Sunday, July 21, 2013

Butter Chicken

Before I offend further people with my tales of depo-provera (in my search for meaning in my barren existence, I've evidently taken a page from Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged), I thought it might be a good time to discuss Indian food.

I do so with the note that I really love Indian cuisine (at least, what I've been exposed to in restaurants, which may not be at all representative), which is why I'm working on learning to cook it. But I didn't grow up with it, and I'm sure my palate is hopelessly lacking.  If you did (or have access to the recipes of someone who did), you ought to give my ideas a miss.  (Though this is a fairly faithful rendition of the recipe in my Indian cookbook.)  

Without further ado:


2 good-sized skinless chicken breasts (bones optional)
3 tbsp. butter, divided
14 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 tbsp. tomato paste
pinch of sugar
1 onion
3/4 tbsp. garlic (1 large or 2 small cloves)
3/4 tbsp. fresh or preserved ginger
1/2 tsp. garam masala, plus a bit more
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder (or paprika - see note)
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup uncooked white rice
1/2 tsp. soy sauce

(1) Put an empty Dutch oven on medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, empty.  Sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts with garam masala (the "bit more").  Melt half the butter in the Dutch oven, then turn down the heat to medium and add both chicken breasts.  
(2) After getting both sides of each breast to a "cooked" color (the middle will be raw), put the lid on the Dutch oven and cook the chicken, turning every 2-3 minutes, until almost completely cooked (maybe 15 minutes?).  
(3) Once the chicken is cooking, put the rice, soy sauce, and 1-1/3 cups water in a pot on high heat. Once it reaches a rolling boil, turn the heat to the lowest setting, cover the pot, and cook 13 minutes without stirring.   
(4) Cut the onion in large cubes and the garlic and ginger in even chunks.  Puree in a mini food processor or with an immersion blender (or a mortar and pestle, if you're mad old-school).  Then add the can of tomatoes (with juice) and the coriander, cumin, garam masala, and chili powder.  Puree everything.  
(5) Once the chicken is 98% done through, move it to a cutting board, and pour the tomato puree into the Dutch oven.  Add the remaining butter to the Dutch oven, along with a pinch of sugar, the tomato paste, and 1/2 cup of water.
(6) Cut the chicken into cubes, whatever size you'll want to serve - I do about 3/4" cubes.  (At this point, you will have to remove the chicken bones, if any.)  Toss the cubes in the Dutch oven.  
(7) Once the rice has reached 13 minutes, scoop it into the Dutch oven as well.  Turn heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 15 more minutes.  
(8) Adjust seasoning; you'll want to add quite a bit of salt at this point, and may want to add some more of the other spices as well.  (If you haven't used them before, you should taste them before you add them, so you know what flavor they contribute.)  
(9) Turn off the heat and stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream.  Add more if the color or flavor are not what you're shooting for.  


1.  Clarified butter would be more authentic, if you want to take the time.  
2.  Coriander, cumin, and preserved ginger (but not garam masala) will likely be at your grocery store.  However, they are cheaper, fresher, and better at any hole-in-the-wall Asian or Middle Eastern grocery (which is also the only place to find garam masala).  Buy some of those $1 spice jars at World Market to store your new spices.  
3.  The recipe calls for chili powder, but American chili powder has a Tex-Mex flavor, IMHO.  I'd use Spanish pimenton or Middle Eastern paprika (pick that up with your masala!) if you have it. (Cayenne pepper is NOT the same thing.)  
4.  All the butter chicken I've had has been mild, almost sweet - not hot.  If you wanted it hot, you could (a) substitute diced tomatoes with green chilies for the plain tomatoes; (b) add cayenne pepper (or substitute it for the chili powder); or (c) increase the chili powder and/or cumin.  
5.  I see no point in buying half-and-half or light cream.  I might decide I want to make whipped cream instead of sauce, and then where would I be?  Plus, heavy cream keeps forever.  But use what you have.  Just be aware that lower-fat substitutions aren't going to impart the same sweetness.    
6.  You could also add Greek yogurt to the sauce, but it has to be added off the heat, and the fat-free kind will turn into a mess.  Get at least 2% milkfat.  (Yogurt will make the sauce tangier.) 
7.  Almost forgot - you're supposed to use already-cooked Tandoori chicken for this recipe.  That would definitely have more flavor, but that means two recipes instead of one, so I just season the chicken heavily before cooking it.
8.  A whole stick of butter would probably be more authentic.  Just add the remaining 5 tablespoons in step (5). 

I think that about covers it.  Enjoy!  Or disagree vehemently.  Really up to you.  


  1. I was planning to make stir fry for dinner, but now I want Indian food! ;)