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The best Indian butter chicken recipes we’ve tasted

Master an Indian cuisine favorite with these chef-curated butter chicken recipes

Indian butter chicken in a black pan with a spiral of cream being added.

Creamy and savory, Indian butter chicken is a must-order for any fan of Indian cuisine. An extremely popular dish at most Indian restaurants in America, this combination of tender chicken and rich sauce is equally delicious with basmati rice or Indian naan. While butter chicken can be time-consuming to make, the results are deliciously fulfilling and perfect for leftovers.

To help us navigate this classic dish, The Manual has collected five amazing recipes from various chefs and Indian cuisine professionals, including Maneet Chauhan, a Food Network star, and restaurateur Gaurav Anand. With the expert guidance of these chefs, butter chicken can be a great addition to anyone’s dinner repertoire.

Butter chicken vs. chicken tikka masala

Because of the similarities between butter chicken and chicken tikka masala — both dishes feature chicken in a tomato-laced, cream-based sauce — the two are often confused with one another. However, the two dishes are different, each with its unique history and flavor. Butter chicken (murgh makhani) was created in the late 1940s by Chef Kundan Lal Gujral as a way to utilize tandoori chicken. With an emphasis on cream and tandoor-cooked chicken, butter chicken is quintessentially a Northern Indian dish, a region well-known for its use of rich, dairy-based sauces. In comparison, chicken tikka masala is believed to have been invented by a Bangladeshi chef in Scotland during the 1970s. Now, chicken tikka masala is everywhere in Great Britain, becoming one of the most popular dishes in the country.

When compared head to head, butter chicken is generally more spiced, with a richer butter flavor than chicken tikka masala. Generally, chicken tikka masala is made with boneless white meat compared to the shredded dark meat of butter chicken (although this can depend on individual recipes). Besides the spice blend, the key to a great butter chicken is the chicken itself. The chicken should be marinated and cooked (preferably charbroiled in a tandoor oven) before it is stewed with the sauce.

Moti Mahal Delux restaurant butter chicken topped with cream and chopped cilantro in a metal bowl on a metal plate.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Gaurav Anand’s butter chicken recipe

The butter chicken recipe is from Gaurav Anand, a chef and restaurateur in New York City. Named the “Best Caterer” in New York by NY Magazine in 2021, Anand is the owner of Moti Mahal Delux, Bhatti Indian Grill, and Awadh restaurants. Originally from New Delhi, Anand is a passionate voice for Indian cuisine in America.

This butter chicken recipe is intricate, including two separate marination stages for the chicken. For the sauce, Anand is keen to emphasize the importance of blending. “It’s very important to blend the sauce for the full 2 minutes after cooking to release all the flavors,” said Anand. “After blending the sauce, make sure to strain it over a saucepan, so you have a smooth sauce. Then add the butter, cream, and chicken.”

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 1/2 hours
Yield: Serves 3-4 servings

Ingredients:

First chicken marination:

  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
  • Mustard or vegetable oil
  • Salt to taste

Second chicken marination:

  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon rock salt
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry fenugreek
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

Butter chicken sauce: 

  • 4 teaspoons Amul butter or oil
  • Whole spice mix: 1 bay leaf, few black cardamom pods, 4 green cardamom pods, 3 dried red chilies
  • 3 large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 9 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
  • 8-10 fresh green chilies, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon jeera powder red chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons kitchen king spice blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup fresh cream
  • Fresh coriander

Method:

  1. For the chicken: Marinate the chicken with the first marinade for 30 minutes and set aside.
  2. Mix the second marinade ingredients in a bowl and rub on the chicken pieces; set aside for at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350F; place the marinated chicken on a tray with foil; brush with oil, broil for 9 minutes — make sure the chicken comes out moist and tender.
  4. For the sauce: Place oil in a pan and heat it. Add the blend of whole spices and sauté for 30 seconds.
  5. Add the onions and sauté till golden brown.
  6. Add the chopped tomatoes and let cook for a good 20 minutes; then add the ghee and all the spices and with salt to taste.
  7. Transfer this mix to a blender and blend for 2 minutes — you will see the color of the sauce has changed. Strain the blended sauce over a pan until you have the perfect color and texture and the whole masala residue is left in the sieve.
  8. Cook this sauce over medium heat, add the chicken, add butter and heavy cream. Cook, stirring, till the ingredients are incorporated and the sauce thickens.
  9. Garnish with fresh coriander.
An overhead shot of butter chicken in a pot beside herbs and a wooden spoon.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Butter chicken with coconut milk

An Indian American chef and food television personality, Maneet Chauhan is a frequent judge on Chopped and winner of Food Network’s 2021 Tournament of Champions. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Chauhan is an experienced chef and one of the sought-after authorities on Indian cuisine in America. This recipe from Chauhan replaces the standard cream with coconut milk, giving the dish a different flavor profile.

Prep Time: 25 minutes + 1-2 hour marinade 
Total Time: 2 hours
Yield: Serves 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter/ olive oil
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 lbs pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks (or your favorite protein, for vegetarian/vegan, cauliflower cubes or tofu can be used)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 can tomato puree (14-ounce)
  • 4 garlic pods, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoon tandoori masala
  • 3 tablespoons fenugreek leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Method:

  1. Marinate chicken (or alternative) in yogurt, ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, and 2 teaspoons of tandoori masala. Leave for at least an hour for the best flavor.
  2. Either bake the chicken on a greased tray or cook in a sauté pan. Keep aside.
  3. Heat butter or olive oil (if you want a vegan recipe), add onions, and sauté until golden brown. Stir in tomato puree, garam masala, fenugreek, the rest of the tandoori masala, and turmeric until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Stir in coconut milk until heated through, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the chicken and cook together for a few minutes. Garnish with cilantro.
Overhead shot of a pot of butter chicken.
Holly Erickson & Natalie Mortimer/The Modern Proper

Stovetop butter chicken

This recipe from The Modern Proper is the definition of simple and delicious. Requiring only 30 minutes, this butter chicken is perfect for a busy weeknight dinner when time is limited. The best part? This pot of goodness is guaranteed to be a certified hit at the dinner table.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated yellow onion, from one small onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 8 ounces tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Fresh cilantro for serving
  • Basmati rice for serving

Method:

  1. In a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add in onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook, stirring often, until onions are soft and garlic and ginger are fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add in butter, chicken stock, tomato paste, cinnamon, salt, cumin, garam masala, and turmeric. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  3. Stir in chicken and stir until coated. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
  4. Stir in lemon juice and heavy cream. Return to a simmer and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.
  5. Serve butter chicken over basmati rice topped with fresh cilantro. Note: To make this dish dairy-free, use coconut oil in place of butter and full-fat coconut milk in place of heavy cream.
A butter chicken served in a bowl beside a metal spoon with various dishes in the background.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Butter chicken

Packed with succulent, marinated chicken thighs, this butter chicken recipe from Nagi of Recipe Tin Eats is full of flavor. While butter chicken recipes might seem the same visually, every recipe is different. For example, this Recipe Tin Eats version calls for full-fat yogurt, ghee, and heavy cream, producing a result that’s rich and savory.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Yield: Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

For Marinade:

  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt, full-fat
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

For Curry:

  • 2 tablespoons ghee or butter, or 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup tomato passata (aka tomato puree)
  • 1 cup heavy / thickened cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • To serve: basmati rice/white rice and coriander/cilantro (optional)

Method:

  1. Optional blitz: for an extra smooth sauce, combine the marinade ingredients (except the chicken) in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. Marinade: Combine the Marinade ingredients with the chicken in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours (minimum 3 hours).
  3. Cook chicken: Heat the ghee (butter or oil) over high heat in a large fry pan. Take the chicken out of the marinade but do not wipe or shake off the marinade from the chicken (but don’t pour the marinade left in the bowl into the fry pan).
  4. Place chicken in the frypan and cook for around 3 minutes, or until the chicken is white all over (it doesn’t brown because of the marinade).
  5. Sauce: Add the tomato passata, cream, sugar, and salt. Also, add any remaining marinade left in the bowl. Turn down to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Do a taste test to see if it needs more salt.
  6. Garnish with coriander/cilantro leaves if using. Serve with basmati rice.
A close-up of a butter chicken served on a bowl with spoon on a table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Easy butter chicken

This delicious recipe from Karina of Cafe Delites is designed for a big crowd (or big eaters). A flexible recipe that calls for chicken thighs or breast, this butter chicken recipe combines heart-healthy olive oil with ghee for a unique flavor that pops in every bite.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Yield: Serves 5-6

Ingredients:

For the Chicken marinade:

  • 28 ounces boneless and skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger (or finely grated)
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

For the sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons ghee (or 1 tablespoon butter + 1 tablespoon oil)
  • 1 large onion, sliced or chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced or finely grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 14 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder (adjust to your taste preference)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
  • 1 cup of heavy or thickened cream (or evaporated milk to save calories)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kasoori methi (or dried fenugreek leaves)

Method:

  1. In a bowl, combine chicken with all of the ingredients for the chicken marinade; let marinate for 30 minutes to an hour (or overnight if time allows).
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat. When sizzling, add chicken pieces in batches of two or three, making sure not to crowd the pan. Fry until browned for only 3 minutes on each side. Set aside and keep warm. (You will finish cooking the chicken in the sauce.)
  3. Heat butter or ghee in the same pan. Fry the onions until they start to sweat (about 6 minutes) while scraping up any browned bits stuck on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute until fragrant, then add ground coriander, cumin, and garam masala. Let cook for about 20 seconds until fragrant, while stirring occasionally.
  5. Add crushed tomatoes, chili powder, and salt. Let simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens and becomes a deep brown-red color.
  6. Remove from heat, scoop mixture into a blender, and blend until smooth. You may need to add a couple of tablespoons of water to help it blend (up to 1/4 cup). Work in batches depending on the size of your blender.
  7. Pour the puréed sauce back into the pan. Stir the cream, sugar, and crushed kasoori methi (or fenugreek leaves) through the sauce. Add the chicken with juices back into the pan and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick and bubbling.
  8. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with fresh, hot garlic butter rice and fresh homemade Naan bread!
Naan bread-photo from public domain
Graham Steele-Flickr-public domain

Homemade naan bread

As the above recipe says at the end, Indian butter chicken is best served with fresh Naan bread. Sure, you could get some premade naan at the grocery store, but why would you go through all of the trouble of making delicious butter chicken from scratch only to serve it with inferior naan? Naan is fairly easy to make, and with this recipe tested by the Allrecipes Test Kitchen, you’ll have plenty of fresh, chewy naan to go with your Indian butter chicken feast.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 ½ cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)
  • ¼ cup butter, melted

Method:

  1. Pour the yeast into a large bowl of warm water. Let it dissolve and stand for about 10 minutes until the mixture becomes frothy.
  2. While waiting for the yeast to be ready, generously oil a second large bowl.
  3. Stir sugar, milk, egg, and salt into the yeast mixture. Mix in just enough flour to make a soft dough.
  4. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for about 6-8 minutes, until it is smooth.
  5. Put the dough into the oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let it rise until the dough has doubled in size, about one hour.
  6. Punch down dough on a lightly floured surface, and knead in garlic (if using).
  7. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball; you should have about 14.
  8. Roll each piece into a ball and place it on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise a second time until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
  9. While the dough is rising, place a large grill pan over high heat.
  10. Roll all the dough balls into thin circles.
  11. Brush some melted butter on the preheated grill pan. Place a few pieces of dough in the pan (as many as you can fit) and cook until puffy and lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Brush butter onto the uncooked sides, flip, and cook until browned, 2 to 4 more minutes. Remove from the grill and repeat to cook the remaining naan.

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Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
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