Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhanwala)

One of the first dates I had with my husband, I surprised him with preparing Indian food (one of his favorites). At the time, I was in a tiny apartment and really hadn’t developed the love for cooking that I have know. Reflective of that yet to be discovered passion was my sadly barren spice rack. I had the basics – cinnamon, oregano, etc. – but no garam masala or anything that sounded remotely exotic.

I remember going to Whole Foods and buying little baggies of the “rare” ingredients, as I saw them back then. I spent all day cooking, figuring out how to put together a sauce reminiscent of our nights of Indian takeout.

At the time, I was quite proud of my newly learned skills. And Rob was too, since I had clearly hooked him into yet another date with me. But, he didn’t marry me for my Indian cooking skills, since I have rarely attempted the feat since.

But, when I saw this recipe for butter chicken (our favorite dish at the old Indian restaurant around the corner), I knew I had to give it a go – if nothing but for old time’s sake.

The total preparation takes a little over an hour (and overnight marinade), so it might be ambitious for a weeknight, but it was perfect for a Sunday night. The sauce tasted exactly like the butter chicken we knew – and the leftovers the next day were even better. The only alteration I would make is to maybe shred the chicken before putting in back in the sauce, so eating it isn’t so much work.

Cooking Indian this time around was a bit different, though. I had no need to buy special ingredients because I had them all in my well-stocked spice closet (with the exception of curry leaves which I didn’t seem to miss). I had more confidence in my cooking abilities than years before. And, I had the ambition to make more than one dish by making the accompanying raita (which I recommend to help cool the heat). But, one thing did remain the same – I enjoyed it with the man I will spend the rest of my life with.

Thanks, Saveur, for this great Indian recipe that will be made frequently in our home.

MURGH MAKHANWALA (BUTTER CHICKEN)
Serves 4

FOR THE CHICKEN:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. canola oil
2 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. crushed red chile
flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 3″ piece ginger, peeled and thinly
sliced crosswise
Kosher salt, to taste
1 3–4-lb. chicken, cut into 8 pieces,
skin removed

FOR THE RAITA:
1/2 English cucumber (about 6 oz.),
seeded and grated
1/2 medium tomato, seeded and finely
chopped
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh
mint leaves
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated

FOR THE SAUCE:
1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 green cardamom pods, cracked
3 whole cloves, crushed
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes,
undrained
1 3″ piece ginger, washed and grated
(skin on)
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″
cubes
1 tsp. garam masala
4 fresh or frozen curry leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black
pepper, to taste

Marinate the chicken: Combine all marinade ingredients except for chicken in a food processor; purée. Transfer marinade to a large bowl and add chicken, tossing to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 500°. Transfer chicken to an aluminum foil—lined baking sheet and spoon any marinade from bowl over chicken. Bake chicken until light brown but not cooked through, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack; set aside. Meanwhile, make raita: Toss cucumbers, tomatoes, and salt in a colander and let sit for 10 minutes. Press cucumbers and tomatoes to drain well and then transfer to a medium bowl along with yogurt, mint, lemon juice, coriander, cumin, and carrots; toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Make the sauce: In a 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat, combine chile flakes, garlic, cardamom, cloves, tomatoes, ginger, bay leaf, and 2/3 cup water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often and crushing tomatoes with a spoon, for 25 minutes. Discard bay leaf and transfer sauce to a food processor; purée. Return sauce to pot and continue cooking over medium-low heat until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Add reserved chicken pieces and any marinade from pan, along with 1/3 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream, butter, garam masala, and curry leaves. Reduce heat to low and cook until flavors meld, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and keep warm.

To serve, transfer chicken and sauce to a serving platter and serve with the raita and basmati rice.

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2 Responses to “Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhanwala)”

  1. Heather Johnson Says:

    So Mushroom Matter is my favorite from Baba. Is this like that? It’s a tomato-cream sauce. I need to find a recipe for that…

    Any ideas?

    Larry tried it last week via leftovers and liked it! He said “I like that Asian food you brought home.”

    Oh the Lar-Dog! haha

    • foodforthoughtblog Says:

      This is like a tomato and cream sauce so it would be similar. It is like Butter Chicken from Cumin. Or kind of like Chicken Tikka Masala at Baba!

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