Butter chicken

all details

This version of butter chicken is quite mild, emphasising the beautifully fragrant spices and the deliciously intense sauce. The yoghurt and butter enrich the curry (but it skips the usual cream) while the almonds add a nutty accent and help to thicken the sauce. It's also a great family dish and a real hit with my girls. You can complement this with another curry, or simply enjoy it with some dahl, naan bread and plenty of rice.

Karen Martini's butter chicken. 
<b>Photo</b>: Marcel Aucar. <b>Styling</b>: Karina Duncan.
Karen Martini's mild butter chicken can be served with rice and makes a great family meal. Photo: Marcel Aucar. Styling: Karina Duncan.


2 limes, juiced

1 tbsp salt flakes

2 tsp chilli powder

1.5kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each cut in half

80g almonds

2 fresh bay leaves

6 cloves

10 black peppercorns

5 cardamom pods, seeds only

2 cinnamon sticks

3 tbsp ground coriander

3 tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 cup plain yoghurt

3 tbsp vegetable oil

2 brown onions, finely sliced

10 cloves garlic, finely chopped

5cm piece ginger, finely chopped

400g tomato puree

2 tbsp tomato paste

1.5 litres chicken stock (gluten-free if required)

1 tbsp fenugreek seeds

2 long red chillies, split

3 tbsp butter, soft but not melted

coriander leaves, to garnish



1. Combine the lime juice, salt and chilli powder in a large bowl. Add the chicken and mix through to thoroughly coat. Cover and set aside.

2. Heat a dry frypan over medium heat and toast the almonds, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, cardamom seeds and cinnamon, tossing or shaking the pan frequently, until the spices are fragrant and the almonds are starting to brown. Turn off the heat and add the ground coriander, cumin, and turmeric and toss briefly. Add the mix to a spice grinder and grind to a powder.

3. Combine half the spice powder with the yoghurt and add to the chicken. Mix through and set aside to marinate for one hour.

4. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and the remaining spice mix and fry until golden brown.

5. Add the chicken and marinade to the pot and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato puree, tomato paste, stock, fenugreek and chillies and cook gently for 40 to 50 minutes until the chicken is tender and the sauce has reduced by half. Adjust the seasoning and transfer to a serving dish.

6. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and cook until just turning nut brown. Pour over the chicken, garnish with coriander leaves and serve with rice and naan bread (optional).



1. Instead of a spice grinder, you could use a clean coffee grinder, blender or stick-blender processing bowl to make the almond and spice mix.

2. Fresh spices will lose their pungency over time; buy in smaller amounts and more regularly.

3. Don't be tempted to substitute other cuts for the thighs. Chicken thighs will remain tender over a longer cooking time and contribute texture to the finished sauce.

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  • Main Ingredients - Chicken, Lime, Nuts
  • Cuisine - Indian
  • Course - Dinner, Main-course
  • Occasion - Family meals, Dinner Party

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19 comments so far

  • The ingredients alone in this does my head in.

    Date and time
    August 26, 2014, 6:04PM
    • You're telling me! They should put in shopping time - 2 hrs.

      Date and time
      August 27, 2014, 11:46AM
    • sounds like you'll have to stick to "manufacturing edibles from jars" (lets not call it cooking food)?

      Date and time
      August 27, 2014, 11:54AM
  • A lovely recipe, but with 3 tablespoons of butter, let's not pretend it has a healthy twist.

    Date and time
    August 27, 2014, 9:07AM
    • Three tablespoons of butter between 6-8 people? Sounds fine to me.

      Date and time
      August 27, 2014, 11:31AM
    • Don't forget about the TABLESPOON of salt flakes..... that's crazy. For 4 people, that's half your maximum recommended daily salt intake. That doesn't take into account the sodium in the butter, tomato paste, and tomato puree (assuming it's processed, not homemade). I'm sure this tastes great, but it's not a 'healthy twist'.

      Date and time
      June 04, 2015, 8:08AM
  • i found this exact recipe years ago and been making it since:
    1. i don't add the butter at the end, it doesn't need it
    2. get as many of the spices etc already in powder form/almond meal etc. makes the whole process 10 times easier and the taste is still fantastic. i don't toast the spices either, just mix them up.
    3. it really does make a decent size batch which lasts a while. can be done in the slow cooker and reduce the sauce on the stove before serving.

    Date and time
    August 27, 2014, 11:33AM
  • Terrific flavours. I've made this a number of times with great results.
    The number of ingredients is admittedly significant but I just don't think you get the same dish without making the spice mix from scratch. Although, a good garam masal mix might do the trick.
    Many traditional recipes call for a quarter of a pound of butter, which is much more than three tablespoons (almost half a cup). Three tablespoons equals less than half a tablespoon of butter per serve so not too bad really.

    Date and time
    August 27, 2014, 11:51AM
  • When did chicken stock become an ingredient for a curry? Is this a "white people" thing?

    Date and time
    August 27, 2014, 12:04PM
  • Great recipe, although a departure from the original, which was developed by a Brit Pakistani :) This is not the first Pakistani dish to be claimed by Indians, other include Naans and Chicken Tikka.

    Date and time
    August 27, 2014, 1:19PM

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