I first learned this recipe from my oldest sister Hena, my Apa, over ten years ago. I remember during my undergrad in Cali, I often spent the weekend and holidays at her place which was over an hour away from mine. It was a welcome break from the daily college routine and I especially enjoyed the company of my cute little nieces. Of course being the gourmet cook she was, I happily let her spoil me with homemade meals that were not prepared on a poor student’s budget. With her being the eldest and me being the youngest, there was a motherly dependency I had on her, especially since my own mom was halfway across the globe, that and Apa always claimed that I was her first baby. She was one of my original inspirations in developing a passion with food and flavor, beyond baking the odd batch of brownies or cookies. Apa’s butter chicken was a staple and I eventually made her teach me how to make it. I was shocked how easy it was to get those melt in your mouth flavors. The rich creaminess and the vibrant orange color make this a perfect main course when you’ve invited guests over for dinner. Over the years, I will admit, I have tweaked it here and there to my own liking, but it’s mostly stayed the same.
Now before I start, I want to share a little secret… this recipe uses ready-made masalas (gasp!), like a combination of them. Call it what you may, but I am certainly not against making life easier and taking advantage of the luxury of masala mixes. The trick is never to follow the instructions on the back to a T (they clearly have no idea what they’re talking about or are just interested in sales… like a whole box of masala to one biryani dish, what?) and learning to use them in your own recipes to your advantage. Use it only as a guide and make it better yourself is what I say. By all means, if you’re a purist, you could combine the spices they’ve mentioned in the ingredients and make your own, but that’s on you. Don’t feel guilty for using Shaan or National (although there’s a continued debate on which is better… I found neither during my year in Madrid and was quite upset to use the non-Pakistani brands). You’ll notice my version doesn’t use yogurt anywhere. I feel the tanginess of the yogurt cuts away from a dish that is meant to be rich and creamy. Serve it with rice or naan, whichever suits your fancy. I like a thicker almost chunkier gravy, and not the soupy kind some people display. We also use crushed cashew nuts to help thicken the gravy. Although this step is completely optional, it brings an extra depth and subtle dimension to the flavor.
P.S. I’m happy to announce that I have started adding videos to most of my new upcoming recipes to further help you out. Let me know if you like that.
Also, so comment and share this recipe if you tried it or about to try it. I’m always excited to know if someone has had a good experience with one of my recipes. ❤
- 500 gms/ 1 lb boneless chicken (breast) in bitesized cubes
- 1 medium onion, chopped and diced
- 2 heaped tsp minced Garlic paste
- 1 heaped tsp minced Ginger paste
- Salt to taste (I used 1 tsp)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp Kashmiri mirch or paprika
- 1 tsp butter chicken masala
- 1 1/2 tsp tandoori chicken masala
- 1 1/2 tsp chicken tikka masala (you can use either or both of tandoori and chicken tikka masala)
- 3-4 heaped tsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup water
- Small pinch of brown or white sugar
- 1/2 cup cream + 1/2 cup milk
- 4-5 Tbsp unsalted Butter
- 2-3 Tbsp crushed cashew nuts (optional, but they really add that authentic Mughlai touch to the dish)
1. Place a pot/Dutch oven over a medium low heat. Add two tbsp of the butter and a splash of oil so that the butter does not start smoking or burning.
2. Add all your chicken and sauté until the pink becomes white. Remove from pot and set aside. There will be a liquid the chicken leaves behind.
3. Add another Tbsp of butter in the same pot and tip in the diced onions. Sauté these until they turn translucent and closer to a golden brown. Add your garlic and ginger paste. And stir for a few minutes.
4. It’s time to put the chicken back into the onions. Stir well to make sure the chicken is mixed with the onions, garlic and ginger.
5. Add all the spices and make sure the meat is coated all over with the spices.
6. Add heaped teaspoons of tomato paste and water. Just enough to cover the chicken. If it is too dry you can add more and if your tomato paste is more liquid, add less. Also throw in a tiny pinch of sugar to balance the acidity of the tomato paste. Cover with a lid and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes. Don’t let the gravy dry out too much.
7. At this point you can add the crushed cashews, if you choose to use them. Stir well.
8. Add the half and half of cream and milk and bring to simmer again. This is a good time to check your seasonings to adjust anything you might want to (like more masala, salt, cayenne etc.). Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
9. Add the final tablespoon of butter, stir, and serve hot with white basmati rice or naan.