I seriously want to hug this dish, or maybe even myself for being able to make it. One month into living in Denmark, it’s obvious that serious Indian-food cravings have set in. While I certainly love trying out new cuisines (hey that’s what I practically live for), there are just those days where all you want is the food that your dear mother used to make. I had already made a handful of other Indian dishes in the past month, but none quite fulfilled the craving like this lusty pot of Murgh Makhani did.
Also known as butter chicken, Murgh Makhani is perhaps India’s best known dish. No other Indian dish has been able to enjoy such a notoriety around the world as this little curry has. It has even gone so far as to inspire a British version, chicken tikka masala, a dish that is practically the same, but identity-wise unique enough to proclaimed as “England’s true national dish”.
The immense popularity of butter chicken probably has to do with the fact that it has been able to win people over, Indian or not, in one bite. Char-grilled chicken is simmered away in a creamy tomato-based curry. Highly aromatic with the exotic smell of methi (fenugreek) leaves, the taste of butter chicken is mysterious enough to have you captivated, yet still friendly enough for you to relate to if you are not familiar with Indian cuisine.
Making Murgh Makhani is a two-step step process because well, this dish was originally created as a way to use left over tandoori chicken. Therefore, I give you two recipes in one! The first is for tandoori chicken, named after the clay-shaped ovens that the chicken is traditionally roasted in, but boy oh boy it will also be the juiciest you have ever had due to the copious amounts of yogurt used in the marination. The second recipe is for the actual makhani sauce, which besides chicken, can also serve as an excellent gravy for paneer (Indian cottage cheese), tofu, mushrooms, bell peppers, green beans, potatoes, and well practically any other vegetable you can thing of! It’s just that damn good! However, before we actually start, I must give a shout out to my mother for graciously providing the recipe. It’s one that truly has stood the test of time, winning the approval of even the pickiest of eaters and featuring as the centerpiece of office potlucks. I have only adapted the recipe the very slightest by adding whole green cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick to the makhani sauce in an effort to create a greater depth of flavor, and might I say, it sure did!
Finally, I need to address the name of the dish. Murgh in Hindi means chicken while makhani means buttery (coming from the word makhan, which means butter). Therefore, although it is not necessary, you should cook your butter chicken in butter, especially if you live in an area (as I currently do right now) that is known for its local butter! However, I must say that using oil is also fine because in the end, the true richness in this dish comes from adding cream. Let’s just say that murgh makhani may not be the most healthy of dishes, but it certainly is the ultimate comfort food.
For the Tandoori Chicken:
- about 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 2 cups plain yogurt (use whole or reduced-fat yogurt please)
- 2 tablespoons of Tandoori Paste (I use the Patak’s brand)
- 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves
- salt to taste
For the Makhani Sauce:
- 398 grams tomato puree
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced or ground into a paste
- 4 garlic cloves, finely minced or ground into a paste
- 1 jalapeno pepper, finely minced
- 1-2 teaspoons ground paprika, optional
- 1 tablespoon Tandoori Paste
- 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves
- 1/2 cup cream
- salt to taste
- 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
For the Tandoori Chicken: In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, fenugreek leaves, tandoori paste, and salt. Stir the ingredients until well-combined and taste your marinade to make sure that the salt level is right. Then add the chicken thighs and then mix them around, making sure that they are well coated in the marinade. Cover the bowl and place the chicken in the fridge to marinate overnight.
On the next day, preheat the oven to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the chicken thighs on the sheet. Be sure to shake off any excess marinade that might be lying on the chicken. Discard the remaining marinade. Broil the chicken thighs on one side for 15 minutes, and then flip them over and broil the other side for another 15 minutes. Remove the chicken thighs from the oven and place them on a plate to cool. Once cooled, cut the chicken thighs into bite-size chunks. If you see that the chicken is not completely cooked, that’s completely okay. It will finish cooking in the sauce.
For the Makhani Sauce: In a large sauce pan, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted and hot, add the cardamom pods and the cinnamon stick. Allow them to toast in the butter for a minute or two before adding the ginger, garlic, jalapeno pepper, tandoori paste, and paprika, if using. Saute these ingredients for about 2-3 minutes. Then add the tomato puree, a sprinkle of salt, and bring the mixture to a boil. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 15 minutes over low heat. Then add the chicken pieces. At this point take a look and make sure that there is enough sauce to adequately cover the chicken. Butter chicken is a saucy dish, so you will need to add a little water to create a gravy. Do not add extra tomatoes, as this will make the dish unnecessarily sour. Bring the mixture to a boil again and simmer for 10-15 minutes. The simmering time at this point depends on the doneness of the chicken. If the chicken is already cooked, only simmer for about 10 minutes. If the chicken is not cooked completely then simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Whatever the case may be, make sure your chicken is COMPLETELY COOKED! You don’t want to poison your guests. After the simmering, add the fenugreek leaves and cream. Adjust for seasoning and simmer again for 5-10 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve warm with hot, buttery naans or steamed basmati rice.
- Fenugreek leaves are also known as Kasuri Methi and are available at most Indian grocery stores.
- Tandoori Paste is available at all Indian grocery stores as well as in many larger supermarkets. You can also use Tandoori powder if that’s all you have on hand.
- If you cannot find tandoori paste or powder, add some tomato paste, garam masala and turmeric to the marinade. To the sauce, add some ground cumin, ground coriander, garam masala, paprika, tomato paste, and a sprinkle of lime juice while you are sauteing the ginger, garlic, and jalapeno. Alternatively, you could also make your own Tandoori paste. There are numerous recipes for this on the internet.
- Stay on the lookout because I plan on creating my own recipe for tandoori paste over the summer!