Classic butter chicken

Classic butter chicken

I Love India
Martin Poole

The king of Indian (restaurant) curries, butter chicken is a velvety, tomato-based curry with little nuggets of lightly charred tandoori chicken hiding in its creamy depths. I have so many memories of eating this dish that I think we must have ordered it every time we went to an Indian restaurant! My two Delhi favourites were served at Moti Mahal and The Embassy and, later, the restaurant at The Park Royal where I spent some time learning in the kitchen. The recipe does have a few steps, and you can cheat by buying ready-made tandoori chicken or pastes, but it won’t be as good or as satisfying. This sauce has a lot of tomatoes, so the end product will depend on how sweet or sour the tomatoes are. You will need to taste and adjust the final dish as necessary, adding more or less sugar depending on how tart or sweet the sauce is. Serve with Naan or paratha for a delicious and satisfying meal.


Quantity Ingredient

For the chicken pieces

Quantity Ingredient
6 see method for ingredients, cooked as for Tandoori-style chicken, but cooked for 18 minutes and not seasoned with chaat masala or fenugreek

For the butter chicken

Quantity Ingredient
20g finely grated root ginger, (peeled weight)
8 large garlic cloves
2 tablepoons vegetable oil
80g unsalted butter, plus more if needed
1 bay leaf
2 black cardamom pods
6 green cardamom pods
2cm cinnamon stick
4 cloves
600g vine tomatoes, blended to a fine puree
3-4 small green chillies, stalks removed, pierced with a knife
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste (depends on the sweetness of the tomatoes)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves, finely crushed with your fingers
1 rounded teaspoon see method for ingredients, (fresh if possible)
80-100ml single cream, to taste


  1. Blend together the ginger and garlic using a little water to help the blades turn.
  2. Heat the oil and half the butter in a large non-stick saucepan over a medium-high heat and add the whole spices. Once they have sizzled for 15 seconds, add the ginger and garlic paste and cook until all the moisture has evaporated and the garlic smells cooked and looks grainy. Add the tomatoes and cook down until the resulting paste releases oil, around 20 minutes.
  3. Now you need to brown this paste over a gentle heat, stirring often, until it darkens considerably, 6–8 minutes. Add 250ml water, bring to the boil, then pass through a sieve, trying to extract as much liquid and flavour from the tomatoes and spices as you can. Discard the very few, very dry solids. Set the sauce aside.
  4. Cut or peel large chunks off the chicken pieces and reserve with any juices and charring that is still on the cooking foil.
  5. Heat the remaining butter, throw in the green chillies and cook for 1 minute. Add the sauce, salt and a good splash of water and simmer for 3–4 minutes. Add the chicken, with any juices and charring from the foil. Add the sugar, chilli powder, paprika, fenugreek and garam masala. Simmer, stirring often, for 3–4 minutes, adding a little water if it is too thick. It should be lightly creamy. Take off the heat and stir in the cream, then taste and adjust the salt, sugar, cream or butter to taste as you need.
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