Butter Chicken: An Accidental MasterTaste

Hello all, my name is Heather Kendall and I am doing a guest blog on behalf of Chef Anjalee, of the fantastic Kirkland Indian fusion restaurant, Anju.

Mmm, the decadent taste and texture of butter chicken (aka murgh makhani). This tomato, cream and butter sauce based dish’s flavor resonates with tip-toers into the realm of Indian food and connoisseurs alike. Personally, when I have really good butter chicken, paired with naan and palak paneer, I’m in foodie heaven. So, when asked to do a guest blog, complete with recipes, for Anju (and with no little input from Chef Anjalee herself) butter chicken is the first dish that sprang to mind.

Want to invent a perfect dish? Recycle!

Interestingly, doing a little research for this blog, I found that butter chicken is a fairly recent addition to the Indian pantheon of amazing dishes. Like many wonderful inventions, from Coke to plastic to the color mauve (which can be seen on Anju’s walls today!) (1) butter chicken came about as a chance mixing of ingredients rather than an intentional attempt to create an iconic flavor.

In 1950, chefs at Delhi’s Moti Mahal restaurant used to re-use the chicken juices left in the marinade trays by mixing in butter and tomato. They started to add this mix of trash turned treasure with chicken bits and voila! one of the tastiest Indian dishes around was born. So tasty was it that the prime minister at the time insisted that this humble rooted concoction be served at all of his state banquets, where its fan base of notables grew and grew. Quickly, this dish spread from being the talk of Delhi to being known around the world. (2)

Do-It-Yourself Decadence

Now that you know the wildfire spread type origins of this fantastic dish, I bet you are hankering to make your own. Well, this article will not disappoint on that front. I’m going to provide you with a recipe straight from Chef Anjalee herself, that is really good for people just getting started cooking this dish and a link to a recipe I’ve used from Allrecipe for butter chicken plus some notes I’ve made on it through trial-and-error.

Chef Anjalee’s Starter Butter Chicken Recipe (Two Servings)

Chef Anjalee says, One out of every three phone calls for take-out at Anju is for butter chicken. It’s great to brag about how many of these I sell per week, but what I’m about to do might cause some damage or maybe not until all my customers prefect this at home. I’m sharing the secret to making your own butter chicken. Now, before I proceed further I want readers to be aware that there is more than one version to this recipe. This one is probably is the easiest. So, get your note pad out to jot this now, or just memorize this short list.”

  • Ten pieces of quarter size boneless chicken pieces.
  • 1 tbl ginger/garlic paste (indian store)
  • 1 tsp garam masala (indian store)
  • 1 12oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 can condensed milk or 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbl butter
  • Chili powder per taste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Salt to taste

Method:
Melt butter. Add garam masala, wait 5 sec. Add chicken and coat it with the spice and butter mix. Add tomato sauce and salt. Cook until it’s reduced to a thick sauce. Now add the milk or cream, and cook on medium until the chicken is cooked. Add chili powder and simmer for additional 5 min.

When you are ready to jazz up the flavor to the next level: Add coriander powder, fenugreek leaves, and a few green cardamon, cinnamon stick and bay leaves.

Heather’s favorite at home recipe

My personal favorite recipe that I have tried to date (and I’ve only made this a dozen times or so, so am no expert on that front ‘” but I’ve eaten it A LOT) is located here: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Chicken-Makhani-Indian-Butter-Chicken/Detail.aspx It is more complex, in terms of having a lot of ingredients. However, it still has only a few steps to put them all together. Plus, having so many ingredients, it is possible to mix it up in a variety of ways to make very different flavors and textures. Here are some notes/ideas:

  • Having everything measured out and in step groupings beforehand really helps make cooking this dish simpler for me.
  • I like to add cashew powder to give a creamy, nutty, salty, sweet flavor and smooth, complex texture. In fact, cashew powder adds a lot to many Indian dishes, for me.
  • Sometimes I like to use red pepper flakes or even sweet chili oil in lieu of the cayenne and black pepper to provide a little more of a kick and increase the flavor complexity.
  • If you like greek style sauces, adding cinnamon to this dish can add a really interesting depth to the flavor.
  • Using chicken thigh, chicken breast, or even bone in chicken pieces like drumsticks works well with this. The bone in chicken will be tender enough to slide right off the bone!
  • If you like thicker sauces, try a little extra cornstarch or cashew powder or mix in some tomato paste. On top of interesting textural changes, this will make it easier to keep on your naan or whatever else you choose to pair it with, and even make it easier should you go the traditional finger eating route.
  • Instead of ginger garlic paste, I usually use minced garlic and ginger powder, because that is what I have around ‘” works great and lets me control the garlic more than the mix. (I like a lot of garlic!) Also, you can make your own paste by putting garlic and ginger root in a blender or food processer if you like, and that works great plus is customized to your tastes.
  • Sesame oil provides a decent alternative to the peanut oil. It is lighter weight and less flavorful, so the rest of the ingredients shine through a bit more. (Still, peanut oil is mighty tasty!) Another good alternative is coconut oil, which is just as flavorful, but sweeter than peanut oil.
  • If you don’t have plain yogurt, and like sour cream, it can serve as a good substitute.

It can sing in the mouth, but does it have any other moves?

Another fun thing about butter chicken sauce recipes is that the sauce is both delicious and versatile. This dish can be paired with a wide variety of other Indian fare and base items. For instance, it tastes great on top of basmati rice, paired with plain, spinach or garlic naan, on crisp roti, or in or on pita like paratha. Having palak panner, aloo tikka or vegetable masala with it can provide a complete and tasty meal. If you try this at Anju, make sure to have the ginger tea with it, as the tingly sensation of the tea can really bring out the flavors of all of these dishes.

Pairability is not the only versatile aspect of this dish. In fact, Chef Anjalee recommends using lightly grilled shrimp with it, in lieu of chicken. Another common and fabulous dish, called chicken tikka masala, an Indian dish which actually originates in England, can be made with the same sauce, but by grilling the chicken tikka style before combining it with the sauce. So, if you have people over asking for both, it is pretty easy to provide the variety, and maybe even try out that shrimp option! (Chicken tikka masala can also be made with no butter or cream, or even without tomatoes. In fact, the only sauce requirement is that it be creamy and either reddish or orange-ish. So, when you visit England, its taste, texture, smell and color can vary substantially from place to place. However, a common way to make it, particularly in America is to use a butter chicken sauce with the specially prepared chicken. Not surprisingly, it is my favorite way that I’ve tasted to date, though I still prefer the softer butter chicken prepared chicken texture and flavor.)

Now that we have been over the ABC’s of butter chicken, it is time to go try it for yourself. Enjoy a hearty meal of it prepared by Chef Anjalee’s expert hands at Anju or try a recipe or two at home. From easy to complex, this recipe is delicious and fun, whatever your ingredient interpretation. So, treat yourself tonight!

Chef Anjalee’s main blog, which consolidates her kitchen and small business tips and tricks, with some tasty recipes, can be found here. For more information on her Indian fusion restaurant, Anju, visit its main site, here. Bibliography

1. Discovery Communications, LLC. Top 10 Accidental Inventions. Science Channel. [Online] 2011. [Cited: June 8, 2011.] http://science.discovery.com/brink/top-ten/accidental-inventions/inventions.html.

2. Cilantro. Butter Chicken/Murgh Makhani. Cilantro: Cooking with Patience. [Online] 2010. [Cited: June 8, 2011.] http://www.cilantroonline.com/2010/02/butter-chickenmurgh-makhani.html.