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Ask Eric: How to make butter chicken

Dear Eric: Would you happen to have a fairly easy recipe for butter chicken? Diane Dear Diane: There are many marvellous Indian dishes but, for many Canadians, butter chicken is the favourite.
Butter chicken, like many well-known recipes, has numerous variations. This one is fairly easy to make.

Dear Eric: Would you happen to have a fairly easy recipe for butter chicken?


Dear Diane: There are many marvellous Indian dishes but, for many Canadians, butter chicken is the favourite.

Bathe succulent chicken in a rich, nicely spiced, buttery sauce and it’s easy to understand why.

This Punjabi dish, also called murgh makhani, is not exactly a new creation. It is said to have been developed during the Mughal Empire (16th to 18th century). Beyond India, other neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Nepal also began cooking up their versions of it.

Today, of course, butter chicken is enjoyed and prepared in many countries around the world.

That explains why I found countless variations on how to make it, with some using bone-in chicken pieces, others boneless chunks. Other variations included how long (if at all) to marinate the chicken, and how to cook it before marrying it with the sauce. Some recipes said to buy a chicken cooked in a tandoor (clay oven); others instructed you to cook it at home, by methods such as grilling, pan-frying or roasting.

What spices were used and how they were processed also differed, with some insisting that whole spices, such as cumin, be toasted and freshly ground. Some versions had a mild sauce, while others were spicy hot and loaded with chili peppers.

Other differences included what type of canned tomato product — whole, crushed, diced or sauce — to use as the base for the sauce, how much cream to use, and how much butter to add to enrich things even more.

With regard to the latter, some recipes used a generous quarter pound or more; others a much more modest amount.

When deciding my approach to the dish, my guiding light was Diane’s wish that it be fairly easy to make. It starts by flavouring boneless pieces of chicken with yogurt and tandoori paste, a flavour- and colour-enhancing mixture sold in jars in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets. The chicken was then roasted in a hot, butter-coated pan.

While the chicken cooks, a very flavourful but easy-to-make sauce is made by simmering together tomato sauce and cream with ground spices that, like the tandoori paste, are available at most supermarkets.

When the chicken is cooked, the buttery liquid in the pan is drained and whisked into the sauce, and then the sauce is poured over the chicken. The chicken and sauce meld together in the oven for a few minutes, fresh chopped cilantro is added, and it’s ready to enjoy.

I must say it was quite delicious and made me happy Diane asked for a recipe.

Eric’s Butter Chicken

This is my mild- to medium-spiced version of this popular Indian dish. You can use boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, or a mix of both, to make it. Serve the chicken with steamed basmati rice, warm naan bread and any Indian-style condiment or vegetable dish you feel would work with it.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

2 Tbsp tandoori paste

1/4 cup thick, plain yogurt (I used Greek-style yogurt)

1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, or mix of both, cut into 3.5-cm cubes

3 Tbsp butter, at room temperature

1 cup tomato sauce

1 cup whipping cream

1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 tsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp garam masala (see Note)

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more or less depending on desired level of spiciness)

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Combine the tandoori paste and yogurt in a bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and let chicken stand at room temperature until the oven is preheated.

Spread the butter into a 13-x-9-inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 425 F.

While the oven heats, start the sauce by placing tomato sauce, cream, ginger, cornstarch, cumin, garam masala, paprika, cayenne pepper and lime juice in a small to medium pot. Whisk to combine.

When the oven has preheated, place the buttered pan in the oven five minutes, until the butter is melted and hot. Add the chicken to pan. Roast the chicken 20 minutes, or until cooked through.

While the chicken cooks, set the sauce on the stove and bring to a simmer. Simmer 10 minutes, and then cover and reserve on low heat.

When the chicken is cooked, drain and mix the liquid in the pan into the sauce. Now pour the sauce over the chicken and heat, uncovered, in the oven 5 to 10 minutes. Mix in the chopped cilantro and serve.

Note: Garam masala is an Indian-style spice blend sold at Indian food stores and in the bottled herb and spice aisle of most supermarkets.