Recipe: Tandoori butter chicken

24h prep
30m cook

While butter chicken might seem like the kind of quasi-Indian dish made popular in the Anglicised takeaway kitchens of Australia or the UK, its origins are actually far more authentically Indian. In the kitchen of a Delhi eatery called Moti Mahal, looking for a way of utilising the tandoori chicken left over from the day before, owner Kundan Lal Gurjal created the mild, creamy sauce with a tomato base that would soon become a worldwide favourite.

Though butter has become an addition in some of the more contemporary interpretations of the dish, the titular ‘butter’ in the dish’s name refers to the ghee that kicks the recipe off. This clarified butter is a staple of Indian cuisines, adding a buttery flavour while maintaining a high ‘smoke point’; able to be heated to high temperatures without burning.

This recipe captures the origins of the dish by first calling on the chicken to be marinated in a mix of quality tandoori paste and yoghurt, then blasting it in a searing hot oven to replicate the traditional stone tandoor oven. The sauce comes together quickly and simply and, with the addition of some basmati rice, roti or naan (or some glorious combination of them all), makes an incredibly satisfying meal that’s better than anything you’ll get delivered to your door.

Ingredients

Serves 4
500g chicken thighs, bone and skin removed
3 tbsp Tandoori paste View
3 tbsp natural yoghurt (unflavoured, unsweetened)
2 tbsp ghee View
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
400g tinned or jarred crushed tomatoes View
2 tsp ground cumin View
2 tsp ground coriander View
1/2 cup cream
2 tsp garam masala View
1 tsp black mustard seeds View
2 tsp salt View
Fresh coriander or fried curry leaves to garnish

For best results, begin this recipe a day ahead. Combine the yoghurt and tandoori paste in a non-reactive bowl, then cut each chicken thigh into quarters. Stir the chicken through the tandoori yoghurt marinade, ensuring each piece is well coated. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or, at a minimum, for at least three hours).

Preheat your oven to its maximum temperature (usually 250C). Arrange the marinated chicken pieces in a single layer on an oven safe non-stick frying pan, roasting pan or baking tray, and transfer to oven. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the edges of the chicken pieces just begin to blacken (this mimics the effects of a very hot tandoor oven). Set the chicken aside until the sauce is ready.

To make the sauce, melt the ghee in a medium sized pan over a low heat. Add the chopped onions and sauté for around 10 minutes, or until softened and translucent. Increase the heat to medium and add the garlic and ginger, stirring well, for an additional 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 cup of water (or stock), as well as the ground cumin and coriander. Bring to a simmer, then transfer carefully to a blender or use a stick blender and blitz until smooth.

Return the blended sauce to the saucepan (if you used a blender) and stir in the cream and garam masala. Add the salt, a little at a time, tasting each time until the seasoning is to your liking. Add the chicken and the black mustard seeds to the sauce and stir over a medium heat until simmering. Leave at a very low simmer for five minutes, or until chicken has warmed though, then garnish with coriander or curry leaves and serve with steamed basmati rice, roti or naan.

 

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