If you are looking for the definitive recipe for butter chicken, keep looking and good luck. There are many different recipe versions out there, geared to many different tastes. While most start with the essential ingredients of tomato, garlic, onions and of course butter, the spices and dairy ingredients can vary considerably. Some recipes use milk or cream, others yogurt and still others, combinations of all three. I like to use mostly yogurt and balance it with a finish of honey and cream. There are also many, many different spice blends under the umbrella name of “garam masala”. I use one from Taste East grocery on Allandale Road that I like very much but also to which I add more of the spices I like best.

This recipe is one that appeals to my personal preference and is really a dish that I’ve created from cherry picking the best of several recipes that I have tried or read. Some recipes for example do not include cardamom, which has become an essential spice in my version. The bottom line is that, like many dishes I cook, I use a good recipe only as a starting point from which I add to or subtract from in order to suit my own taste. I encourage anyone to do the same.

Butter Chicken

Serves 4 -6
I use boneless skinless chicken thighs in this recipe that I cut into bite sized pieces because it is faster than using whole chicken pieces and because I like to simmer the chicken in the sauce for a while before serving. You can use chicken breast pieces if you like but simmering chicken breast for any length of time will dry it out considerably so you may just want to add it back to the sauce for only a minute or two to reheat it before serving.

Alternatively, (unless you lucky enough have a tandoor oven in your back yard) you can season whole chicken pieces with salt, pepper and garam masala and cook them completely on a gas grill before simmering them for a short time in the sauce.

3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp peanut oil
6 cloves minced garlic
1 large white onion diced

In a large pot, over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic in the butter and oil until softened. Increase the heat to medium high and add:

8 large boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into bite sized pieces
3 tsp garam masala

Cook completely through but do not overcook. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Add to the pan:

6 large ripe tomatoes, diced
Sauté the tomatoes until they break down and form a chunky sauce. Add the sautéed tomatoes to a large blender or food processor along with:

4 seeded green chilies chopped (if green chilies are not available, substitute crushed red chili paste or cayenne pepper to taste)
1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt
4 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup melted butter

Puree all ingredients together and simmer together until reduced by about 1/4. (If your sauce gets too thick or is too thick coming out of the blender, you can add a little tomato juice or plain tomato sauce to thin it.)

Add the chicken back to the pot and simmer slowly for 10 -15 minutes. Finish the dish by adding

2 tbsp honey ( more or less to taste)
1/2 cup cream

Simmer for an additional minute or two before serving over rice or with naan.

Naan

This is a basic plain naan recipe to which other ingredients can be added in order to create different versions. Some common additions are herbs, onions, garlic and even minced lamb or nuts and raisins.

Makes about 8-10 naan

1 envelope regular yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 beaten egg
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups bread flour (approximately)
1/4 cup melted butter

Dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar in 1 cup water and sprinkle the yeast over the surface. set aside for about 10 minutes until the yeast gets foamy.

Mix together 3 cups of the flour with the risen yeast and all of the remaining ingredients. Knead in enough flour to make a soft dough and continue to knead for 5 minutes after that. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft free spot for about an hour or so until the dough is at least double in size.

Knead the dough again for a few minutes before shaping the dough into golf ball sized pieces. Cover and let these rise for an additional 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.

Heat a cast iron skillet or flat grill over medium heat. An electric pancake grill on high setting also works well. Roll the dough balls out to about 6 inch circles and cook each one in the unoiled skillet for a couple of minutes on each side until completely cooked through and lightly browned. You can brush them with butter as they come off the grill if you like. Hold the warm naan in a 150 degree oven as you cook the remaining flat breads.

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