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Recipes

Asha's Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

Recipe by: Asha Loupy

Serves 6

Asha's Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)
Photo by:  

Melati Citrawireja

Originating in the late 1940s/early 1950s, butter chicken — or, murgh makhani — was created by legendary chef Kundan Lal Gujral, of Moti Mahal in Delhi, as a way to extend the life of tandoori chicken. The leftover chicken was simmered in a spiced tomato gravy, made extra luscious by a hearty dose of butter. Today, butter chicken has become a beloved dish not only across the Indian subcontinent, but also across the globe.

Like many recipes, this dish has many variations — some use more tomatoes than others, some call for upwards of 2 cups of heavy cream while others just ¼ cup, and, of course, the spice level varies — but there is one thing that remains constant in every iteration of butter chicken: paan methi (or fenugreek leaves). These sweet, herbal, slightly bitter leaves are what gives murgh makhani its signature flavor. Our version of butter chicken is rich in chillies, using both Sirarakhong Hathei to bring mouthwatering smokiness and heat and Byadgi chillies for earthiness and they're bright red color (if you're craving a little extra fire, you can swap out the Byadgi for Kashmiri chillies). Its warm with cumin and coriander, plus a little cinnamon, and has plenty of paan methi weaving its way through the sauce.

This recipe may be a labor of love — from marinating the chicken and slowly cooking down the onions to blending the butter into the sauce so it emulsifies to a dreamy creamy bliss — but the end result is well worth the time. Psst, if you are making tandoori chicken, take a page from Chef Lal Gujral's book, and make twice and much to use to make butter chicken later in the week!

In our search for our dreamiest butter chicken, we referenced many recipes from our friends, including: Maunika Gowardhan, Julie Sahni, and Meherwan Irani of Spicewalla.

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Ingredients

For the chicken
  • ¾ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1¼ teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon Byadgi or Kashmiri Chillies
  • 1 teaspoon powdered Sirārakhong Hāthei Chillies
  • ½ teaspoon Pragati Turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (I used Diamond Crystal)
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely grated
  • 1¼ teaspoons Makhir Ginger
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1½-inch pieces
For the makhani sauce
  • 5 tablespoons butter, cold, divided
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1½ teaspoons whole Nandini Coriander
  • 1 teaspoon whole Nagauri Cumin
  • 3 Kandyan Cloves
  • 2 pods Baraka or Iniya Cardamom, lightly crushed
  • 1 very large or 2 small-to-medium white or yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1-inch pieces ginger, finely chopped
  • 1½ tablespoons coconut sugar, plus more to taste
  • 1½ teaspoons powdered Sirārakhong Hāthei Chillies
  • 1¼ teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon Byadgi or Kashmiri Chillies
  • ½ teaspoon Pragati Turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon Peni Miris Cinnamon
  • One 28-oz can, plus one 14-ounce can whole tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons Naga Hills Paan Methi, divided
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream, plus more for finishing
  • Chopped cilantro, for finishing

Methods

  1. For the chicken marinade, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, garam masala, Makhir ginger, Sirarakhong chillies, Byadgi chillies, turmeric and salt in a medium bowl or large resealable container, and whisk to combine. Add the chicken and stir to coat, making sure every piece is covered in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours to overnight (for best results, we love a 12 to 24-hour marination period!).
  2. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator before you start making the butter sauce to come to room temperature.
    To make the gravy, heat 2 tablespoons butter and oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the coriander, cumin, cloves, and cardamon, stir to coat in the hot fat, and cook until the coriander seeds turn a shade darker, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened and are starting to turn light golden, about 12 to 15 minutes. 
  3. While the onions are cooking, preheat the broiler to high, moving the rack to be about 4 to 6 inches from the broiler.
  4. Add the ginger, garlic, and coconut sugar to the softened onions, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the ginger and garlic soften and the onions turn deep golden, about another 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Sirarakhong Hathei chillies, garam masala, Byadgi or Kashmiri chillies, turmeric, and cinnamon, and cook until the spices are fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the tomatoes and their juices and 1 cup water, gently breaking the whole tomatoes up with a spoon, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, until the tomatoes lose their raw flavor and the sauce has reduced slightly, about 20 to 22 minutes.
  5. While the sauce is simmering, cook the chicken. Spread the chicken in a single layer onto a large, rimmed baking sheet. Broil until cooked through and burnished in spots, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  6. Transfer the tomato mixture to a blender, reserving the pot, and let it cool for 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons paan methi, cover, and, holding the cover in place with a kitchen towel over it, start blending on low (you don’t want the heat to cause the blender lid to come off!). Once the mixture is looking smooth, stop and add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, and start blending again, slowly increasing the speed to medium high, and purée until smooth and silky. Taste and adjust salt and sugar, if necessary.
  7. Transfer the blended sauce back to the pot and stir in the reserved chicken and any drippings that have accumulated. Add the heavy whipping cream and crumble in the remaining 1 tablespoon paan methi, and stir to combine, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Cover partially and cook until the chicken is heated through, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  8. To serve, transfer to a shallow serving bowl, drizzle with an extra flourish of heavy whipping cream, if desired, and finish with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro. Enjoy with naan for scooping up all that deliciousness!

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