Butter Chicken (Makhani Murgh)


Butter Chicken is one of the most famous Indian dishes, it is featured in most cookery books, served in most Indian restaurants and probably everyone knows how it tastes. I have decided however to post this recipe because it was by far the best Butter Chicken I have ever had both at home and in restaurants. I owe this successful result to Julie Sahni and her Classic Indian Cookery.  I have recently bought it after a long quest for a good, serious introduction to the Indian cuisine with non-Westernised, basic recipes. This excellent, educative book lives up to all my expectations, the Butter Chicken recipe alone was worth the buy and I am looking forward to learning what seems like the real Indian cuisine.

As you probably know Butter Chicken is not a five-minute dish. I would call it “two in one” because the first step consists in preparing Tandoori Chicken marinade. Even though it takes minimum 5 hours (including the marinating time), the preparation is very easy and requires only planning the meal ahead (personally I prefer to marinate the meat overnight). According to Julie Sahni Butter Chicken can be refrigerated for up to two days and then reheated, so you can have two different meals in a couple of days. As usually, I have slightly modified the recipe and also reduced the ingredients amounts to serve for three to four people. My biggest change was to use bite-sized chicken breast pieces instead of the bigger pieces simply because I had only skinless breasts that night.

TIPS: The recipe calls for natural meat tenderiser. I didn’t have it and substituted it by the leftover pineapple juice I had used in Pork Tocino. This tip, learnt from Ray (Wok with Ray), proved even more impressive with chicken. The meat was incredibly tender. Thank you once more, Ray!

The sugar addition is not necessary, but I have the habit to add a bit of sugar to every dish with tomato sauce to enhance the tomato sweetness.

Preparation: 5 hours – 2 days (overnight or 4 hours marinating + 1 hour the following day)

Ingredients (serves 3 – 4 ): 

500 g chicken breasts (skinless, cut into bite-sized pieces) or one small chicken, skinned and and cut into pieces (neck and wings should be discarded and used elsewhere)

1/2 teaspoon natural meat tenderiser or 6-7 tablespoons pineapple juice

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Tandoori marinade:

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon roasted and ground cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon chili powder (I have used Korean chili)

1 teaspoon paprika or 1/2 teaspoon tandoori colouring (I used another teaspoon of very bright Korean chili)

30 g natural yogurt

Butter Chicken:

350 ml canned tomatoes (I used tomato purée)

2 fresh chili peppers (I have used Thai bird’s-eye)

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika (I have used Korean chili)

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon sugar

100 ml liquid cream (I have used 25% fat)

50 g  butter

2-3 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves (chopped)

(1 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds)


Rub the chicken pieces with lemon juice, salt and pineapple juice.

(If you are using bigger chicken pieces, prick them with a fork and make diagonal cuts with a knife so that the marinade enters the flesh).

Leave them to marinade for 30 minutes.

In the meantime prepare the tandoori marinade putting all the ingredients in a food processor and mixing them thoroughly.

Combine the tandoori marinade with the chicken meat and leave to marinate either for 4 hours at room temperature or in the fridge overnight.

(Julie Sahni says the meat shouldn’t marinate for more than 2 days when using the meat tenderiser. Otherwise it will become too soft. I have no idea how it will react to the pineapple juice after two days, but it’s safer to keep it for 48 hours maximum.)

/If you want to prepare Tandoori Chicken, take it out of the fridge one hour before grilling or roasting in the oven. Baste it with some ghee or oil and roast it or grill it (the time depends on the size of the pieces; it will take maximum 30 minutes in the oven preheated to 260°C and maximum 40 minutes on a grill; if you use small, bite-sized pieces it will take  no more than 10-15 minutes)./

If you prepare Butter Chicken, cut up the bigger marinated pieces in half.

Put the tomatoes, the chili and the ginger in a food processor and mix until smooth.

Put a tablespoon butter and two tablespoons oil in a pan and fry the chicken pieces over medium heat until they are browned (you might have to do it in several batches).

Put the fried chicken aside.

Add one more tablespoon butter to the pan and fry cumin and paprika for about 10 seconds, stirring.

Pour the tomato sauce over the spices, add the sugar and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat and add the cream and the chicken pieces.

Cook them for about 10 minutes, stirring and checking if the sauce doesn’t burn.

Add the remaining butter, garam masala and roasted cumin seeds (not obligatory).

Stir well and leave the dish covered for 30 minutes before serving.

Sprinkle generously with coriander.








58 Replies to “Butter Chicken (Makhani Murgh)”

  1. This recipe is timely. I was planning on making butter chicken this week. This recipe looks excellent, I will try to follow it, otherwise I will do a shortcut version:)
    I have never heard of natural meat tenderiser. I heard that paw paw skin is pretty good because of the enzymes it contains. Do you need meat tenderiser in this case since chicken is tender anyway?
    You finally bought the book, great.

    1. Thank you, Mr. Three-Cookies. I have seen meat tenderiser in powder in Indian shops here, but I have never bought it. Chicken is tender, but with the pineapple juice it was juicier (I used breasts which are prone to dryness). Of course, if one day I run out of pineapple juice I will make the recipe anyway. The sauce was so good I regretted I hadn’t put a double amount of sauce and put some vegetables in it. The book is really excellent. No photos, no fancy layout, just pure education and well-explained, detailed recipes. Such cookery books are rare now.
      I’m looking forward to seeing your shortcut version!

      1. Its funny, Indians are mostly vegetarians and they come up with a meat tenderising powder which other meat eating cultures have not:)
        The marinade has yogurt which is a tenderiser also.

        1. I didn’t know yogurt was a tenderiser. Thanks. You are right! The Indian meat-eating minority seems very inventive!

  2. I never knew there’s an Indian butter chicken recipe as well. This is entirely different from our local butter chicken. Looks seriously appetizing! Pineapple juice works just as well as pawpaw. I’d never use the powdered meat tenderizers no matter what they tell me that it’s all natural.
    Looking forward to your Indian Recipes series 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Ping. I had no idea there were other national butter chicken recipes either 😉 Have you posted your local butter chicken recipe? I would love to learn more about it.
      Thank you for the pawpaw tip. Unfortunately I have never seen it here (to be frank I have no idea what it is, I will check on wikipedia). I was also scared by the powdered meat tenderiser and have never bought it (pineapple juice is excellent enough).

    2. Is pawpaw and papaya the same thing? I have just looked at the photos and it looks like papaya…

      1. Yes, it’s papaya. The locals here use the leaves and the unripe fruit as a tenderizer for their beef dishes. The leaves are pretty sappy and I’m not too sure how they use them. The unripe papaya is sometimes used in a salad by the Thais and our locals but I’m a little sceptical eating it since it’s a tenderizer, I’m wondering what it’ll do to my tummy 🙂 You can use the fruit puree to marinade meat to tenderize it.

        1. Oh, no, I haven’t posted our local butter chicken recipe. Thanks for the idea. We haven’t had that for awhile.

        2. Thank you, Ping. I have never bought papaya (only had “exotic” juice containing papaya and some other fruits), but I see it all the time in shops. Since I have pineapple juice very often at home (and it’s cheaper than one papaya) I might wait some time before testing papaya.

      2. I think it comes from the same ‘plant family’ – pawpaw skin is generally yellow (I think) and papaya is red.
        BTW Malaysian butter chicken has salted egg yolk etc

  3. What a delicious looking butter chicken curry. It is definitely my favourite Indian curry and this is a dish that is often requested in this house. I love the colour of your curry – looks so inviting! xx

    1. Thank you, Charlie. It has always been one of our favourite home Indian dishes too, but even if it was good, something was always missing (I probably used Westernised and/or simplified recipes). With this recipe we both agreed it was perfect.

  4. Hi Sissi!

    Yes Butter chicken. how cool is that to see a indian dish on your blog! =D (I sound like as if I was born indian).

    I have tested some few natural meat tenderizer. I use pineapple juice only with certain dishes though. For butter chicken use ginger garlic paste. Ginger is a awesome meat tenderizer (always use as paste!) and garlic neutralizes the ginger taste. Otherwise u can try with papaya too. The outer skin part is even stronger then the papaya flesh. In the Taj hotel and Cidad de goa hotel they use papaya skin to cover the meat for some time with the marination. works wonders!

    1. Hi Helene! I’m also very happy to start learning Indian cuisine from my book and also from your blog! Thank you for all the tips. Actually there is already ginger in the tandoori marinade, so it tenderises the meat a bit too. I love ginger, so I use it very often in Japanese cooking too. The papaya skin trick sounds excellent! Although I never buy papaya, I will remember it. Meanwhile, my husband loves pineapple juice, so it’s easier because we often have it at home.

  5. I feel like butter chicken is the one dish you can give to someone who says they don’t like Indian food and convert them. Nonetheless I still enjoy the dish regularly myself and have made some unique alternatives too.

    Hope you had a great weekend Sissi.

    1. I totally agree! The velvety texture of the sauce pleases everyone. I hope you’ve had a great weekend too.

  6. Sissi, this looks to be a complex recipe that I will have to leave for the pros… To tell you the truth I am not familiar with Butter Chicken, the Indian community has grown a lot in the last few years here at Houston, but for some reason our favorite Indian restaurant has been transitioned out of our regular rotation, maybe it’s time to add it back in so I can find out what Buttered Chicken taste like!

    1. Jeno, it is not complex at all! It does require several Indian spices and takes several hours but only because of the marinade. I assure you it’s 100x easier than for example the delicious pearl balls you have posted 😉

  7. I’ve made various versions of butter chicken but never been blown away by any of them. I’ll have to give this one a try. 🙂

    I usually make tandoori chicken thighs and drumsticks and then cut up the thighs and use them in the butter chicken to cut down on the work.

    1. I had the same feeling until I tried this recipe. It was so different! I am a chicken breast fan, so I rarely buy thighs or drumsticks… (apart from the Shoyu Chicken)

      1. If you’re using chicken breasts these days, I don’t think that you really need to use a tenderizer especially with the tenderizing effect of the yogurt as someone else mentioned. 🙂 Skinless Breasts are on sale this week so I should pick some up for this and make some chicken tikka appetizers.

        1. I have used yogurt marinades several times but it was the first time I used pineapple juice and the first time chicken breast pieces were so soft and tender (they are usually drier), so it must be more effective.

  8. You have no idea how happy I am to have a sensible recipe for butter chicken… our entire family adores Indian food and butter chicken is right up there among our favourites (let’s face it, it’s positively delicious!). However, whenever I have looked around at recipes, I get so discouraged by the overwhelming calories/fat, that I’ve not really pursued it on my own (we tend to just eat it out at restos where I can pretend I don’t know what’s going in ;-)). This will make the journey much easier :). Thanks Sissi!

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. I would be very happy if you liked this Butter Chicken. It’s funny because I also eat in restaurants the things I wouldn’t dare cooking at home because of the fat/calorie content 😉 This recipe is not light at all, but 50 g butter and 100 ml 25% fat cream for 4 people is reasonable I think. At least it doesn’t “swim” in a fatty layer on top, like in some Indian restaurants and the taste wasn’t fatty at all. We were both very happy I found this recipe.

  9. My children’s favourite dish! That and chicken tikka masala. It is incredibly delicious and if there is any leftover, it’s the first dish to go! I love the velvety sauce and the smokiness of the chicken from the grill. Yum. Reminds me that I have’t made it in a while. Yours looks great!

    1. Thank you very much! Butter Chicken seems to be the favourite of many of us. I also like tikka masala.

  10. the version i use is by a youtube chef called harpal singh, or sth liek that, he’s under the sanjeevkapoorkhazana channel i think. he gives many brilliant tips for getting that briliant red using fresh tomatoes, and for the true flavour of the chicken to shine through. very authentic recipe, and really delicious!

    I’ll have to give yours a go too (:

    1. Thank you for the tip. I will remember it when I have fresh, seasonal, good quality tomatoes.

  11. I keep hearing about butter chicken. Now I will have to try this too. Hubby asked if I will ever be ready with my cookbook. Definitely not until I bake Sissi’s birthday cake I answered. Well maybe not for a while even after, because I still have 50-100 heavy duty obligations but it seem like my blogger friend’s keep leading me off the path with their recipes. Ah well…

    1. Zsuzsa, you are so kind 🙂 Thank you for such heartwarming words. You still remember my birthday cake! I cross my fingers for your cookbook. Butter chicken is probably the most universally loved Indian dish.

  12. It is definitely not a five minute meal Sissi! Thanks for the cookbook tip — I will investigate Julie’s cookbook, as I could use a good Indian cookbook. I’ve never made butter chicken, but it is one of my husband’s favourite meals. This is one to tuck away for a time when I really want to impress him….maybe his birthday!

    1. Hi, Barb. I must warn you. The book is really a serious introduction to the Indian cuisine and contains no photos (some drawings from time to time), but I feel that after reading a couple of pages I have already learnt a lot. (There is a big introduction). I strongly advise it of course!

  13. This is another dish that I have been thinking to make… lately everyone is posting such delicious dishes that I really can’t keep up on making everything I want to make! My list is getting way too long. Considering that, I think you are WONDERFUL trying the new recipes like every week, maybe a couple of them (?) in a week? When I try to make something, usually something is missing and my plan fall apart…along with my daily madness. Grr.. This looks very yummy! You inspire me all the time Sissi!!

    1. Thank you so much, Nami! You are so sweet 🙂 I don’t think I try several new recipes a week, but sometimes there are weeks when I try two or three new recipes (or more) and then nothing new for a week.

  14. I’ve seen this dish many times on the menu at Indian restaurants – I’ve never tried it though because chicken isn’t my most favourite meat – and I never order it in restaurants since the chance of it being free-range is pretty much zero – I always think it would be very hypocritical of me to go to such effort to always buy free-range organic meat at home but then just end up eating “whatever” in a restaurant :p

    I’ve been interested in Indian food for a long time, but it’s my nemesis. I find it very hard to create authentic dishes which are tasty. Your dish looks very much like something they’d have in a restaurant – I’m very impressed, and it sounds like a good book evidently. A lot of “Indian” cookery books in my experience are so westernised – well, the same as a lot of Chinese cookery books too. They give tips on how to cook the things we expect to see – the things we buy from takeaways – so it’s all things like noodle stir-fries or omelettes with beansprouts and cashew nuts. These days, it seems that this is changing so recipes are becoming more authentic finally.

    1. Thank you so much, Charles. I think in this case you should stop eating meat in restaurants (unless you go to expensive restaurants and even these don’t always serve organic meat, not to mention other stuff) and also vegetables, cream, everything… Since I have been buying organic vegetables and meat for a long time now, I am interested and read quite a lot about what they serve in restaurants. If I wanted to have organic meat and vegetables I would have to exclude more than 90% of restaurants in France (and here even more) and of course I couldn’t afford most of those serving it (not to mention the fact that I might not like them).
      You are wrong about chicken. If there is one kind of meat you have a chance to be served free-range in a not too expensive restaurant, it’s exactly chicken. In France organic or free-range beef, lamb or pork are produced in ridiculous percentage compared to chicken, it’s a problem French chefs and culinary journalists talk about very often. I also know it because I spent a year to find a butcher selling free-range pork and beef, while most butchers sell free-range chickens. Where do you buy your organic/free-range meat and vegetables? You told me you don’t go to butchers or organic shops, but I have never seen free-range pork or beef in Carrefour for example and what I saw in other supermarkets was ridiculous and not always available.

      1. Hi Sissi – for me, it’s not so much about wanting to eat specifically organic – I recognise that the likelihood of this in restaurants is low. My desire comes from the fact that I think chickens generally have it much worse. Of course, nothing is fluffy and happiness, sunshine and rainbows in the meat production industry, but factory chicken farming is probably the worst and most intensive of the bad production practices – if just because they’re small and considered insignificant so you can stuff several hundred birds into a small box.

        Of course, if I demanded to only ever eat organic, free-range, I’d find it very hard to eat in any restaurant ever.

        “You told me you don’t go to butchers or organic shops, but I have never seen free-range pork or beef in Carrefour for example and what I saw in other supermarkets was ridiculous and not always available.”

        It’s not a question of “never” going to these stores. I sometimes do when I want specific meat. Butcher meat is almost always a higher quality than supermarket, but as for organic produce, I can get everything I could possibly want from Auchan. They have one entire refrigerator aisle devoted to organic meat in my local store, and you can get anything ranging from veal, beef mince, roasts, steaks, to lamb, pork tenderloin, chops etc. Organic vegetables and fruit are easy to find, and have been for a long time now – even the price is not too different anymore – just the quality of the produce is different… smaller fruit etc. And of course, cheese, eggs, butter, flour etc – that’s easy to find here too. If you have a chance, you should go to an Auchan hypermarket – hopefully you’ll be able to see it’s not so rare.

        1. Hi Charles, pork and beef make me sadder because they are biologically closer to humans and they also live in such a small space they cannot even turn… On the other hand, even though I feel sorry, if I couldn’t get free-range meat, I wouldn’t become a vegetarian. I won’t stop going to my favourite pizzeria because they don’t have organic products (not a single pizzeria has here).
          I didn’t want to question the choice of your supermarket! In my region even big supermarkets (I also got to Auchan, Leclerc and Géant sometimes) have a rather small organic space, the vegetables come often from abroad and meat is only organic (not free-range, in my opinion better tasting) and also a small choice (if there is anything left when I go).
          In general, even though I try eating as healthy and “ethical” as I can, I cannot stop buying certain products (judging from your photos you don’t exclusively buy organic either 😉 ) just because they are not organic/free-range/seasonal/local etc.. I wouldn’t eat for example most of Japanese products (I can only buy organic tofu and miso) and frankly some organic vegetables/fruits don’t have such a good taste. I was surprised by your strict restaurant attitude, hence my questions 😉

          1. Well, it’s not really strict restaurant attitude – it started off as being:
            “Chicken isn’t my favourite meat, it’s cheap and easily available, why would I eat something which I consider quite mundane when I go out to eat, when I want to have fun and enjoy something delicious”.

            Over time this attitude turned into something else based on bad experiences:
            “It’s so much easier for restaurant staff to fail badly at cooking and preparing chicken that it’s not even enjoyable eating it knowing that it might be “icky””.

            That is to say – when I prepare meat – all meat – I spend a great deal of time preparing it. I cut away gristle, cartilage, bone (unless it’s really important for the dish… of course, sometimes, some fat or bone is very important). Chicken, even a simple chicken breast can have a whole load of funky bits – tough gristly bits, pipes and veins. I don’t frankly want to eat that stuff to be honest. I don’t know of any place which prepares chicken the same way I do, so I just always preferred to skip it. Not only this, but as chicken is so much easier to cook “dangerously” – raw in the middle, yummy salmonella etc. Busy kitchens can’t always get this perfectly right.

            Over time it evolved into just a blanket dislike of restaurant chicken because for all the reasons above, which merged with my hatred of intensive farming of chickens living in crippling conditions.

            I don’t think there even is a “free-range” category for non-poultry meat is there? Maybe I’m misinformed about that but I’ve never heard of free-range beef.

            1. Charles, my butcher has only free-range meat marked “label rouge” and there is a certified mention “free-range”. He carries beef, pork, lamb, duck, turkey, chicken, all label rouge and free-range. (The certificates, names of the producers and addresses are on the walls in his shop, but he is a very good butcher compared to others I met before). I also didn’t know free-range pork or beef existed before I found my butcher. THe other four or five I used to go to don’t have free-range meat (only chicken). From my experience in France most of label rouge meat is free-range (but not all), also chicken. All the organic meat I have bought in France (including chicken) was judged by us both as not as good as the one I get from my butcher, so I stopped buying it.
              The only exception is poulet de Bresse AOC, but we don’t have it often of course.
              Personally I love chicken cartilage, crunchy fried fish fins and tails, grilled bits of thin chicken bones… 😉

  15. Oh, I’d love to try this classic Indian dish…my imagination tells me it’s fabulous! Hope you’re having a nice week, my friend~

  16. Dear Sissi,

    I love butter chicken when I was living in Kuala Lumpur but sometimes the stalls make it really oily which I dislike. It is not that difficult cooking this at home and I love that you have topped this dish with chopped coriander that brings out such wonderful flavours too.

    1. Thank you, Chopinand. Many Indian restaurants serve it quite greasy here too. This recipe does contain some reasonable amounts of butter and cream, but doesn’t feel greasy at all. I love coriander in most Indian dishes.

    1. Hi, Zsuzsa, butter chicken is I think the most universally enjoyable Indian dish. The word “butter” puts some people off, but when you look at the amounts, there isn’t really a lot of butter here… It definitely is not heavy or particularly high-calorie or fat. Do try it one day!

  17. Hello, I was not able to figure out in either your recipe or in Julie’s if I’m supposed to drain the lemon/pineapple mixture before adding the marinade. If I do it your way it seems like the extra liquid from the pineapple might overwhelm the marinade. How did you do it?

    1. Hi, Jon. I haven’t drained the pineapple and lemon marinade, but simply added the tandoori marinade to the already slightly marinated chicken. Pineapple juice is used to tenderise the chicken and I think 30 minutes wouldn’t be enough. This is at least how I understood Ms Sahnni’s recipe. The dish was fantastic every time I made it and chicken breasts very tender. I hope it helps!

      1. Oh, and I highly suggest making some ghee for use in dishes from her book… it is really simple and she describes the process very well. I love the nutty flavor it imparts!

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