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A delicious, authentic recipe for Butter Chicken – one of India’s most popular chicken curry dishes. This recipe will make you never want to get takeout again! It’s cozy and comforting, and the creamy tomato butter sauce bursts with fragrant Indian spices. Vegan-adaptable. Plus 35+ Mouthwatering Indian Recipes to Make at Home!
Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.~ Anaïs Nin
Butter Chicken is a classic Indian curry dish called Murgh Makhani, which means “luxurious chicken” typically made with chicken bathed in the most fragrant, creamy, spiced, tomato sauce enriched with ghee. It’s called Butter chicken because the sauce is made with ghee which adds incredible depth, a nutty umami flavor, and creamy richness. Serve this with fluffy, Indian-style basmati rice and golden buttery naan bread! The butter chicken sauce alone, spooned over veggies and rice, will make you so incredibly happy you will want to melt into your chair. One of my favorite Indian food recipes on the blog!
You’ll love how authentic the flavors are. After two trips to India and repeatedly making this recipe for years in our catering business, I’m so excited to be able to share it with you, finally! The spices truly elevate here.
Why you’ll love this Butter Chicken!
- It’s Better than takeout! The flavors here will rival any take-out, and you can control the quality of the ingredients.
- It’s Adaptable! Make it with chicken, roasted cauliflower, crispy tofu, or even fish! The best thing is this butter chicken recipe is that it is adaptable, which for mixed households is a godsend! Meaning, your spouse who wants his chicken dinner, and your teen who is vegetarian can both enjoy this and will both totally loooooove it! You can also make this dairy free with coconut milk.
- We’ve simplified it! We skip the marinating step in the recipe, and you can’t tell! It’s reasonably quick and easy (45-60 mins), can be made ahead and freezes well. Great for meal prep.
Butter Chicken Ingredients
- Chicken Breast– I prefer the lightness of chicken breast here, but feel free to use chicken thighs- you can even leave them whole in the sauce. A great plant-based swap is to use roasted cauliflower florets, or crispy tofu.
- Ghee – ghee versus butter truly elevates this dish. It has a unique flavor that you can’t get with butter. You can make homemade ghee or buy it! Vegans can substitute vegan butter or coconut oil.
- Onion, fresh ginger and garlic cloves – all add depth of flavor.
- Fresh Chilies – Serrano chilies offer the best flavor and heat here, but milder jalapeno is a fine substitution.
- Tomatoes – Use canned tomato puree, tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes or puréed fresh tomatoes.
- Spices in butter chicken: The spices make the dish- try to use as many as you can. Cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, paprika (not smoked), black mustard seeds, chili powder, fenugreek leaves, garam masala spice blend, turmeric, coriander, optional cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper.
- Coconut milk , whole milk yogurt or heavy cream – Butter chicken sauce is made creamy with either plain yogurt or coconut milk. You could also use heavy cream.
How to make Butter Chicken (step-by-step Instructions)
Step One: Season chicken (either whole or cut into bite-sized pieces) with salt, pepper, and garam masala. Heat ghee over medium heat in a large skillet or Dutch oven, add chicken and brown the chicken until golden and set it aside. No need to cook it through.
Step Two: Add the remaining ghee to the Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and chilies and saute 5-6 minutes until deeply tender and fragrant. Add the garlic, ginger, fennel seeds, mustard seeds and cumin seeds and cook until ginger is cooked and golden, about 3 more minutes.
Step three: Add the tomato puree plus 1 cup water. Add the salt and sugar, give a good stir. Add the seared chicken. Simmer gently on low heat for 10 minutes, uncovered, allowing all the fragrant spices to infuse the sauce and your home.
Step four: After simmering 8-10 minutes, stir in the coconut cream and simmer gently once more for 3-4 more minutes.
Step five: Taste the sauce, adjusting the salt and spice level to taste (add cayenne to taste). Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and serve! This Butter chicken tastes savory and flavorful, rich with Indian spices, with a subtle, pleasant heat and a beautiful creamy butteriness to the sauce.
- Use ghee for the best flavor.
- If using yogurt, balance the recipe with a little sweetness- a teaspoon of honey or brown sugar works wonders.
- Find the brightest red paprika you can, for the best color and presentation, and remember that smoked paprika is not the right flavor profile.
- Salt and season the chicken well first, and give it a good sear to lock in those flavors.
- The leftovers taste better and better over time as the flavors meld.
Butter Chicken Serving Suggestions
Make this ahead!
What is nice about this Butter chicken recipe, is that it can be made ahead and will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator- great for meal prep! The butter chicken can also be frozen for up to 6 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
Butter Chicken Variations
As you can see from the recipe, this can easily be adapted. To make this vegetarian, substitute roasted cauliflower or crispy tofu for the chicken. To make this vegan, leave out the ghee and use coconut oil (although the ghee truly does add great flavor). Feel free to serve the Indian Butter Sauce over simple, oven-roasted veggies and basmati rice.
You could simmer meatballs in the sauce. It’s really that versatile!
What is the difference between Butter Chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala?
Butter chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala are similar in that both are made with chicken that is simmered in a spiced tomato curry sauce. But Butter Chicken is both creamier and milder than Chicken Tikka Masala which tends to be less rich and more spicy, and slightly tangier.
Can Butter chicken be made in an Instant Pot?
Absolutely! Follow the recipe as stated in the recipe card, up until you add the chicken back into the pan with the tomato sauce. Set the instant pot to high pressure for 7 minutes, naturally release then add the remaining ingredients following the recipe card.
The Origin of Butter Chicken
Butter chicken (murgh makhani) is thought to have happened as a happy accident. Created quite spontaneously by 2 chefs, Kundan Lal Jaggi, and Kundan Lal Gujral in a restaurant in Old Delhi, India called Moti Mahal, in 1947, they mixed leftover tandoori chicken with a tomato curry gravy, enriched with ghee. Murgh makhani means “luxurious chicken” which perfectly captures the spirit of the dish.
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The best recipe for Butter Chicken, (Chicken Makhani) a classic Indian dish made with tender chicken breast in a fragrant spiced tomato curry sauce enriched with ghee. Vegan-adaptable and GF.
- 2 lbs chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces.
- 2 teaspoons salt (use 1 teaspoon per pound of chicken)
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- 1 tablespoon ghee,
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1–2 serrano chilies (or sub 1 jalapeno) split in half lengthwise ( leave tops intact)
- 4 fat garlic cloves- finely minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger finely minced (or use ginger paste)
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds or regular mustard seeds
- 14-ounce can tomato puree, tomato sauce (or sub 2 medium tomatoes, blended with their juices, roughly 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 cup water (or veggie broth or chicken stock)
- 1 tablespoon garam masala spice (see notes)
- 2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves (optional, but elevates the dish substantially)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2–3 teaspoons paprika (do NOT use smoked paprika, if you don’t have regular, just leave it out!)
- 1 cup coconut cream (or sub heavy cream) or full fat yogurt.
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar, brown sugar, or honey
- optional additions: cayenne pepper to taste, pinch turmeric, pinch cardamom, pinch coriander
- garnish with cilantro
Serve with naan bread, fluffy basmati rice, cauliflower rice or cauliflower florets and optional raita!
- Season chicken (either whole or cut into bite-sized pieces) with salt, pepper and garam masala. Heat ghee over medium heat in a large skillet or dutch oven, add chicken and brown the chicken until golden and set aside. No need to cook through.
- Add remaining ghee to the dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and chilies and saute 5-6 minutes until deeply tender and fragrant. Add the garlic, ginger , fennel seeds, mustard seeds and cumin seeds and cook until ginger is cooked and golden, about 3 more minutes. Add the spices: garam masala, fenugreek, chili powder, paprika, and cinnamon stick, and toast the spices, for 30-60 seconds to bring out their flavor. Add the tomato puree plus 1 cup water.
- Add the salt and brown sugar, give a good stir. Add the seared chicken. Simmer gently on low heat for 10 minutes, uncovered, allowing all the fragrant spices to infuse the sauce and your home.
- After 10 minutes, stir in the coconut cream and simmer gently once more for 3-4 more minutes. For a brighter red hue, you could add more paprika if you like.
- Taste, adjusting the salt and spice level to taste (add cayenne to taste).
- Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and serve with basmati rice or naan.
Garam Masala Spice can be made at home- see our Homemade Garama Masala or find it at your local supermarket – it’s one that we use here on the blog frequently, so perhaps worth investing in or making.
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Calories: 307
- Sugar: 6.1 g
- Sodium: 866.3 mg
- Fat: 21 g
- Saturated Fat: 11.7 g
- Carbohydrates: 18 g
- Fiber: 5.8 g
- Protein: 16.7 g
- Cholesterol: 48 mg
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