Comfort foods don’t have to be boring. The eclectic flavors in Butter Chicken – an Indian Punjabi specialty – leave one craving another serving.
One of my fondest memories growing up in India was visiting restaurants and ordering my all-time favorite, Butter Chicken, also called Chicken Makhani, one of the most popular dishes on the menu of most eateries in Northern India.
Butter Chicken is usually served with naan, roti or Basmati rice. Tender pieces of chicken (mostly boneless) are marinated in a yogurt and spice mixture that includes ginger, garlic paste and lemon juice. The chicken is then grilled on a charcoal or indoor grill and added to a butter sauce.
Makhani, the butter sauce, is made by warming and mixing butter, tomato puree, various spices, fenugreek and fresh cream. The key ingredient that lends Butter Chicken its characteristic flavor is crushed and dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi). Kasoori methi, often used in Indian cooking, taste like a combination of celery and fennel, with a slightly bitter bite. The leaves are typically crumbled and sprinkled over meat and vegetable curries before serving.
Once the sauce is prepared, chop the grilled chicken and add it to the sauce. Garnish the dish with more butter, fresh cream, sliced green chilies and finely chopped cilantro to spice it up a bit. Alternately, olive oil and whipped low-fat yogurt can be used to reduce the butter content.
• 1 cup skinless, boneless chicken, cut in cubes (large enough to be able to grill)
• 1 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated
• 1 teaspoon garlic, freshly grated
• 1 tablespoon Indian Tandoori chicken spice (available at Indian grocery stores)
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
• Salt to taste (tandoori spice also might have salt)
• 1/4 cup stirred plain yogurt
• 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
• 1-2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
Wash chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towel. In large bowl, mix all marinade ingredients and stir well.
Add chicken pieces to mixture, cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place chicken in greased baking pan large enough to hold all pieces in single layer. Bake until cooked through, approximately 20-30 minutes or until juices run clear. Alternately, use charcoal barbecue grill to cook chicken. When done, chop chicken in thin pieces and set aside.
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 teaspoon garlic, freshly grated
• 1/2 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated
• 1/2 cup canned tomato puree
• 4-5 tablespoons heavy or light whipping cream (add more if you like the sauce rich)
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
• 1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
• Dash red chili powder
• Pinch of nutmeg powder
• 1/2-1 teaspoon brown sugar
• 1/2 cup water
• 1/4 teaspoon crushed fenugreek leaves (dried kasoori methi leaves)
• 1 tablespoon cilantro, freshly chopped (to garnish)
• Pinch of garam masala (to garnish)
Heat butter in large pan over low to medium heat. When melted, add ginger and garlic paste and sauté for a few seconds. Do not allow to burn.
Reduce heat. Add tomato puree and turmeric powder. Cook until oil starts to separate. Add whipping cream and grilled chicken pieces.
Add spices, brown sugar, salt and water. Let simmer, stirring frequently. Cook on low heat for a few more minutes and add crushed fenugreek to sauce. Simmer for another 2 minutes on low heat until sauce starts to thicken. Taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and garam masala and serve hot with naan bread or Basmati rice.
Makes 2 servings.
Note: Buy ready-made Tandoori chicken from a restaurant and make the butter sauce at home to save time. For a vegetarian option, use paneer, Indian cottage cheese, cut in cubes and add to butter sauce.
Gitika Baveja is author of “Indian Flavors to Savor: The Easy Home Cooked Way.” For more information and additional recipes, visit www.flavorstosavor.com.