Butter Chicken

Butter chicken, also known as Murgh Makhani, is a classic Indian dish beloved around the world. Originating from the Indian subcontinent, this dish features tender chicken pieces marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices, then cooked in a creamy tomato-based sauce. The sauce is rich with butter and cream, giving the dish its characteristic smoothness and flavor.

Butter Chicken

The Origins of Butter Chicken

The creation of Butter Chicken dates back to the 1950s in Delhi, India. It was developed by chefs at the famous Moti Mahal restaurant as a way to utilize leftover tandoori chicken. By simmering these pieces in a creamy tomato gravy, they inadvertently created a dish that would become a global sensation. Its popularity lies in its ability to blend the smoky flavors of tandoori cooking with the rich, comforting textures of a creamy sauce.

Preparing the Chicken

The first step in making butter chicken involves marinating the chicken. Chefs typically use boneless chicken pieces, marinating them in a mixture of yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, and a blend of spices, including garam masala, cumin, and turmeric. This marination process not only flavors the chicken but also tenderizes it, ensuring it’s perfectly succulent once cooked.

Creating the Sauce

The sauce for butter chicken is what sets it apart from other dishes. It starts with frying onions, garlic, and ginger in butter until they are soft and fragrant. Tomatoes, often pureed, are then added along with more spices. The mixture simmers until thickened, at which point cream and butter are stirred in to create a rich and creamy sauce. Some recipes also include honey or sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

Cooking the Dish

After marinating, the chicken is grilled or roasted to add a smoky flavor. It’s then cut into pieces and added to the sauce, simmering together so the flavors meld. The dish is often finished with a touch of dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) for an extra layer of flavor.

Serving Butter Chicken

Butter chicken is traditionally served with basmati rice or Indian breads like naan or roti. These accompaniments provide the perfect vehicle for savoring the creamy sauce. Garnishes might include fresh cilantro or a swirl of cream for presentation. This dish is not only a staple in Indian cuisine but has also won the hearts of people worldwide, making it a must-try for anyone looking to explore the rich flavors of Indian cooking.

Exploring the Flavors and Spices

The unique taste of butter chicken comes from its rich assortment of spices and ingredients. Each spice plays a crucial role in building the dish’s complex flavor profile. Garam masala, a blend of ground spices, adds warmth and depth, while cumin provides a nutty, peppery edge. Turmeric offers a vibrant color and a hint of bitterness, balancing the richness of the sauce. The use of fresh ginger and garlic adds a pungent kick that is essential to the dish’s overall flavor.

The Role of Marinade in Tenderizing

Marinating the chicken is not just about infusing it with flavors; it also plays a vital role in tenderizing the meat. The acidity from the yogurt and lemon juice breaks down the proteins in the chicken, making it more tender and allowing it to absorb the spices more effectively. This process ensures that every bite of chicken is flavorful and succulent, enhancing the overall eating experience.

The Importance of Butter and Cream

Butter and cream are indispensable to achieving the signature creamy texture and rich taste of butter chicken. The butter adds a silky smoothness to the sauce, while the cream contributes to its thickness and richness. These dairy elements are what give butter chicken its name and distinguish it from other curry dishes. They also help to mellow out the spices, making the dish more palatable to those who prefer milder flavors.

Accompaniments and Variations

While butter chicken is traditionally served with basmati rice or Indian breads, there are numerous variations and accompaniments that can enhance or alter the dish according to personal preference. Some opt to serve it with pilaf or jeera rice for an extra layer of flavor. Vegetables like peas or spinach can be added to the sauce for a nutritional boost. For those looking to experiment, butter chicken can also be adapted into pies, pasta, or even pizza, showcasing its versatility in various culinary contexts.

Global Popularity and Adaptations

Butter chicken’s global popularity has led to numerous adaptations of the recipe, catering to various dietary preferences and regional tastes. In some parts of the world, coconut milk is used as a dairy-free alternative to cream, while vegan versions replace chicken with plant-based substitutes like tofu or cauliflower. These adaptations highlight the dish’s universal appeal and its ability to transcend cultural and dietary boundaries, making it a beloved dish worldwide.

Nutritional Considerations of Butter Chicken

Butter chicken, while rich in flavor, also carries nutritional considerations due to its ingredients. The chicken itself is a good source of protein, essential for muscle repair and growth. However, the addition of butter and cream increases the dish’s calorie and fat content. Health-conscious individuals often modify the recipe by using lighter alternatives, such as low-fat cream or yogurt, to reduce the overall calorie count without significantly compromising the taste.

Incorporating Vegetables for a Healthier Twist

To make butter chicken more nutritious, chefs and home cooks alike incorporate a variety of vegetables into the recipe. Adding vegetables like bell peppers, spinach, or peas not only enhances the dish’s nutritional profile but also adds color and texture. This approach aligns with the trend of making traditional dishes healthier while still preserving their essence.

The Art of Balancing Flavors

Achieving the perfect balance of flavors in butter chicken is an art that involves adjusting the spices, butter, and cream to suit one’s taste preferences. The key lies in finding harmony between the tanginess of the tomatoes, the heat from the spices, and the richness of the dairy components. Skilled chefs taste and adjust the seasoning throughout the cooking process to ensure a well-rounded flavor profile.

Butter Chicken in Culinary Education

Given its popularity and complexity, butter chicken has become a subject of study in culinary education, where students learn about the intricacies of Indian cuisine through this dish. They explore the importance of marination, the technique of preparing the sauce, and the art of flavor balancing. This education not only enhances their cooking skills but also deepens their appreciation for cultural diversity in food.

The Social Aspect of Butter Chicken

Butter chicken often serves as a centerpiece at gatherings and celebrations, symbolizing the joy of sharing a meal. Its universal appeal makes it a favorite among diverse groups, facilitating cultural exchange and understanding through food. The dish’s ability to bring people together, regardless of their background, underscores the social aspect of dining and the power of food in creating connections.

Exploring Regional Variations of Butter Chicken

As butter chicken has traveled across the globe, various regional variations have emerged, each adding a unique twist to the classic recipe. In some areas, chefs incorporate local spices or cooking techniques to adapt the dish to regional tastes. For example, in some parts of Southeast Asia, lemongrass and galangal are added for a distinct flavor, while in Western countries, adaptations might include the use of cream substitutes or the addition of other types of cheese for a different texture and taste profile.

Butter Chicken

The Role of Butter Chicken in Fusion Cuisine

Butter chicken’s versatility has made it a popular choice for fusion cuisine, where it is blended with elements from other culinary traditions. Restaurants and chefs experiment by combining the creamy, spiced tomato sauce with ingredients not traditionally found in Indian cuisine, such as pasta, tacos, or even burgers. These innovative dishes cater to a broad audience, introducing the flavors of butter chicken to those who may not be familiar with Indian food.

Sustainability and Ethical Considerations

With growing awareness about sustainability and ethical eating, some versions of butter chicken now focus on using organic or free-range chicken. This shift reflects a broader trend towards more conscious food choices, emphasizing the importance of animal welfare and environmental impact. Additionally, there is an increasing demand for recipes that use locally sourced ingredients to reduce the carbon footprint associated with food transportation.

Butter Chicken as Comfort Food

Across different cultures, butter chicken has gained a reputation as a comfort food, cherished for its creamy texture and warming spices. It’s a dish that many turn to for a sense of solace and satisfaction during times of need. The combination of tender chicken, rich sauce, and aromatic spices offers a comforting embrace, making it a go-to dish for family meals, cold weather, or simply when in need of a culinary hug.

Celebrating Butter Chicken in Culinary Events

Butter chicken is often featured in culinary events and food festivals around the world, celebrating its status as a global favorite. These events provide a platform for chefs to showcase their interpretations of the dish, ranging from traditional to contemporary twists. Food enthusiasts gather at these events to savor different versions of butter chicken, appreciating the dish’s versatility and the skill involved in its preparation. Through such celebrations, Butter Chicken continues to captivate the hearts and palates of people worldwide, reinforcing its place in the global culinary landscape.

FAQs About Butter Chicken

Can I make butter chicken without dairy? Yes, you can make butter chicken without dairy by substituting coconut milk or almond cream for traditional cream and using plant-based butter or oil. These alternatives can mimic the creaminess of the original dish while catering to dairy-free diets.

Is butter chicken spicy? The spice level of butter chicken can vary depending on the recipe. Traditionally, it is mildly spicy, with a focus on aromatic spices rather than heat. However, you can adjust the amount of chili powder or fresh chilies to suit your taste preferences.

Can butter chicken be made in advance? Butter chicken is an excellent dish to prepare in advance. The flavors often deepen when the dish is refrigerated and reheated, making it even more delicious the next day. Just ensure to store it properly in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

How can I thicken the sauce? If your Butter Chicken sauce is too thin, you can thicken it by simmering it for a longer period to reduce the liquid. Alternatively, a small amount of cornstarch or flour mixed with water can be added to the sauce to help thicken it without altering the flavor significantly.

Butter Chicken


This recipe stands as a testament to the rich culinary heritage of India, offering a symphony of flavors and textures that have captivated palates across the globe. Its creamy sauce, tender chicken, and aromatic spices create a comforting dish that transcends cultural boundaries. Whether you adhere to the traditional recipe or opt for modern adaptations, butter chicken remains a versatile and beloved dish. Its ability to bring people together, adapt to various dietary needs, and serve as a canvas for culinary creativity underscores its enduring popularity. As we continue to explore and celebrate the diversity of global cuisines, butter chicken will undoubtedly remain a cherished dish in the hearts of food lovers everywhere.

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Butter Chicken

  • Author: recipstep
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Diet: Gluten Free


Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani, is a globally beloved Indian dish known for its creamy, tomato-based sauce and tender, marinated chicken pieces. It combines rich flavors with aromatic spices, offering a comforting and satisfying meal.



3/4 cup butter or ghee
1 Tbsp. curry powder
2 Tbsp. garam masala
2 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup diced yellow onion
3 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. minced ginger
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups heavy cream or coconut milk
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp. lime juice
Chopped roasted cashews
Coconut flakes
Lime wedges


Prepare Ingredients:

Cut chicken thighs into 1-inch pieces.
Dice yellow onion.
Mince garlic and ginger.
Cook Chicken:

Heat butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat.
Stir in curry powder and garam masala; cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add chicken pieces; coat in spices and butter.
Cook until slightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Add Aromatics:

Stir in diced onion, minced garlic, and minced ginger.
Cook until onions are translucent and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Incorporate Sauces:

Stir in tomato paste until combined.
Add crushed tomatoes and heavy cream (or coconut milk); stir until combined.
Simmer and Season:

Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Season with salt to taste.
Final Touches:

Remove from heat; stir in lime juice.
Serve over rice.
Top with chopped roasted cashews and coconut flakes, if desired.
Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over the dish.

Enjoy your delicious homemade Butter Chicken! 🍽️👩‍🍳


  • For a dairy-free version, substitute coconut milk for cream and use oil instead of butter.
  • Adjust the chili powder according to your heat preference.
  • Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Category: Main Course
  • Method: Sautéing and Simmering
  • Cuisine: Indian


  • Calories: 450
  • Sugar: 8g
  • Sodium: 300mg
  • Fat: 30g
  • Saturated Fat: 18g
  • Carbohydrates: 15g
  • Fiber: 3g
  • Protein: 25g
  • Cholesterol: 150mg

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