Better with Butta?: Butter Chicken or Murgh Makhanni


I got more than one “Mmmmm.  I LOVE butter chicken!” response when I told my friends about my menu plan for the week. While it seems to be a heavy favorite amongst my compadres, I can’t say that I’d ever specifically ordered it on my own. I’m sure I’ve had it buffet style, but when it comes to ordering off the menu, I’ve always tended to shy away from any dish whose name screams butter or cream. My Crestor has enough work to do, thanks.

Today’s Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhanni, isn’t authentically from Central India, but is rather hails from a bit further north in Delhi but because it was such a favorite, I had to make it.  Like the tandoori chicken, this fan favorite comes at the hand of a restaurateur.

According to the website Butter Chicken (no joke), chef Simon Mahli Chahal created this dish at his Delhi eatery when he combined leftover Tandoori chicken with extra tomatoes, butter and spices.


While I appreciate the ingenuity, making the tandoori chicken first and the sauce part second seemed a bit stupid and extra work so I sort of combined the two steps and cooked the chicken right in the sauce, no doubt cutting down on pans to wash and time until dinner.  I supposed I could have used any tandoori chicken, but there was none left. As if there would be…

A few ingredient notes:

  1.  I did not use butter. Sorry, butter chicken, but this no-cow-dairy girl had to follow the rules.  I merely used coconut oil.
  2. I did use goat milk yogurt. Like I mentioned with the tandoori, I wonder about the success of using coconut cream as the “yogurt” marinade. I’m sorry this remains a theory. To be tested soon.
  3. You may notice that this is not as dark as typical butter chicken. Why? Down with the food coloring!  I just let nature do the dying.
  4. For the cream, I used cashew milk. There are a lot of alternative milks out there, and many of them have their own unique flavor. While the sauce for this dish has enough power to overtake whatever the manufacturers add, I used unsweetened vanilla cashew milk. My physical therapist as it happens has Celiac disease and lactose intolerance, and she said that her chef friend/client swears by cashew milk as a heavy cream alternative. I will admit that compared to other non-milks out there, it looked the closest to heavy cream. I bet coconut milk would make a very tasty addition, but alter the taste enough that it would be less a butter chicken than this non-butter butter chicken is.  Does that make sense? If not, just nod your head and pretend that I stopped talking at #3.


Serves 4

Adapted from The Essential Asian Cookbook


2 pounds cut chicken (I used a combo of breast, thighs and wings)

1 tsp salt

¼ cup lemon juice (about the juice of 1 hearty lemon)

1 cup yogurt

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 ¼ inch piece ginger, peeled and grated

1 jalapeno, chopped

2 tsp garam masala seasoning

½ cup tomato puree

¾ cup cashew milk

1” ginger, peeled and grated

1 tsp garam masala

2 tsp sugar

½ tsp chili powder

1 TB lemon juice

1 tsp cumin

2 Tb coconut oil for the pan (or butter, if you so choose)

Parsley to garnish

Rice to serve


1.  Cut the chicken into strips. Sprinkle with salt and lemon juice.

2.  Place the yogurt, onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeno and garam masala in a food processor and press play until smooth.

3.  Add the yogurt puree to the chicken and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.  Remove the chicken from the marinade and let drip for about 5 minutes. Reserve 1 TB of the marinade and discard the rest.

4.  To a deep pan, add the coconut oil.  Brown the chicken, about 2 minutes on each side.  Once the chicken has been cooked, remove from the pan.  To the pan, add the reserved marinade, tomato puree, milk, ginger, extra garam masala, sugar, chili powder, lemon juice and cumin. Stir to combine.

5.  Bring to a boil and cook for two minutes.  Add the chicken pieces, reduce the heat and let simmer until the chicken has fully cooked through, about 30 minutes.  Serve with rice and garnish with parsley.


**I liked my sauce a bit thicker. If you want more, feel free to add some more water to the pan.


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