butter chicken

Butter chicken, or murgh makhani, is a north Indian dish with a Persian heritage. Made mild, as this recipe is, it is immensely popular with children. The preparation can be quick, as it is mostly done in a food processor, then heated. This dish tastes best straight off the stove.

The term butter chicken is quite new, only dating back to the 1970s. But this dish has a centuries-old history from the Mughal cuisine.

This is not chicken tikka masala, invented in Glasgow in the 1960s. Nor is it the dish you often see in restaurants where the chicken is braised in a butter chicken sauce. This dish is structurally quite different, as it uses cooked chicken with a sauce for serving.

This recipe comes from a visit my grandmother and her first husband made to some friends around 1915 CE. This family had a Punjabi cook and he had previously prepared them several tandoori dishes, using a hot coal grill. Her notes discuss the preparation of the chicken and this sauce.

To make this dish you should cook your own tanduri chicken. Our recipe for tanduri chicken is quite easy to prepare but does need a lot of marination time.

If you make your own tanduri chicken, the best preparation technique is to make the sauce up to the point of adding the cream, then cook the tanduri chicken. Once cooked, put the chicken aside, cover it, and allow it to rest whilst you finish this sauce.

Use the top half of a bunch of coriander for the garnish and use the lower half, with stalks and roots to prepare the sauce. The stalks and roots have a more intense flavour. The red food colour is optional, but it does give the dish the appearance that people expect.

Despite the apparent heroic quantities of butter and cream, this is the healthy version. You do not want to know what the original quantities were. Suffice to say, if the hardness of your arteries is not a concern you could double the butter and cream quantities. Over the years I have cooked this I have gradually reduced the butter and cream to the amounts in this recipe. They are at what we think is now the minimum you can use, without losing the essence of this dish.

Make this the centrepiece of an Indian meal, served with simple accompaniments, such as plain rice or bread.

the recipe

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  • blender


for the sauce

for serving


  • Heat a small pan on medium heat, then add the cumin seeds. Once they darken and become aromatic, remove them from the heat, cool, then grind to a fine powder.
  • Place tomato puree, ginger, garam masala, salt, jaggery, chilli, food colour, coriander, leaves, lemon juice, and the ground cumin seeds into a blender. Blend to a smooth paste.
  • Melt the butter gently in a large heavy pan on medium-low heat, and then slowly fold in the tomato mixture, mixing well to combine. Add the salt, mix, then cook the sauce gently for 10 minutes until the raw tomato smell has gone.
  • Gently add the cream, stirring continuously, and bring to a simmer. Do not let it boil, as you do not want the cream to split.

to serve

  • Cut cooked and warm tanduri chicken into large pieces and place into a serving dish. Cover chicken with butter sauce, and gently toss to coat all the pieces. Pour remaining sauce over top. Sprinkle with coriander leaves and serve.


  • This recipe does not include the time to make the tanduri chicken.
  • The food colour, which is optional, is only to give the appearance that people associate with this dish. We rarely use it.
  • Use cream that has come to room temperature. Cold cream is more likely to split when added to the sauce.
  • Use an unsalted tomato puree with no added sugar. An Italian passata would serve well provided it has no added herbs.

private notes

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Serving: 250 g | Calories: 691 kcal | Carbohydrates: 14 g | Protein: 22 g | Fat: 62 g | Saturated Fat: 34 g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 18 g | Trans Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 211 mg | Sodium: 373 mg | Potassium: 711 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 8 g | Vitamin A: 2737 IU | Vitamin C: 25 mg | Vitamin D: 2 µg | Calcium: 95 mg | Iron: 3 mg

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