Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

Butter chicken, also known as “murgh makhana”, is the most searched Indian dish on the internet. And I get it. Like chicken Tikka Masala, butter chicken is considered one of the most popular, cross-continental Indian dishes throughout the world, even in places you would least expect it. This is not surprising at all. Tender, golden chicken in a rich, flavorful butter sauce, served with rice or naan, what’s not to love?  This iconic tandoori chicken dish has a lovely aromatic sauce with a silky texture unlike any other, and I adore it. This recipe is extremely popular in my house and besides for the prep-ahead marinade, it’s actually rather easy to make.

butter chicken

The Invention of Butter Chicken

Butter chickens’ invention remains somewhat debated. There are two families that claim it’s invention. Before the partition of India and Pakistan, Kundan Lal Gujral made tandoori chicken in a dhaba in Peshawar in the 1920s. After independence, he opened a restaurant, Moti Mahal, in Daryaganj with two partners. At that time, refrigerating leftovers was not an option. Gujral didn’t want to be wasteful, so he experimented with dried pieces of chicken, adding tomatoes, butter, and some masalas to the gravy and thus the creation of the famous butter chicken.

According to Raghav Jaggi, a descendant of one of the partners, it was Jaggi’s grandfather Kundan Lal Jaggi who invented this famous dish. Jaggi was working at Mahal Moti restaurant, and he came up with butter chicken in Delhi when a big group of refugees came to the restaurant, and he didn’t have enough tandoori chicken to feed them all. So, he whipped up the gravy and added tandoori chicken to it, to stretch it, to feed all the refugees. Story versions aside, Moti Mahal would go on to become one of the most iconic restaurants populating tandoori cuisine and butter chicken to this day.

butter chicken

Butter + Cream

The name butter chicken often confuses people. Is butter chicken a curry or something else? The answer is–both. Because this dish has evolved into a widely popular dish, it’s not always easy to pin down its characteristics. Traditionally the chicken is cooked in a tandoor oven, but modern recipes have moved away from this.  The flavorful marinade typically consists of cumin, turmeric, garlic, and ginger, as well as yogurt to help tenderize it. And the flavorful sauce is made from tomato, butter (or ghee) and cream, but there are numerous variations out there.

The amount of  butter and cream used to make butter chicken can really fluctuate a lot. Many recipes actually call for several sticks of butter. My version is a bit healthier. I use a lots less butter without sacrificing flavor. Perhaps the most important ingredient I learned, is kasoori methi (fenugreek seeds), a clover-like herb with a nutty flavor, so don’t skip it. Flavor profile-wise, my butter chicken is only a little spicy, with just a touch of sweetness, creating the perfect balance. This dish is considered a comfort food in India and beyond so here’s a version of it you can make at home, that does not involve a tandoori oven and it’s just as delicious.

Butter Chicken

February 1, 2023
: 4
: 1 hr 15 min
: 30 min
: 1 hr 45 min
: easy


  • For the Chicken Marinade:
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into two-inch size pieces
  • 1 cup plain whole fat yogurt
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger, grated
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • For the Butter Sauce:
  • 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons ghee
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger, grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 (14-ounce can) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/2 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
  • Step 1 For the chicken marinade: In a medium mixing bowl, add the chicken, yogurt, garlic, ginger, garam masala, turmeric, cumin, chili powder and salt. Mix to coat. Refrigerate the chicken and marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  • Step 2 Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and when hot, but not smoking, add the chicken, and cook in batches, until browned, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
  • Step 3 For the butter sauce: Return the pan to the heat and add the ghee. When hot, add the onions and cook until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute, until fragrant. Stir in the coriander, cumin and garam masala. Cook for about 20 seconds until fragrant, while stirring occasionally.
  • Step 4 Add the tomatoes, chili powder, cayenne and salt. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat, carefully pour the mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add 3-4 tablespoons of water, as needed, to help thin it out.
  • Step 5 Pour the puréed sauce back into the pan. Stir in butter, cream, sugar and fenugreek and mix well. Add the chicken and juices back into the pan. Simmer gently until the sauce has thickened, about 8-10 minutes.
  • Step 6 Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with rice or naan.

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