The world owes the discovery of chicken to Kundan Lal Gujral and I owe it to my friend Sehar. Traditionally this curry is Indian and although Pakistan and India share many recipes as part of their cuisine this particular one hasn't quite made it to the Pakistani Restaurant scene. I first heard of it when I moved here to the United States of America and started frequenting Indian Restaurants. Typically shying away from anything labelled "Makhani" or "Malai" as I found the cream based curries too rich for my personal taste I never really cooked it or introduced my children to it. My friend Sehar served it to us at her house when visiting and my children could not get enough of it! My recipe probably doesn't come close to the one she put before us that day but after lunch that day, upon request by my children, I looked up a few recipes and started navigating the world of this Globally Popular Entree.
Incase you haven't checked out my blog post about Tandoori Chicken, Kundan Lal Gujral was a gentleman who migrated from Pakistan to India and opened the famous restaurant called Moti Mahal in 1947 in New Delhi. He first gained fame with his Tandoori Chicken Recipe and some years later he had to improvised with whatever ingredients he had on hand to accommodate a large late night party in his restaurant and "Butter Chicken" was created by taking leftover Tandoori Chicken and cooking it in a gravy of tomatoes, yogurt and cream. The recipe really didn't become famous for many years, with the first "Murgh Makhani" recipe being put in writing around 1974 and it was only after the Gaylord Indian Restaurant in Manhattan, New York added butter chicken to their menu that the curry reached it's current level of International fame.
As Harnoor Channa-Tiwary states in her writeup on Butter Chicken on NDTV.com "the beauty of butter chicken lies in the subtle balance of tanginess and a velvety texture". This is the most apt description of the dish and puts into perspective why I had not previously enjoyed it when eating out. Too much cream gives the curry a sweet taste and that isn't what I'd grown to expect or love about eating a curry. A huge dollop of cream is a shortcut to getting that velvety smoothness and one which many restaurants probably take to meet the demands on their time, but it takes away from the authenticity of the fare. Similarly, too many spices take away from the subtle flavor that is desired. After a couple of hits and misses, I found the balance that I believe honors the true integrity of the dish that KLG created. I hope you will give my recipe a try and enjoy it! Please message me with any questions and comments; or better still, drop a picture in the comments below and show us how your curry turned out.
2 Pounds Boneless Chicken
½ Cup Oil or Butter
2 Teaspoons Garlic
2 Teaspoons Ginger
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
2 Teaspoons Salt
2 Teaspoons Red Chili Powder
1 Teaspoon Cumin Powder
1 Teaspoon Coriander Powder
½ Teaspoon Garam Masala(optional)
1 Cup Yogurt (must be at room temperature)
1 Cup Water
¼ Cup Heavy Whipping Cream(must be at room temperature)
1. Cut chicken into cubes and remove any excess fat.
2. Heat Cooking Oil or 1 stick butter (½ Cup). I like to use avocado oil as it's healthy and heats well at high temperatures. Butter tastes amazing and gives that authentic restaurant taste you may want to replicate but since there's already cream and full fat yogurt I opt to make mine with oil.
3.Chop the onion and sauté well till it's a nice medium-dark brown.
4. Add minced garlic and ginger and sauté for about 1 minute.
5. Add the tomato paste and ¼ cup of water so the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
6. Add the salt and all the spices. I personally don't use a lot of Garam masala in my cooking as I feel it has a very strong taste and can be overpowering. As discussed above, Butter Chicken is supposed to have a very subtle taste so if you would like to add some, it should be no more than about a ½ teaspoon.
7. Add the yogurt ¼ cup at a time, stir fry till a thick paste forms and no liquid can be seen and then add another ¼ cup and so forth till the entire cupful has been added. If the entire cup is added at the same time it tends to curdle due to the temperature difference and cold yogurt will curdle even if you add a small quantity, hence the need for it to be at room temperature.
8. Add ¼ cup of water, cover and simmer the gravy for about 15 minutes. This insures that the onions become very soft and melt with the other ingredients. This is important to achieve that velvety texture we talked about earlier.
9. Uncover the pot, turn the flame on high and add the chicken, stir frying till it turns opaque and the curry mixture sticks to it. At this point, add the remaining ½ cup of water and simmer about 10 minutes till chicken is tender (boneless chicken cubes take very little time to cook through and you never want to overcook any meat or else it will get stringy).
10. Turn flame on high and add the cream, again at room temperature to prevent curdling, stir till it is fully incorporated into the curry.
11. Plate the curry and drizzle about 2 Tablespoons of cream as a garnish and serve with hot Naan.
1. The level of spiciness often depends on the brand of chili powder you use so feel free to adjust as necessary.
2. If you add garam masala, reduce the chili powder quantity unless you want a super spicy curry.
3. If you want a richer creamier curry, you can add bit more cream.
The video below is for greater clarity on the cooking technique and should help illustrate all of the above steps that have been outlined. For your convenience we now have a YouTube channel you can subscribe to if you want a shortcut to all of our videos.