Butter chicken

Indian restaurant favourite: Butter chicken.
Indian restaurant favourite: Butter chicken. Photo: Murdoch Books

For many westerners, this famous dish is their first experience of Indian food. Based on tandoori chicken, but without the tandoor, it is a rich blend of aromatic spices, butter or ghee, yoghurt and tomato paste. When done properly, it is sumptuous and velvety, not merely creamy.


2 tbsp peanut oil

1kg quartered chicken thigh fillets

100g butter or ghee

3 tsp garam masala

2 tsp sweet paprika

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp finely chopped ginger

3 tsp ground cumin

2 cloves, crushed garlic

¼ tsp chilli powder

1 cinnamon stick

5 bruised cardamom pods

2½ tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp sugar

90g (⅓ cup) plain yoghurt

185ml (¾ cup) cream

1 tbsp lemon juice


1. Heat a frying pan or wok until very hot, add one tablespoon oil and swirl to coat. Add half the chicken thigh fillets and stir-fry for four minutes, or until browned. Remove from the pan. Add extra oil, as needed, and cook the remaining chicken, then remove.

2. Reduce the heat, add the butter to the pan or wok and melt. Add the garam masala, sweet paprika, coriander, ginger, cumin, garlic, chilli powder, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods, and stir-fry for one minute, or until fragrant. Return the chicken to the pan and mix in the spices so it is well coated.

3. Add the tomato paste and sugar, and simmer, stirring, for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and the sauce has thickened. Add the yoghurt, cream and lemon juice and simmer for five minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly.