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If you’ve never had butter chicken, you’re in for a treat! This classic Indian dish takes chicken thighs and simmers them in a creamy tomato sauce packed with spices until the chicken is irresistibly tender. Serve over steamed jasmine rice with some warm naan bread!

If you love butter chicken, don’t miss out on our Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala, this Coconut Curry Soup, or these Thai Chicken Skewers.

Butter chicken served over white rice with naan.

Classic Butter Chicken Recipe

If you’re a fan of Indian food, then chances are you’ve had butter chicken before. And if you have, chances are even higher that you have become a cult follower much like myself. If you’re not familiar, butter chicken is a classic Indian dish consisting of chicken thighs simmered in a creamy tomato sauce until the chicken is super tender and infused with the most delicious flavor.

If you’re new to the Indian food game, the spice list I use may be unfamiliar to you, but don’t worry, because these days, you can find all of them at pretty much any grocery store. Garam masala is the dominant spice used in butter chicken (we will talk about the other spices below), and it has the most wonderful curry-like taste to it. It’s packed with spices, but it’s not “hot” spicy, in it you’ll find notes of coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and pepper. It’s quite heavenly.

Spices in Butter Chicken

  • Garam Masala: We talked about garam masala up above, but the full list of ingredients includes cinnamon, mace, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and cardamon pods. So if you don’t have any of the spices below, you can always double up on the garam masala instead. It will still give your curry amazing flavor!
  • Cumin: Ground cumin adds a nice smoky note to the butter chicken.
  • Fenugreek: While this ingredient is definitely optional if you can’t find it, it does add a lovely savory element to the butter chicken.
  • Coriander: Ground coriander is actually the seed version of cilantro, so it has a similar flavor profile to it. I find that ground coriander is a little more smoky in flavor and love the way it compliments ground cumin.
  • Turmeric: If you’ve never used turmeric before, now is a great time to start! This vibrant orange spice give dishes a lovely yellow hue and has a nice warm ginger-like flavor to it.
  • Brown Sugar: To balance out all those spices, you need a little bit of sweetness and brown sugar is my sugar of choice.

Other Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Chicken: Classic butter chicken is made with chicken thighs. Chicken thighs are a lot more flavorful than chicken breasts and they can hold up to a long-simmered sauce. Unlike chicken breasts, chicken thighs become super tender and shred really well when they’ve cooked for a semi-long period of time.
  • Yogurt: Whole-milk yogurt is a classic ingredient in a lot of Indian dishes. Here, we use it to marinate the chicken, since it helps to tenderize it in the process. It also adds a delicious creaminess and slight tang!
  • Garlic, Onion, and Ginger: I mean, is any dish complete without a little garlic and onion?
  • Crushed Tomatoes: You could also use whole tomatoes and crush them yourself, but buying them pureed already is such a time-saver.
  • Lemon Juice: I love the acidic bright flavor lemons adds to butter chicken, it’s a must!
  • Heavy Cream: A classic component of butter chicken is the cream sauce, and to achieve that, we use a good amount of heavy cream. It’s what makes butter chicken so luxurious.
3-photo collage of chicken being simmered a creamy tomato sauce.

Let’s Make Butter Chicken!

Don’t get me wrong, I love Indian takeout as much as the next guy, but when you make butter chicken from scratch, it just tastes so fresh and delicious!

  1. Combine Yogurt, Lemon Juice, and Spices: In a medium-sized bowl, add the yogurt, garam masala, cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt, garlic, ginger, and lemon juice. 
  2. Marinate Chicken: Add the chicken pieces to a large sealable ziplock bag. Add the marinade to the bag and massage the marinade into the chicken. Marinate for 1-3 hours.
  3. Brown Chicken: Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a pan and cook your chicken over high heat. Cook until it has some browning and is cooked through. Do not overcook it because it will continue to cook in the sauce. Set aside.
  4. Sauce Mixture: In a saucepan over medium-high heat add the tomato paste and cook for about 2-3 minutes until it darkens. Add the tomato sauce, heavy cream, butter, and sugar. Whisk until smooth and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken.
  5. Combine: Add the chicken to the sauce and mix to combine.
  6. Serve: Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with jasmine rice and naan bread.
Top-down view of butter chicken in a skillet.

Cooking Tips and Substitutions

Here are a few ways to make this delicious butter chicken your own!

  • Discard Excess Marinade: Make sure to get all the excess marinade off before searing the chicken otherwise, the bottom can burn.
  • Alternative to Heavy Cream: If you don’t want to use heavy cream, you can swap out coconut milk or even light coconut milk.
  • Use Chicken Breasts: If you’re really not into chicken thighs, you can use chicken breasts, but make sure you don’t overcook them.
  • Types of Yogurt: Any kind of whole-milk plain yogurt will work, it doesn’t matter if it’s regular or Greek.
  • Add More Texture: To add some sweetness and texture, I love to add in a handful of raisins and cashews. So yummy.
  • Wait to Flip: When searing the chicken, don’t try to flip it until it easily releases from the pan.
  • Serve With: I always love to serve my butter chicken with some yellow rice and warm garlic naan! It’s such a tasty combo.

Can I Make Butter Chicken in Advance?

Yes! In fact, butter chicken is just as good if not better the next day. Just make from start to finish, cool completely and store the chicken and sauce in one container and the rice in another container. It will stay good in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat over a low heat until the chicken is warmed through.

Closeup of butter chicken in a white bowl.

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Butter Chicken

5 from 2 votes
By: Alyssa Rivers
If you've never had butter chicken, you're in for a treat! This classic Indian dish takes chicken thighs and simmers them in a creamy tomato sauce packed with spices until the chicken is irresistibly tender. Serve over steamed jasmine rice with some warm naan bread!
Prep Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Servings: 4 people

Equipment

  • Cast iron skillet

Ingredients 

Instructions 

  • In a medium-sized bowl, add the yogurt, garam masala, cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt, garlic, ginger, and lemon juice.
  • Add the chicken pieces to a large sealable ziplock bag. Add the marinade to the bag and massage the marinade into the chicken. Marinate for 1-3 hours.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a pan and cook your chicken over high heat. Cook until it has some browning and is cooked through. Do not overcook it because it will continue to cook in the sauce. Set aside.
  • In a saucepan over medium-high heat add the tomato paste and cook for about 2-3 minutes until it darkens. Add the tomato sauce, heavy cream, butter, and sugar. Whisk until smooth and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken.
  • Add the chicken to the sauce and mix to combine.
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with jasmine rice and naan bread.

Notes

Originally posted on August 17, 2020
Updated on June 17, 2023

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 565kcalCarbohydrates: 21gProtein: 38gFat: 38gSaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 247mgSodium: 1614mgPotassium: 1090mgFiber: 4gSugar: 13gVitamin A: 1372IUVitamin C: 19mgCalcium: 159mgIron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Tried this recipe?Mention @alyssa_therecipecritic or tag #therecipecritic!
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About Alyssa Rivers

Welcome to my kitchen! I am Alyssa Rivers and the food blogger behind The Recipe Critic. The blog launched in 2012 as a place to share my passion for cooking. I love trying new things and testing them out with my family. Each recipe is tried and true, family-tested and approved.

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7 Comments

  1. We used to make this all the time before the recipe was updated and fundamentally changed (ingredients and directions). This is not the same recipe we enjoyed. We will be using a different recipe from now on.

  2. 5 stars
    Absolutely delicious! The family loves this recipe so much we have to double it every time I make it so we have leftovers. You can also substitute extra form tofu for the chicken. Works well.

  3. This looks so good. Are you able to use non-fat Greek yogurt in this recipe? I don’t generally have that type of yogurt, but have all the other ingredients.

    Thank you!

    1. Chicken does not require the same marinade time as beef. Longer than 12 hours will affect the texture of the meat. If using thighs, 3 hours is all that is needed. (dark meat needs less time.) Breasts *white meat, 3 hours up to 12 hours. If you better want to infuse flavors, vacuum seal the marinated meat.