My husband and I took a Caribbean cruise for our anniversary. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you know that the service staff will do just about anything to make your trip absolutely amazing. Ours certainly did that. What’s that got to do with Indian Butter Chicken? Everything. You’ll see!
On one of the evenings, my husband asked our waiter, Loyall, when we would get to enjoy some Indian food from his home country. Two days later, Loyall and our head waiter, Dennis, surprised us with a traditional Indian dinner served family style at our table.
The dinner consisted of Indian Butter Chicken, Basmati rice, roti and papadam chips. My husband and I love Indian food and this meal was nothing short of amazing. Tender, juicy chicken in a thick, aromatic sauce. Simply delightful. We all agreed that the flavorful sauce was better than the food we’ve eaten at our local restaurants. I expressed this fact to Dennis and he diplomatically replied that “some chefs just have a way with the spices.” I asked him to tell the chef how amazing his dish was and how much we truly enjoyed the special meal he had prepared for us. This recipe is a result of asking our chef how it was prepared.
Many people I talk to are afraid to try Indian food. Let’s face it; Indian food has gotten a bad rap in American TV and films. Indian food is not usually so spicy it burns your mouth – though there are some dishes (like Vindaloo) which can be quite hot. However, even these recipes can be scaled down in the heat department dependent upon the amount of chiles you use.
Indian Butter chicken is one of the milder of the curry dishes and has become popular worldwide. If you’ve wanted to try preparing Indian food at home but are worried about the heat and spice levels, this dish may be perfect for you. In the translation from Hindi to English, “garam” means warm and “masala” means a blend of spices. Put that together and garam masala means warm spice blend – which is exactly how this dish tastes.
My daughter ate this for dinner and was fine with the flavors and heat level. For reference, she is 6 years old and does not like spicy food.
OK – Let’s talk spices. I buy the spices used in this dish on the ethnic food aisle, not the traditional spice section located near the baking goods. The Badia brand herbs and spices on the ethnic food aisle are often more than half the cost of McCormick spices. Badia even carries small bagged versions of many whole spices – like cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and star anise. These bags are usually less than $2 each; some are as low as $0.89. If you do not have all the spices already in your pantry it’s worth checking out the Badia brand spices in your grocery store. Even the big box store carries the Badia brand on their ethnic or International foods aisle.
For the marinade: [See Note 1]
- 1½ cups Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
- 2 tablespoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite-sized chunks
For the sauce:
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter [See Note 2]
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and diced
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated [See Note 3]
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 star anise
- 2 medium-size tomatoes, diced [See Notes 4]
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced [See Note 5]
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
- ⅔ cup chicken stock
- 1½ cups cream or half and half
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons chopped almonds, peanuts or cashews
- Fresh cilantro leaves, stems removed
- In a large bowl or zip-top storage bag, mix together the yogurt, lemon juice, turmeric, garam masala and cumin. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover (or close), and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours to marinate.
- In a large pan over medium heat, melt the butter together with the oil. Add the onions, and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, and cumin, and cook until the onions start to brown.
- Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, star anise, tomatoes, chile peppers, and salt. Stir to combine.
- Add the chicken and marinade to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for approximately 20 minutes.
- Stir in the cream and tomato paste. Then add the almonds (or peanuts or cashews), and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.
- Remove the bay leaves, star anise, and cinnamon stick before serving.
- Serving Suggestion: Serve with steamed Basmati rice, naan bread, and steamed cauliflower. [See Note 6]
2). You may use ½ stick of butter if you prefer. This makes a very flavorful sauce.
3). I use a lot of ginger in weekly recipes. I buy it pre-grated in the tubes in the produce section of the grocery. I also buy it jarred from my Indian grocer. For fresh ginger, I buy a small knob. For this recipe, buy approximately a 3-inch piece of fresh ginger.
4). Traditional Indian dishes use fresh whole tomatoes but canned diced tomatoes may be easily substituted.
5). Anaheim chiles may be substituted. These are not readily available in my area so I substituted jalapeno peppers.
6). Cauliflower pairs well with this recipe and is the perfect vehicle for soaking up that delicious sauce. You may opt to cook them in with your sauce instead of steaming. This is my favorite way to cook the cauliflower when I make Indian food.
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