Friday, January 26, 2007

Murgh Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)

Every once in a while I get a craving to eat something with lots of sauce for dipping. My recent bread batch was just screaming for some Indian sauces to mop it up. A 4-pound bag of chicken drumsticks waited to be cooked. Per lil' sis's request, half would go toward basic salt and pepper lemon chicken. A quick check of my fridge and spice drawer later, I had enough stuff to make murgh makhani (Indian butter chicken). Ooh, I was salivating thinking of the sauce -- the richness of the yogurt, the tangy sweetness of the tomatoes, the spiciness of the chili peppers, the pop of the coriander seeds.

Murgh Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)

Butter chicken is similar to chicken tikka masala in the yogurt- and tomato-based sauce. Legend has it that chicken tikka masala was invented by Bangladeshi chefs in the U.K. when Brits demanded a "gravy" to go with their chicken tikka. But others say, that chicken tikka masala is based on butter chicken, which originated in the Punjab region of India. Or that it was invented out of expediency as a way to use up leftover chicken tikka. Either way, there's no doubt that this is a popular offering at Indian restaurants everywhere.

Speaking of chicken tikka, there's this funny little scene in Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes where Lucy is dining at an Indian restaurant with her friend Daniel. They've challenged each other to come up with pop tunes whenever a dish arrives. For chicken tikka?

"If you change your mind, I'm the first in line. "Tikka" chance on me. Honey I'm still free."

If you're chuckling and that tune is bopping in your head right now, you've either got my crazy sense of humor or you're a product of the 80's too!

I buy a lot of my spices by the ounce at Henry's Farmers Market, which is substantially cheaper than buying it in jars at the larger grocery stores. As always, adjust spices according to your preference. Also, because I hate wasting ingredients, I added all of the marinade to cook. Most recipes that I've seen dump out the marinade. What a waste, that's where all the flavor is.

Murgh Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken) 

For two to four servings, you'll need:

2 to 3 lbs chicken, skinned, cubed, or use whole pieces if you prefer

For marinade:
An 8 oz container of plain yogurt
1 small lemon, juiced
1 small knob of ginger, approximately 1-inch or so, minced
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp salt
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp coriander seeds, ground or whole according to your preference
1 tsp turmeric

For cooking:
1 16 oz can tomato sauce
1 6-8 oz container plain yogurt, or 1 cup milk or cream for a less thicker sauce
1 cup water
1 medium onion, diced
2 tblsp butter
1 1-inch knob of ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp garam masala

If using chicken pieces, make cuts into the chicken so the meat will absorb the marinade more easily and cook thoroughly. Mix all ingredients for marinade and allow chicken to marinate for several hours.

For cooking, in a saute pan on medium heat, melt butter and saute onion, ginger, garlic, and garam masala until fragrant. Add chicken and all the yogurt marinade into the pan. Add 16-oz can tomato sauce, 1 cup water, and 8-oz container of yogurt. Milk or cream may be substituted for the yogurt if you want a lighter sauce. (I've also used peach and chai flavored yogurts, which worked really well with this recipe.) Stir until ingredients are mixed. Turn heat down to medium low and allow to simmer until sauce is thickened and chicken is thoroughly cooked. About half an hour.

Spoon over rice or serve with bread, preferably naan.


My other Indian recipes:  
Naan (Indian Leavened Flatbread)
Purple Aloo Gobi (Indian Potatoes and Cauliflower)


  1. sweet recipe! i heard that same story about chicken tikka masala too. you're right, it's more likely a version of this dish. the ingredients are too similar.

  2. wandering - i live in oc. where do you buy garam masala? do you buy it from henry's? it's a spice right? i haven't made indian yet but i love it. :)

  3. Elmo,
    I admit, a lot of the Indian curries taste similar to me. As long as it has yoghurt and spices, I'm happy.

    Budding Cook,
    Henry's is next to the Target Greatland off the 405 Harbor exit. It's really a great resource for bulk buys. I just stocked up on spices and the little baggies only cost me 7 cents or 11 cents each. And their produce has always been very fresh. I've even bought whole fennel bulbs for 25 cents once!

  4. wandering - :) cool i think that's close to where i work. i'll check it out. ;) seems cheap.

  5. yumyum. looking for the burdock fries and I got sidetracked.

  6. BC,
    Hmm. Did you ever check it out?

    Haha. I always get sidetracked by food.


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