Like most white folk, I love butter chicken. But I’m pretty fussy about it. Some of the variations I find in Cape Town have too much of a Malay twist on them. Many of the ones in London don’t have the TLC butter chicken requires. Simple solution, make it yourself. It’s a pretty easy dish if you’re willing to put some effort in.
This is a pretty straight-forward recipe and although it’s for a big serving, the recipe works just as well when halved. Don’t halve it exactly, though. I like to cook by feel and taste – half is a good measure for the marinade but don’t be scared to spice it up a little bit more as you cook.
1kg of chicken (cut into pieces)
6 tablespoons of oil
1 table spoon of garlic paste
1 table spoon of ginger paste
2 tablespoons of Kashmiri red chilli powder (normal chilli powder will do if you can’t find Kashmiri, or make your own by smashing some dried chillies in a pestle and mortar)
2 tablespoons of ground coriander
1 ½ tablespoons of ground cumin
½ teaspoon of ground turmeric
1 ½ teaspoons of Garam Masala
1 tablespoon of fenugreek leaves
2 tablespoons of lime or lemon juice
500ml of plain yogurt, whisked
125 g of chilled butter or ghee
750 g of plump tomatoes
1 tablespoon of chilli powder
1 tablespoons of fenugreek leaves (dried and crushed)
½ tablespoon of Garam Masala
3 tablespoons of single cream
Mix the marinade ingredients together and add the cubed chicken. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight. I marinade the chicken in the same pot I plan on cooking it on, just so there’s less to clean up and none of the marinade goes to waste.
Heat oil in a large pan and over low heat, cook the chicken, stirring occasionally. Cook for 25 minutes or until done. There might be quite a lot of moisture, so let most of it cook away. The chicken can also be grilled and basted as it goes on, but I find the pot works just fine.
For the sauce: melt a tablespoon of butter or ghee, add the tomato and cook for 5 minutes until all the moisture is gone. Add the rest of the butter and let it melt. Add the chilli powder and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle over some crushed fenugreek and garam masala.
Combine the sauce with the chicken and cook on a low heat for a while longer. Allow the sauce to reduce to whatever you like. Crank up the heat if it’s taking too long, but the longer you cook it, the better. Stir in some cream before serving.
Do not compromise on the fenugreek. I couldn’t find leaves so I used seeds which I dry fried and ground up in a pepper grinder.
The plum tomatoes are best if they are pureed. So once it’s cooked and the moisture has reduced quite a bit, take a blender to it or chuck it in a food processor to smoothe it out.
Use ghee if you can find it and cook it slowly. The sauce can sometimes split with the combo of butter and yoghurt, but if you heat it all slowly, it shouldn’t. This dish is all about taking your time. Do not compromise on letting the chicken marinade, overnight is ideal, but 3-4 hours will do if you’re in a rush.