Butter Chicken

A beautiful rich curry laden with spices.

OK, so my love affair with Indian began several years ago when a friend of mine organised a cooking class with Ajoy Joshi, he of Nilgiri’s restaurant fame. At his restaurant he changes the menu every three months to showcase all the regions of India. His food is complex, delicate, sophisticated and delicious. He is a LEGEND in terms of dragging the India food scene in Australia forward by a hundred years. On top of that, he is THE MOST lovely guy.

Anyway, his cooking class completely demystified Indian food for me and I was hooked.

Now forget the cloying butter chicken from the bain marie and brace yourself for something from a different realm.

Some pointers:

  • This recipe takes time and there is a huge list of ingredients. I break it down, marinating the chicken the day before and then making the sauce and assembling the dish the next day.
  • You can make it as hot or as mild as you like, I tend to put in the full amount of chilli powder in the marinade and then less chilli powder and green chilli in the sauce so it’s more palatable to all the kids.
  • Embrace the mis en place. Get everything ready before you start cooking. I measure out the spices into a little saucer/dish so when it comes to adding them it’s just put it all in from a dish rather than farnarkling around with teaspoon measures.
  • Prepare the garlic and ginger in bulk. I have one of those mini blitzing bowl things (technical term) that attaches to my stick blender. I peel a whole head or two of garlic, blitz it and then put in a ramekin. Ditto for a piece of ginger. Even if you have some left over, cover what’s left with a layer of olive oil, wrap in clingfilm and keep it in the fridge. Sorted.
  • Use your food processor to chop the onions and blitz the tomatoes.
  • When I say cook the onions for 20 minutes I really mean it – they need to be a deep caramel colour.

The main thing to remember here is to just take your time, the end result is totally worth it.

I think it's impossible to photograph a curry without it looking like a bucket of sick, but this special, #everyfuckingnight, 2-day in the making, birthday dinner request butter chicken is freakin' sensational.
I think it’s impossible to photograph a curry without it looking like a bucket of sick, but this special, #everyfuckingnight, 2-day in the making, birthday dinner request butter chicken is freakin’ sensational.

Butter Chicken
For the chicken marinade
  • 1kg chicken thigh fillets, cut into bits
  • ¼ cup white vinegar or lemon juice
  • ⅓ cup coriander seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into smaller pieces
  • 5 brown or black cardamom pods
  • 10 green cardamom pods (I've never been able to find brown or black ones so just up the green amount)
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 3 tsp ground tumeric
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground mace (I've never added this as always forget to look for it when somewhere with a good spice range)
  • ¼ cup natural yoghurt
  • 2½ tbsp crushed garlic
  • 2½ tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2½ tbsp vegetable oil
For the sauce
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 kg brown onions, chopped in a food processor
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2½ tbsp crushed garlic
  • 2½ tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • 3 tsp ground tumeric
  • 2 tsp finely chopped fresh green chilli peppers
  • 1 kg tomatoes, chopped in food processor
  • ⅔ cup double cream
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 4 tsp honey
  • 2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (again, have never added/found these)
  • ⅓ cup fresh coriander, chopped
For the marinade
  1. Cut the chicken thigh fillets into pieces and place in a ceramic or glass bowl with the vinegar or juice
  2. Combine the coriander seeds, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves in a frypan and heat until fragrant.
  3. Put the spices in a spice grinder and blitz until it is a powder - get it as fine as you can
  4. Combine the ground spices with the tumeric, chilli powder, paprika, nutmeg, mace, yoghurt, garlic, ginger and oil
  5. Season with salt, add the chicken and refrigerate for 30 minutes - or overnight, depending on how much time you have.
To cook the chicken
  1. Preheat oven to 240C
  2. Oil a roasting pan and place the chicken pieces on it in a single layer
  3. Bake, without turning, for 12 minutes
  4. Remove from the oven and set aside
To make the sauce
  1. Heat the oil and butter over medium-low heat and add the onions and salt.
  2. Cook uncoverered, stirring occasionally until the onions are dark golden brown - this will take about 20 minutes and really important - don't skimp on this step
  3. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring for a couple of minutes (have a bit of a taste to make sure the garlic and ginger flavours have 'softened', meaning they're not raw!)
  4. Add the chilli powder, tumeric, green chilli peppers and cook for a minute
  5. Add tomatoes and cook, uncovered, stirring often for five to 10 minutes
  6. Add the cream and butter and stir until the butter melts
  7. Stir in the chicken, honey and fenugreek leaves and cook for about five minutes
  8. Stir in the coriander
  9. Taste and add salt if necessary and adjust flavours to your preference (I added more cream and butter (of course I did)
  10. Serve with cucumber raita, papadums and naan.