My friend Nathalie loves Indian food, so I decided to have her over for a pre-Christmas meal tonight; although we skipped the traditional North American ham or turkey for this fantastic Indian Butter Chicken dish. We’ve had Indian food now twice together since I’ve known her – which means that after tonight we’ve officially fallen into a pattern, albeit a tasty one. I’ve also had Indian food in the back of my mind this past week as I’ve been thinking often of an old friend, Kirti, who I haven’t seen in a few years. Kirti, an old classmate from graduate school, has just returned to India for the holidays for an arranged marriage; and although we haven’t stayed in touch since leaving academia, I’ve been picturing the wedding celebrations with a smidgeon of envy and wished I were there. Two of my Canadian friends, also MBA alum, are there now to witness and take part in the festivities.
Butter Chicken is a delicious meal that is surprisingly not difficult to make, considering the relatively large amount of ingredients and steps. There is a lot of prep time in the beginning, mostly just marinating the chicken in spices and then again in yogurt and additional spices. Different butter chicken recipes will call for a range of marinating times – times can also vary depending on how rushed you are. Keep in mind though that the longer the chicken soaks in the flavours from the garam masala and creamy yogurt the more tender it will be later on. The name of this dish actually comes from the “buttery tenderness” of the chicken and not from an abundance of butter as an ingredient – as you’ll see, there really isn’t that much butter here. Also, if you haven’t cooked with garam masala before you’re in for a treat. It’s literal translation is “hot mixture” and is a pungent, mouth watering blend of aromatic spices that is quite common in Indian and other South Asian cuisine. Bon appetit!
What you’ll need:
For chicken marinade
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed into inch wide pieces
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp garam masala (you can find this in the spice section or ethnic food section of most grocery stores)
3 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp ginger paste
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped chili pepper
1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups tomato puree (I bought canned tomatoes and put them in the food processor
2 tbsp chili powder
salt to taste
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp honey
1 cup heavy cream (I used whipped cream that comes in the carton and it tasted great)
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1. For marinating, place chicken in a bowl with the lemon juice, 1 tbsp of the chili powder and salt. Mix well with hands to completely coat the chicken; cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, drain the yogurt in a fine strainer or cheese cloth for 15 minutes in order to remove some of the moisture. After 15 minutes, place the slightly firmed yogurt in a medium bowl and mix in the salt, minced garlic, garam masala, butter, chili powder, minced ginger, lemon juice and oil. Pour this yogurt mixture over chicken and again mix around with your fingers; cover again and refrigerate to marinate for 2 hours. You can always shorten this step to 30 minutes or an hour, though the chicken won’t taste as tender.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place coated chicken in a casserole dish or baking dish and bake for roughly 20 minutes. Don’t fully cook the chicken at this stage – you’re just intending to cook it about 3/4 of the way.
4. For the sauce, melt the 2 tbsp of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Stir in the garam masala for about 2 minutes, then mix in ginger, garlic, onion and chile pepper. If you will be pureeing the tomatoes yourself for the next step, this is where you should take out the food processor. Next, saute the contents of the frying pan until tender, stirring frequently, then add the tomato puree, chili powder, salt and water. Bring the mixture to a boil; then reduce heat to simmer, stirring in honey. Keep simmering for 5 more minutes to help reduce the liquid a little before adding the chicken.
5. Place the mostly-cooked chicken in sauce mixture and stir in the cream. Add half the amount of chopped cilantro, stir, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Serve on basmati rice with remaining cilantro as garnish.