Let me just start this post by saying, “I really dislike buying sauce packets.” Sure, they’re convenient and can help make a tasty meal, but they’re also really expensive for what you get. Use of commercially made sauce packages can easily double the cost of a home cooked meal.
They’re also loaded with preservatives, food coloring, fillers, and tons of ingredients I would never willingly put into my mouth if I had a choice. Not only that, but many manufacturers take serious shortcuts to avoid using expensive ingredients. They often cover up the lack real flavor with extra sugar, salt, and fat.
Such is the case with premade butter chicken curry sauces… So, I’ve been on this long quest to learn how to make my own.
It Shouldn’t Be This Hard
If you’ve eaten at an Indian restaurant, chances are pretty good you’ve eaten Butter Chicken Curry (also known as Chicken Makhani). It’s a staple of Indian cuisine and well loved by many restaurant goers… but hardly anybody tries to make it from scratch at home.
Just Google a recipe to see how it’s made — Usually the recipe requires you to buy a bunch of special ingredients (like kashmiri chili powder) and that typically requires a trip to a specialty grocery store or another(!) Amazon order.
Then, you try cooking the recipe… The result? A curry that tastes absolutely nothing like restaurant butter chicken curry. FAIL!
Trust me, I’ve tried. I made nearly every recipe on the first two pages of Google search results for “butter chicken curry recipe”. Some were just OK, and others were terrible. They all tasted wrong. I made over a dozen different recipes in my quest to make a proper butter chicken at home from scratch. None of them were great.
Sadly, my family had to suffer through all of these sub-par results. What was the problem? The sauce was just never right.
I needed a recipe that:
- Tasted like restaurant butter chicken and was ‘reasonably’ authentic.
- Is cheaper and healthier than buying an overpriced “spice packet”.
- Uses common ingredients that don’t need a special trip to the Amazon or Indian grocer.
- Is easy to make!
Well folks — After years of trying, I think I finally cracked it! It’s taken lots of trial (and mostly error) to make a proper butter chicken curry at home, and today I’m going to share my recipe…
Mr. Tako’s Butter Chicken Curry
First off, I need to state that my version of butter chicken curry should not be considered 100% authentic. It’s built on substitutions for certain items (like kashmiri chili powder or dried fenugreek leaves) that are hard to find where I live. All the ingredients in my recipe you can find cheaply and easily in most major U.S. supermarkets. (This also keeps the recipe very affordable.)
For example, you can get very authentic kashmiri chili powder from Amazon, but it’s a little expensive for just one recipe. I frequently substitute kashmiri for common cayenne pepper or korean red pepper powder. They’re similar enough that I substitute with whatever I have on-hand.
Now — let’s get cooking!
Marinated Chicken Ingredients:
- 2 boneless chicken breasts or thighs (roughly 1 lb of chicken)
- 1 tsp chopped garlic
- 1 tsp smoked paprika**
- 1 tsp chili powder*
- salt & pepper
- 1 pound of tomatoes (must be fresh, not canned)
- 1/2 cup of whole cashews
- 1 large onion
- 1 Tbs of chopped garlic
- 1.5 tsp of garam masala**
- 1/2 tsp of curry powder**
- 1 tsp of chili powder*
- 1 tsp of smoked paprika**
- 2 tsp of vinegar
- 2 tsp of sugar
- 3-4 Tbs of butter
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup of heavy cream (or substitute with half-n-half)
- Optional: 1 tsp of dried fenugreek leaves OR chopped chilantro.
*Note: Chili powder must be fine ground. This is NOT the kind of chili powder used to make chili con carne. Kashmiri, cayenne, or fine ground korean gochugaru powder will substitute fairly well.
**Note: Although I’m linking to Amazon here, it’s usually cheaper to buy these ingredients from the bulk spice section of your local supermarket.
Serves: 4-5 large adults
Steps To Make Butter Chicken Curry
First, you’ll need to marinate the chicken. Start by cutting the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Once sliced, mix it well with the finely chopped garlic, chili powder, smoked paprika, and a little salt and pepper.
(Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of this step. Booo!)
This marinating chicken mixture should then be placed in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour for the spices to properly mingle and flavor the chicken.
After that hour is up, begin by frying the chicken in a little butter. This is a one pot dish, so remember to use a pot large enough for all the ingredients.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and set aside. We’ll add it back in later.
Now it’s time to start the sauce — which Indians typically call “the gravy”. Start by chopping the onion and sauteing it (along with the garlic) in the same pot with a little butter. (This is butter chicken afterall!)
Add the fresh tomatoes and cashews into the pot. (Yes, they must be fresh tomatoes or the recipe will taste too acidic).
Next, add the water, all the spices, and any remaining butter. Everything should now be in the pot except for the chicken, the cream, and the fenugreek leaves (optional).
Mix all the ingredients thoroughly with the heat on medium. It should look something like this:
Cover with a lid, and allow the dish to simmer for 30-4o minutes until the tomatoes are completely cooked and soft.
Turn off the heat and allow the sauce ingredients to cool for 3-5 minutes. At this point, the sauce should now be cooled enough that you can begin blending with a stick blender. If you don’t have a stick blender, transfer the ingredients to any regular blender that’s available.
As you blend, the curry sauce should continue to cool. Once the curry sauce is no longer super hot, add the heavy cream (or half-n-half). Then, keep blending until the cows come home. Really! Blend like mad!
The finer you can blend the ingredients, the better. Remember, the sauce needs to be incredibly smooth for a good butter chicken curry sauce.
Once you’ve finished blending, pass the sauce through a very fine sieve (like these) to remove any seeds, remaining chunks of cashew, or chunks of tomato skin that might remain.
This step will make a super smooth, super rich curry sauce!
OK, now it’s time for tasting — Is the curry sauce too thick? Add water or cream. Not salty enough? Add more salt. Doesn’t have enough “punch?” Add more vinegar. Not spicy enough? Add more chili powder and a little smoked paprika. Sauce too strong? Add more heavy cream and a little butter. Not ‘red’ enough for you? Add more smoked paprika to enrich the color.
You can customize it completely to your preference!
Once you’re happy with the sauce — turn the heat back on to ‘low‘ and re-add the chicken you cooked earlier. Allow the chicken curry to warm back up for 5 to 10 minutes. Keep the temperature on your pot low — you don’t want the cream to curdle.
If you have dried fenugreek leaves, now’s the time to add them. I personally have a hard time finding fenugreek leaves, so I often use chopped cilantro as a substitute.
Mix the curry sauce and chicken thoroughly, and then serve with rice. If you have time, a flatbread also goes very well with this dish.
Well, that’s it folks! There’s a million different butter chicken recipes online, and this my version! I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do! It’s cheap, it’s easy, and I think the flavor is very good.
My recipe is the really the discovery of a couple “secrets” I figured out over the years:
- Use cashews in the sauce to get that extra smooth creamy flavor.
- Fresh tomatoes keep the flavor from getting too acidic.
- A balance between the dried chili powder and the smoked paprika gives the sauce a flavor that’s a little bit smokey and a little bit spicy. Just like my local restaurants.
Most recipes you find on the internet will not include these elements, and I’m not afraid to say it. I’m sure I’ll get plenty of comments telling me “Your doing it wrong!” or “Just buy a $4 spice packet it’s so much easier!”
Well, that might be true — but being wrong never tasted so good (or cost me so little)!
For now, I think I’ll keep doing things “wrong” a little while longer…