During the ‘90s, my mother started making a mind-blowing butter chicken. She has a history of making mind-blowing chicken curries so it was no surprise that the butter chicken would be just so. The chicken curries were – and still are -- juicy, perfectly moist.
Prior to the butter chicken, the curries were the typical brown color and, as in most Indian homes, she used chicken drumsticks. I don’t know the reason for the drumsticks, but I suspect the majority of chicken drumsticks in the world are being consumed by the subcontinent. The butter chicken recipe calls for cubed chicken breast.
As you might imagine, my mother’s cooking is fabulous all around (and you would be correct), but getting a recipe out of her is near impossible. Not because they are closely guarded secrets of some Indian family, but because she does not work off of recipes. And when you ask her how to make something, her response is always (frustratingly) the same: “It’s easy.” That’s it. That’s all you get.
I managed to get a list of ingredients – with no measurements, of course – and with a little experimentation, came up with a recipe. Enjoy, and let me know how your version turns out. Some of the ingredients can be found at your local Indian grocery.
Also, if you’re dining out, butter chicken is known as chicken makhani in Indian restaurants. I’ve yet to eat bad butter chicken anywhere, but my mom’s is the best.
My Mom’s Butter Chicken Recipe
Serves four just fine, decadent for two really hungry people.
Do not keep for more than 24 hours. I don’t know why but that’s the rule.
• Three boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
• Plain yogurt (enough to cover but not soak all the chicken cubes)
• 1 teaspoon black salt (more if you like)
• 1 cap-full vinegar
• 1 table spoon lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 2 tablespoons turmeric
• Hand-and-half or heavy cream (enough to cover chicken cubes once they are in sauce pan)
• 1 cup tomato sauce (you may want to add more later, depending on your taste – adds tartness and color)
• 2 tablespoons (or 3 depending on taste) dried methi leaves (Indian grocery). The aroma is intense; you’ve been warned
• Black salt (keep adding pinches until it tastes right to you)
• 1 teaspoon turmeric (more if you want it more yellow)
For a kick: mince a green chili (seeded) and add to sauce
1. Place cubed chicken breasts in a bowl
2. Pour yogurt until yogurt covers – not soaks – chicken cubes
3. Blend into chicken-yogurt mixture: 1 teaspoon black salt, one cap-full vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon paprika, and 2 tablespoons turmeric. Blend well.
4. Cover bowl and let sit for at least three hours. Longer is better but no need to go crazy and do an overnight.
SUPER TIP: While the chicken marinates, clean up the mess you’ve made in the kitchen, making sure to clean all surfaces touched by the raw chicken. Cleaning up is not only hygienic, it’s also efficient. It’s no fun to sit down to a meal with a messy kitchen. After you’ve cleaned, fix yourself a glass of wine (a white burgundy will do just fine) and relax.
Just before marinating time is up, heat the oven to 350 degrees.
1. In a baking pan, pour chicken in marinade and place in oven for 10 minutes
2. Turn chicken over and keep in oven for another 10 minutes
3. Take out of baking pan, and with a spatula, move chicken pieces – not the marinade – into a heavy saucepan
4. Put saucepan on medium heat and pour half-and-half or heavy cream into pan just a tad below the tops of the chicken pieces
5. Throw in tomato sauce, methi leaves, black salt, and turmeric.
6. Stir until blended; simmer for 15 minutes
Serve with basmati rice.
For Indian meals, I like to cook the rice with a few cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, and cardamom. Delicious!