Homestyle Butter Chicken
90 Min

Homestyle Butter Chicken

An accidental discovery originating from the Punjab region of India during colonial times, butter chicken — aka chicken tikka masala, or CTM — is hands down the most popular Indian restaurant dish. The word “tikka” has its origins in Persian and simply means bits or pieces. Chicken tikka refers to spiced and roasted boneless chunks of chicken. Masala, which technically means a spice or herb blend, refers to the fenugreek-laden, aromatic thick creamy sauce that accompanies the tikkas.

In 2001, Robin Cook, the then-foreign minister, announced CTM as the new national dish of Great Britain as a shining example of multiculturalism. Critics immediately responded by condemning it as a British invention and yet another demonstration of the British facility to reduce foreign foods to their most unappetizing form.

Though there is some controversy about the origins of the dish, the most likely story is that the modern version was created during the early ’70s by an enterprising Indian chef near London. In a quick attempt to fix a dry chicken tikka sent back by an upset customer, he whipped together a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, cream and spices to provide a sauce for the offending chicken. Of course, this unknown chef, who received no credit for his ingenuity, inadvertently had invented a dish that Britons now eat upwards of 20 tons of in a week. Originally dismissed as “mongrel cuisine,” in the hands of a skilled cook, butter chicken has evolved with periodic improvisations as a popular curry all over the world.

When my children were little, butter chicken made with bone-in chicken pieces was a regular meal we enjoyed with great gusto, especially when their friends came over. I have served it with everything from rice and roti to toast and pasta and, like most curries, it makes good leftovers. Garam masala, which literally translates as “warming” spice mix and is often sold as a blend, is made up of a combination of aromatics including cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves and more. Today, I consider butter chicken or CTM gateway cuisine — once you get a good handle on it, there are so many more delicious and fragrant stews to explore.

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Cook Time

90 Minutes



Step 1
Marinate the chicken legs in butter, minced garlic, yogurt, chile powder, cumin, and salt. Set aside for 2 to 3 hours or overnight.
Step 2
Preheat the oven to 425°F. On a greased baking sheet, spread the marinated chicken, and place in the oven to roast for 25 to 30 minutes. 
Step 3
In a heavy-duty wide saucepan, heat the butter, then add the minced garlic and ginger puree. Fry for a few seconds or until the garlic turns translucent, then add the tomato puree, heavy cream, chile powder, and salt, bringing the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for 10 to 12 minutes. 
Step 4
Add the fenugreek, garam masala, and 1/2 to 1 cup of water as the mixture continues to simmer.
Step 5
When the chicken has finished roasting, add to the simmering sauce and continue cooking it for another 10 to 12 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the curry rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Add more butter if desired.

Chicken Marinade:

3 each chicken thigh and drumstick, skinless bone-in (roughly 2 pounds)

2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee

1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon chile powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt


3 to 4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons ginger puree

1 cup tomato puree, canned

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon chile powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 to 2 tablespoons butter for finishing (optional)

Notes & Variations

  • The additional butter at the end is optional. It certainly makes for a creamier curry.
  • If using boneless chicken thighs or breasts, adjust the cooking time accordingly and replace the water in the sauce with chicken stock.
  • When starting the curry, be sure to move fast or the butter will burn.
90 Min

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