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 and serve with warm naan bread!
Classic Butter Chicken
If you’re a fan of Indian food, then chances are you’ve had classic 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, creamy spice-infused tomato sauce.
If you’re a novice to the Indian food game, the spice the spice list we 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.
- 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.
- Tumeric. 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.
Ingredients in Butter Chicken:
- 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.
- 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.
Let’s make Butter Chicken!
- Marinate the chicken. Marinating is a really important part of making butter chicken.Here’s what we do: Add chicken to a large plastic baggie. Add in yogurt, garam masala, cumin, tumeric, garlic cloves, ginger, and salt. Zip the bag shut and massage marinade into the chicken. Marinate for at least three hours, but no longer than 12. I find that you don’t need to marinate the chicken much longer than a few hours, but of course, if you’re prepping ahead of time, you can do it further in advance.
- Cook the chicken. Heat a large non-stick or cast-iron skillet to a medium-high heat. Add a little bit of olive oil and then sear the chicken. Sear for 3-4 minutes until brown and crusty, flip over and do the same on the other side.
- Make the sauce. Once the chicken is brown, remove from the pan. Turn the heat down to medium and add more olive oil, onions and garlic. Sauté until slightly softened. Stir in tomato sauce, remaining garam masala, remaining cumin, remaining salt, and tumeric, fungeek, coriander, lemon juice, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the chicken back to the pan and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.
- Finish it off! Stir in the cream. Simmer another 2-3 minutes. Serve over rice with naan.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Make sure to get all the excess marinade off before searing the chicken otherwise, the bottom can burn.
- If you don’t want to use heavy cream, you can swap out coconut milk or even light coconut milk.
- If you’re really not into chicken thighs, you can use chicken breasts, but make sure you don’t overcook them.
- Any kind of whole-milk plain yogurt will work, it doesn’t matter if it’s regular or Greek.
- To add some sweetness and texture, I love to add in a handful of raisins and cashews. So yummy.
- When searing the chicken, don’t try to flip it until it easily releases from the pan.
What to Serve with Butter Chicken:
Can I make Butter Chicken in Advance?
Yes!!! In fact, this 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. Re-heat over a low heat until the chicken is up to temperature.
More Delicious Chicken Recipes to Try:
- Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Chicken
- Awesome Chicken Katsu
- Best Bourbon Chicken
- Creamy Chicken Marsala
- Honey Butter Baked Chicken
- 1 and ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (greek is fine)
- 1 tbsp garam masala, divided
- 1 tsp cumin, divided
- 6 large garlic cloves, grated and divided
- 1 tbsp minced ginger, divided
- 2 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground tumeric
- 1/2 tsp feungeek
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Once the chicken marinates. Heat a large non-stick or cast-iron skillet to a medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, sear the chicken. (Make sure there isn't a lot of excess marinade on the chicken.) Sear for 3-4 minutes until brown and crusty, flip over and do the same on the other side. The chicken should release easily from the pan when it's ready to turn. If needed, sear chicken in batches, you don't want to overcrowd the pan.
- Once the chicken is brown, remove from the pan. Turn the heat down to medium and add remaining olive oil, onions and garlic. Saute for 2-3 minutes until slightly softened. Stir in tomato sauce, remaining garam masala, remaining cumin, remaining salt, and tumeric, fungeek, coriander, lemon juice, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the chicken back to the pan and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 4-5 minutes. *If you want a cream sauce, add the sauce to a blender before adding the chicken back in, blend until smooth, return to the pan and then simmer the chicken.
- Stir in the cream. Simmer another 2-3 minutes. Serve over rice with naan.
All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods and portion sizes per household.