I know when butter chicken is good for the sole reason that I’ve had some pretty atrocious butter chicken over the years. (It was really good in India and a handful of times not in India.) Sometimes it’s bright red and tastes just like tomato sauce, sometimes it’s sickly sweet. Gross. But a few weeks back, our friends made a really, really, really yummy butter chicken and perhaps best of all, it didn’t have any cream in it which kept my now increasingly lactose-intolerant belly nice and happy. Instead of cream, this butter chicken is cooked with cashew butter and coconut cream. The serving dish it was in didn’t have a single drop of sauce left on it by the time we were done; that’s how good it was. We got a copy of the recipe from them but it is honestly confusing. as. fuck. I can’t even explain how confusing it is. Apparently our friends make it differently practically every time anyway so I figured we could riff (quite a bit) on it.
Just a few notes, the recipe calls for Kashmiri red chilli powder which gives the dish its bright red hue. But it’s still pretty spicy (taste it first! I learned the hard way) so adjust the amount according to how much heat you want. If you don’t have any on hand or can’t find any, the internet says the standard substitution would be a combination of 3 parts paprika and 1 part cayenne pepper. If you want your butter chicken super mild though, I’d opt for substituting completely with paprika.
For garlic-ginger paste, I’ve seen both garlic paste and ginger paste in the ‘international’ aisle of the supermarket so you can buy them and mix them. But I just got Rock to whip some up by pureeing equal amounts of fresh garlic and ginger with a splash of avocado oil. Homemade garlic-ginger paste should keep in the fridge for a few weeks. And if you want this butter chicken to be lactose-free, use ghee instead of butter.
The recipe has 2 parts, the chicken and the sauce. I started making the sauce just before Rock cooked the chicken so it could all come together at the same time but it’s up to you if you want to cook the chicken first. And one last thing, the sauce I made is quite thick, though not in a bad way. However if you prefer a thinner sauce I’d just reduce the amount of cashew butter and coconut cream. You could also substitute coconut cream with coconut milk which would reduce the fat and make the sauce thinner.
This makes enough for 4 to 6 people.
Tandoori chicken: 4 chicken breasts / ~1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder (adjust according to your taste buds) / 2 tbsp garlic-ginger paste / 3/4 cup plain yogurt / juice of 1 lemon / salt to taste / (If you’re going to barbecue the chicken, you’ll also need skewers.)
Butter chicken sauce: 2 x 796 ml tins of whole tomatoes, drained / 4 rounded tbsp butter or ghee / ~ 1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder / 1 tbsp garlic-ginger paste / 1 tbsp garam masala / 3 – 5 tbsp cashew butter / 3 – 5 tbsp coconut cream / 1/2 tsp ground cardamom / 2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves, crushed / 1 tbsp honey / salt to taste
For the chicken: In a large bowl, combine the Kashmiri chilli powder, garlic ginger paste, yogurt, lemon juice and salt. Cube your chicken into bite-size pieces and toss into the marinade, making sure the chicken is all well-coated. Slap a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl and stick it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
To cook the chicken, you can skewer the chicken and grill it on the barbecue (which is what we did) or simply grill or fry it on the stove. Just cook ’til the chicken is cooked through.
For the sauce: In a large pan or wok, cook tomatoes with 1 tbsp of butter over medium to medium-high heat until they are turning into, for lack of a better word, mush. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the remaining 3 tbsp of butter and stir in the chilli powder, garlic-ginger paste and garam masala. Let this cook for about a minute; it will smell awesome. Add this spice-butter mixture to the tomatoes, turn the heat down to medium, and toss a lid on for about 7 minutes or so. Next, add the cashew butter, coconut milk, cardamom powder and fenugreek leaves. Put the lid back on, and let it all simmer together for about 5 to 7 minutes and then add the honey. You don’t really have to do this but I dragged a hand blender through the sauce just ‘cus I wanted to get it super smooth. You could of course also pour it into a regular blender and puree it that way.
With the heat turned down to medium- low, add the chicken to the sauce and let that simmer for yet another 5 minutes or so. Finally, serve with warm naan or some basmati rice. SO good. I’m telling you, the photo does not do this butter chicken justice.