Butter Chicken utterly butterly, creamy, decadent boneless chicken chunks in tomato based gravy is a culinary star which tickles the palates of millions around the world. Murgh Makhani, which is what Butter chicken is popularly known in Hindi, is one of the Indian dished which is recreated the most in the world. East, West, South or North India,this iconic finger lickin dish is a much a loved dish especially by children. A king of Indian Culinary world, it has got as interesting back end history with it.
The evolution of Butter Chicken is entangled with another gastronomical delight, the Tandoori Chicken. Kundan Lal Gujral, a young chef, who got placed in a small new restaurant, Gora Bazaar, Peshawar, started by Mokha singh, is the one behind the invention of this great dish. Gujral was sharp in his skills. He used the Tandoor, which was earlier used for making breads aka naan/roti for grilling succulent chicken pieces marinated in yoghurt and spices. And that was the birth of omnipresent Tandoori Chicken.
Cooked in the radiant heat of the clay tandoor, fragrant and flavored by the smoke rising from the hot coals, the version Gujral made—with crispy skin and a recognizably bright red exterior—became an enormous success until he was forced to flee Pakistan during the 1947 Partition of India. Mokha Singh’s health deteriorated and Gujral took over the reins of the new restaurant which was started in Delhi under the name Moti Mahal.
Not long enough, Gujral realised that the tandoori chicken hanging on seekhs above the Tandoor oven would dry out by evening. He was clever in thinking and was a razor sharp business man. His cook in him came up with this novel idea of creating a basic gravy with tomatoes, spices and cream and immersing the tandoori chicken to this luscious gravy helping them to regain moisture and palatble again and thus took place the birth of the noble Butter chicken.
Moti Mahal has spread its wings far and wide and tandoori and butter chicken as become one of the world’s sought after dishes which got synonymous with Indian cuisine. Today you can find umpteen varieties of Butter chicken. You can even find molecular gastronomic butter chicken. Tacos, pizzas, rolls, sandwiches and even biriyanis are made with butter chicken. Staleness in any form is not welcome for me. Though I’m a purist by nature, I like to make twists and turns here and there but not shaking the structure. A butter chicken flavored chicken pieces for a sandwich filling or with sauce for tacos are perfectly fine as long as it sticks to its base.
The beauty of the butter chicken lies in its subtle flavors. Tanginess of tomatoes, sweetness of the cream and sugar, spiciness of chillies and the most distinct of all, the paprika which when grilled gives that unique aroma. I used smoked paprika which gives that hallucinating smell and sweet taste. You get that kicky smell when you use smoked paprika. Yogurt, nutmeg, cumin, chilli along with tandoori masala give that spot on taste which will ultimately blend with the gravy giving that piquant taste. I have added shan Tandoori masala for that extra flavor.
I have tasted butter chicken gravy to be smooth and velvety. Hence I sauteed the onion, ginger and garlic mixture along with tomatoes and tomato paste and turned it into fine smooth gravy. Cashews when soaked in hot water and then ground to a fine paste will give altogether a different flavor and texture. The distinct flavor of cashews will not be highlighted by doing this way. This will give more creaminess and we get that same texture of original butter chicken.
I have used blanched and chopped tomato chunks in tomato juice, which is readily available. But you can do this on hand by simply blanching the tomatoes in hot water, peel the skin and chop into pieces and add to the curry. Tomato is the base of the butter chicken gravy. Hence I have added tomatoes in different forms in this masala base. Chicken stock another thing which adds on to the flavor which can be replaced with water for loosening the gravy. The gravy will get thicker as the cooking advances due to the base gravy puree and addition of cashew paste.
Cream gives the final touch up to this dish. It altogether take this super creamy curry to a different level. I always use fresh double cream for this curry. Nestle cream is widely used for that extra rich taste and flavor. so if your prefer that one, then you can go for that. This great dish get its unique flavor from a diverse spice blend which is tweaked to perfection by equally balancing all the flavors along with the smoky charred tandoori chicken. Keep tasting as you progress making the curry so that every element is perfectly toned!!!!
Butter chicken is purely made with butter, hence you can go with that option making it a bang on spot dish. Do feel free to write to me what you think of my recipes and how should I improve and what more should I add to make it interesting one and for all.
Clean, Cut and debone the chicken into medium size pieces. Wash and keep to drain. Add all the ingredients in the marinade to a mixing bowl and thoroughly coat the chicken inside out. Keep for overnight or for 3-4 hours. A minimum of one hour should be marinated before grilling/shallow frying.
Shallow fry it in cast iron skillet till charred and grilled.
Soak 1/2 cup cashew nuts in hot water for one hour. Drain and transfer it to a grinder. Ground to a smooth fine paste adding 1/4 cup cream.
Heat a pan with 2 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon Oil. Add the whole spices and allow them to sizzle up. Now add the onions and saute till soft and pink. Add the chillies, garlic and ginger. Saute further till aromatic and cooked.
Now add the turmeric and chilli powders. Cook till fragrant. Add the tomato paste and blanched tomatoes. Cook for further 2 minutes. Add the cumin, fenugreek and tandoori masala. Combine everything and cook till rawness imparts and it becomes a pulpy texture. Cool the mixture and grind to a velvety puree by adding 1/4 cup chicken stock.
Heat a pan and add the gravy base along with 1 1/4 cup chicken stock. Mix up and loosen the gravy. Allow it to simmer for couple of minutes. At this stage add the powdered fenugreek and cardamom along with sugar and salt. Boil down the gravy for 3-4 minutes.
Now add the fried chicken pieces and coat the chicken in gravy. Reduce the flame and simmer for 5 mnutes so that all the flavors are infused into the chicken and viceversa. Add 3 tablespoons of cashew paste and homogenize the gravy, letting it simmer for another 5 minutes. Finally add the cream and a dollop of butter if you prefer.
Enjoy the hot butter chicken with hot hot Naan!!!!