Homemade Chicken Makhani | Traditional Butter Chicken
The average restaurant version of Butter Chicken is usually a dish with just one beat, sweet.
It lacks the palimpsest of flavors, the real melody, form, and complexity that comes when this dish is made well.
Makhani gravy which directly translates into the cream gravy, as the name implies has some cream in the gravy but is mainly a tomato-based gravy. To this gravy, succulent pieces of freshly made, boneless tandoori chicken pieces are simmered.
As the story goes, the original Chicken Makhani was created by fluke at the Moti Mahal restaurant in Daryaganj, Delhi on the outskirts of the walled city back in the 1950s. The restaurant was famous for its Tandoori chicken and the chefs began to reserve leftover pieces of the roasted neck, wingtips, etc. along with their juices. On one occasion, tomatoes and butter were tossed in with the chicken and juices to create what we now call Chicken Makhani. The Delhiites couldn't get enough of the stuff only to spread like wildfire the world over. Like many good ole' stories, the source, the etymology has long since been forgotten but the love of the dish remains.
There are too many versions of the recipe out there and some have even foregone the tandoori chicken (bloody hell!). This version stays true to it's Delhi roots. A handful of ingredients come together and like in so many dishes when the ingredients are few, the quality plays an ever-important role. Simple ingredients like the ginger-garlic paste should be freshly made in the grinder or food processor (like a Magic Bullet) capable of preparing smooth pastes.
Also, none of the ingredients should be omitted especially the Kasuri methi which is basically dried fenugreek leaves that adds that vital flavor that carries ordinary Makhani gravy into the realm of extraordinary. Mediocre restaurant versions also use food coloring while making the gravy and especially while making the tandoori chicken. There is simply no need for this. Why would you want to ingest red dye 40 with your food?
So leave that to the restaurants and keep your homemade butter Chicken pure, true to the original and insanely, lip-smackingly delicious!
Homemade Chicken Makhani - Butter Chicken
5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1-1/2" fresh ginger root (to yield 1/4 cup roughly chopped)
1/2 tsp red chilly powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tbs salt
2" long cinnamon stick
3 whole cardamom pods
2 tbsp canola oil
1-1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
1 tbs tomato paste
2 tbs honey
1/2 cup heavy cream
1-1/2 tbsp Kasuri methi (do not omit)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 to 1 tsp red chilly powder
1-2 green chilly, slit (if using)
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh ginger root
1-1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
Preparation:Preheat the oven to 400 deg F
Chicken:Cutaway excess fat and dice into 1-1/2" squares.
Ginger: Roughly chop and place in grinder or food processor. Add 1/4 cup water. Grind to a smooth paste.
Marinade: To a large mixing bowl, add the chicken along with the ginger paste, salt, ground turmeric, and red chilly powder. Stir to thoroughly combine and coat the chicken. Add the yogurt and combine to thoroughly coat the chicken. Set aside for 1 hour or so on the countertop or refrigerator if marinating longer.
Ginger garlic paste: Roughly chop the ginger and garlic cloves. Place in the grinder or food processor with 1/4 cup water. Pulverize to a smooth paste.
Line a jelly roll pan or baking tray with Aluminum foil. Place the chicken pieces in a single layer and grill in the oven for 20 minutes. Turn up the oven to broil. Broil for 5 minutes or so until chicken has some brown edges. Remove and set aside.
In a kadhai or deep saute pan, heat the oil on medium-high.
Add the cinnamon, cardamom pods, cloves, and ginger garlic paste and saute for a minute or so till it gets fragrant & the paste begins to stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the tomato paste and water and saute for a minute or so.
Add the tomato sauce, honey, salt, ground turmeric, red chilly powder, Kasuri methi & green chilly. Stir and Simmer on medium-low heat for a minute or so.
Add the heavy cream andstir. Simmer for a few minutes stirring regularly.
Taste and adjust seasonings especially the sweetness and salt.
Add the chicken along with all the pan juices. Stir to combine.
Cover the pan with a lid and simmer on low heat for about 3-4 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasonings a final time. The gravy should be slightly sweet with a distinct flavor
from the Kasuri methi.
Sprinkle with chopped cilantro leaves and serve immediately with Naan, phulkas, rotis or pita bread in a pinch.