of baking soda to neutralize the sourness.
Paneer breaks when the dairy’s protein bonds unravel. It can happen because of heat, cooking acid, or overstirring. Keep the heat low, stir minimally and just heat through once the paneer is added to the sauce.
Paneer Butter Masala is a creamy, saucy dish whose sauce is prepared using butter and tomatoes and enriched with melt-in-your-mouth paneer. Paneer butter masala is usually accompanied by plain rice or naan. Paneer Tikka Masala is a spicier, lighter dish whose sauce is prepared using crushed tomatoes, onions and paneer cubes that were pre-marinated with yogurt and spices.
You can freeze this paneer butter masala recipe with no problem at all. Cool it thoroughly and then transfer it to an airtight container. You can store the paneer butter masala in the freezer for up to six months. When you’re ready to reheat it, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator and then microwave it until heated.
Paneer is made from curdled milk and an acid, like lemon juice. It’s pressed to remove the whey, resulting in a firm block.
No, paneer tikka masala and butter paneer are different. The former involves grilled paneer in a masala sauce, while the latter has paneer in a creamy tomato-based sauce.
There’s no exact American cheese like paneer, but farmer’s cheese is the closest in texture and taste. Both are mild and can be used similarly in recipes.
Yes, you can make butter paneer without heavy cream. Substitute with full-fat coconut milk or yogurt for a lighter version.
For vegan butter paneer, use firm tofu instead of paneer and coconut cream in place of dairy cream. Also, ensure the butter is plant-based.
Marinating paneer isn’t necessary, but it enhances the flavor significantly. Even a short marination time makes a difference.
Butter Paneer (or Paneer Butter Masala), is a delicious North Indian curry packed with paneer cubes in a tomato cream sauce with a blend of traditional Indian spices.
More Favorite Creamy Indian Recipes
My husband is Indian, so exploring India and Indian food has been a long-time passion. Here are a few more of my love-filled, and flavour-packed creations I think you may like:
- Madras Lentils with cream sauce
Don’t miss Amma’s Authentic Homemade Indian Chai to sip on while you cook.
The Best Butter Paneer Recipe (Restaurant Flavor!)
For the Paneer:
- 12 oz package paneer
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
- 1 tsp minced garlic or ¼ tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp cayenne or kashmiri red chilli powder
- ½ tsp salt
For the Butter Masala Sauce:
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
- 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
- 2 tbsp garam masala
- 2 tsp paprika
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup diced tomatoes
- ¾ cup heavy cream aka whipping cream
- 2 tbsp butter
Marinate the Paneer:
- In a bowl, mix the oil, lemon juice, garlic, garam masala, turmeric, cayenne powder and salt.
- Add the paneer cubes to the bowl.
- Gently toss them with the marinade, making sure each piece is well coated. Be careful not to break the paneer. I find it easiest to use my hands.
Make the Sauce:
- Heat oil over medium heat in a large saucepan or dutch oven.
- Add onions and slowly cook until golden, reducing heat if they are getting crispy or browning quickly. This is an important flavour-building step, don’t rush it.
- Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Stir in garam masala, paprika, cinnamon and salt; cook 1 minute more.
- Add tomatoes and cook 2 minutes.
- 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. Stir in butter. Add up to 4 tbsp of water if the sauce is too thick.
- Gently stir in paneer and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.
- To make it ahead: Prepare the sauce up to 3 days in advance without adding cream or paneer and refrigerate it in an airtight container. On the day of serving, reheat it until it comes to a gentle simmer then add the paneer cubes and heavy whipping cream.
- For a lightened-up or dairy-free recipe, you can replace it with coconut milk to achieve richness and consistency.
- You may substitute the paneer with cubed halloumi or firm tofu. If using halloumi, cut the salt in half to account for the saltiness of the cheese.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD