Butter Chicken Curry

butter chicken

Butter Chicken Curry

My first casual job at university was waitressing at a local Indian restaurant. It taught me two very important life lessons. First, I am hopeless when it comes to waiting tables. And second, that Indian food is delicious.

‘Butter chicken’ or ‘Chicken Tikka Marsala’ was my first Indian food love, before I boarded the train to spicy central and learned to appreciate the hot curries like Vindaloo. In restaurants, butter chicken can be super greasy. So it’s much better to enjoy it at home when you can control the amount of cream you add. I also like having the freedom to turn up the chilli heat.

Enough for: 2
Takes: 10 minutes

450g (1lb) chicken thigh fillets
2 tablespoons garam marsala
1 – 2 teaspoons chilli flakes
1 can tomatoes (400g / 14oz), chopped
4 tablespoons whipping cream (35% milk fat)
steamed rice OR cauliflower ‘rice’, to serve

1. Bash out thighs a little with a saucepan to tenderise. Chop into chunks.

2. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet) over a medium high heat.

3. Brown chicken for few minutes each side.

4. Add garam marsala and chilli. Stir for a few seconds.

5. Add tomatoes and their juices. Simmer for about 5 minutes.

6. Stir in cream and bring back to a simmer.

7. Taste and season with salt, pepper and a little sugar if you like it sweet and serve on a bed of steamed rice or cauliflower ‘rice’.


pantry-friendly – cream = coconut milk.

no garam masala – use curry powder instead and skip the chilli. Start with 1 tablespoon curry powder.

fresh chilli – use fresh red or green chilli peppers like Thai birds eye or serrano.

dairy-free – replace cream with coconut milk.

vegan – replace chicken with tofu, or a drained can of chickpeas or 1/2 head of cauliflower and replace cream with coconut milk.

vegetarian – Replace chicken with tofu, or a drained can of chickpeas, lentils, 1/2 head of cauliflower, or even some button mushrooms.

more substantial (carb lovers) – serve with steamed rice.

more substantial (low carb) – add more chicken. Serve with some cashews or macadamias.

change the spicing – garam marsala is lovely here but for a different take, try a different curry powder or think about making your own spice blend.

try real butter – I like the slight milkiness that cream brings, but you could always do super decadent and use butter instead.

paleo (grain + dairy-free) – replace the cream with coconut milk or coconut cream.

ditch the cream – actually, sometimes it’s nice to go for the more straightforward tomato flavours.

try saag – one of my favourite Indian currys is saag – where the sauce is made with pureed spinach and tomato with the spices. It can either be vegetarian with paneer (a cheese) or carnivore with lamb or even chicken.

add onions – a lot of currys have onions as a base – this curry would be delicious with a few sweated onions.

change the protein – apart from the vegetarian options above, you could mix it up with lamb, pork, beef or even duck.

try meat on the bone – a lamb shank curry simmered for a few hours would be a completely decadent curry experience.

more veg – simmer carrot or sweet potato in the sauce. Serve with coriander (cilantro) or mint leaves.

Waste Avoidance Strategy

chicken thighs – pop in the freezer.

garam marsala, chilli flakes & tomatoes – keep in the pantry.

cream – check the use by date on the pack and if you’re not likely to use it before then, pop in the freezer.

Problem Solving Guide

too hot – next time use less chilli, but for now, increase the cream to tame the heat.

grainy sauce texture – I had a comment on stonesoup when I posted about butter chickpeas, that the texture of the sauce was really grainy. I personally haven’t experienced that, so I suspect it’s to do with the quality of the garam marsala spice blend and how fine it is ground. Simmering the sauce for longer could help soften the texture, or you could use less garam marsala (but the flavour would also be a lot milder). The best solution is to find a good source of spices or to grind your grainy garam marsala in a coffee grinder.

tough chicken – with currys and other sauce based dishes, there are 2 approaches to getting tender meat:
1. Use higher quality cuts such as breast. Chop them into small pieces, cook them quickly over a high heat until just cooked through, add the sauce and only cook at a gentle simmer so the sauce cooks but the meat doesn’t overcook.
2. Go for the long slow simmer for an hour or so to cook the meat until it is almost falling apart. This is better suited to cheaper cuts like chuck steak or lamb shanks

too bland – spices loose their flavour intensity as they age. Time to buy some fresh garam marsala for next time. But for now you could add a little more spice.

Serving Suggestions

Wonderful with classic steamed rice or for something a bit healthier, serve on a bed of wilted greens.

It can be great fun to serve a few different currys at the same time. You could go cross cultural with our potato & cashew red curry or keep in the Indian theme with a butter chicken and then perhaps doing another variation such as a lamb saag or a chickpea curry with onions and no cream.

The other option is to serve it as part of an indian style meal with perhaps a dahl and some tandoori spiced meat or vegetables.

Prep Ahead Possibilities:

Excellent. Keep curry separately from rice / cauli ‘rice’. Will keep in the fridge for a week. Can be frozen. Just bring back to a simmer in a saucepan or the microwave and serve with rice / cauli ‘rice’.

Related Links:

on stonesoup: An interview with a spice master + butter chickpeas
on stonesoup: How to stock a minimalist spice collection
on stonesoup: the simple secret to perfect fluffy rice

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