Saturday, November 8, 2014

Butter Chicken, My Style!

The origins of Murgh Makhani or Butter Chicken can be traced back to a man named Kundan Lal Gujral who opened a restaurant called Moti Mahal in Daryaganj, Old Delhi after fleeing from Peshawar in Pakistan during the partition in 1947. This is the man who first created the famous Tandoori chicken by trying to cook chicken in the tandoor (locally used for baking naans) and placed India on the culinary map of the world. Then came his next creation – the mouth watering butter chicken. It so happened that the cooks in his restaurant recycled the left over chicken juices in the marinade trays by adding tomatoes and butter and cooking it to make a creamy sauce and then tossing the left over tandoori chicken pieces in this sauce. Lo and behold,the butter chicken was born! Legend has it that the butter chicken was accidentally created by a punjabi house wife who had lot of left over tandoori chicken, so she prepared a tomato based gravy with fresh cream and added the tandoori chicken pieces to it and simmered for a while. The result was the great butter chicken which we enjoy to this day. Now if we connect this legend with history, who knows this punjabi woman could have been Gujral’s wife too. Kundan Lal Gujral is still remembered as one who would personally serve his guests, while his wife would begin each day by grinding the masalas, a closely guarded secret that went into the signature dishes. Visiting dignitaries such as John F. Kennedy, Soviet Premier Kruschev, Shah of Iran have enjoyed eating at the Moti Mahal restaurant in New Delhi.

My style of butter chicken evolved after trying and testing with different proportions and variations of ingredients. I prefer using whole spices as they give a subtle dimension of flavor to the dish compared to ground spices which lose their flavour quickly. It is better to use chopped tomatoes and soften them in the butter instead of using tomato puree for the richness in taste. Also it is true, as one great chef puts it, that”tomatoes lose their colour and tartness when pureed”. The method and ingredients described in the recipe below if followed exactly brings out the taste and flavor very close to the original dish as made in some of the famous restaurants in New Delhi where I have dined.

Butter chicken can be made with whole chicken or chicken breasts that is with or without bones though the original butter chicken when first created by Chef Gujral was made with whole tandoori chicken pieces.

Here's the recipe:


For the marinade:
1.5 kg Whole chicken (cut into 12 pieces at the joints)
1/2 Cup Hung Yogurt
 4 Tbs Desi tandoori masala
1 Tbs Vegetable oil
1 Tsp Red chilly powder (Kashmiri mirch or resham patti)
Salt to taste
2 Tbs Lemon juice

For the butter sauce:
1 cup  Whipping cream
1 Tsp Fresh garlic chopped
1/2 cup Ginger juliennes
1 Tbs Kasoori Methi
1/2 Cup Diced onion
2 - 4 Slit green chilies deseeded
2 Black cardamom
2 Bay leaves
4 Cloves
1Tsp Fennel seeds
1/2 Tsp Cumin seeds
1/4 Tsp Mace (crushed)
1/2 Tsp Black pepper corns (whole)
1 large fresh ripe deseeded plum tomato (chopped) + 2 tsp tomato paste
2 Tbs Butter(substitute with 2 tbs olive oil if you are health conscious)


1. Clean, wash and drain the chicken pieces. Rub with salt and lemon juice and keep aside for 15 minutes.

2. Mix together  hung yoghurt, tandoori masala, chilly powder, salt and 1 tbs vegetable oil. Rub the chicken pieces well with this marinade and leave for 3 - 4 hrs in the fridge.

3. Bake the chicken in a preheated oven set at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-35 mins. Remove and allow it to cool. 

4. Meanwhile prepare the butter sauce. Take a sauce pan, set it on medium heat. Add 2 tbs butter and before it melts completely add all the whole spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, fennel seeds, mace and lastly bay leaf) stir for 2 to 3 seconds and when you get a whiff of the aroma add the slit green chilies and chopped garlic followed immediately by diced onions. Stir for sometime, then add the chopped tomato plus 2 tsp tomato paste.

5. Cook on medium while stirring continuously till it blends in. Pour in 1/2 a cup of the whipping cream, give a quick stir and then add the chicken with all its juices to the sauce. Mix well, cover with a lid and let it simmer for 5 - 10 mins till it is nicely cooked and thickens a bit. (If you are health conscious then cook the chicken in 1/2 a cup of skimmed milk instead of the cream). 

6. Now drizzle the remaining cream on top of the chicken. Give the sauce pan a gentle shake and let it simmer for just 2 to 3 mins. Garnish with the ginger juliennes and serve hot with Naan or Basumati rice. 


1. If you do not find Desi tandoori masala, you can try Minar or Kissan brands. Any other store bought tandoori masala would not be a good substitute. The best thing would be to use this home made tandoori masala paste for the marinade : 1/2 a cup of hung sour yogurt, 2 tsp of ginger garlic paste, 1 tsp of coriander powder, 1/2 tsp of cumin powder, 1tsp garam masala powder and food colouring for marinating one whole chicken.

2. To give the tandoori chicken a barbecue flavor, smoke the chicken soon after baking. Take a piece of charcoal, light it and put it in a small tin foil cup (shape the tinfoil into a cup to hold the charcoal). Switch off the oven. Place the tin foil cup with the burning charcoal in between the chicken pieces, then add a blob of butter or ghee to it. When it starts smoking, cover the baking pan with its lid or foil and leave it to smoke for 5 mins in the oven. This gives a smoky barbecue flavor to the chicken.

3. If you want to cut down on the cream and butter, use skimmed milk and olive oil instead. But you will have to compromise on the taste. Butter chicken is not butter chicken without butter and cream.

4. As an alternative to brown sugar you could add a bit of tomato ketchup as a finishing touch in order to enhance the taste. 

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