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Almost certainly the inspiration behind the UK’s dearly loved Chicken Tikka Masala, dare I say Butter Chicken may well be the superior product, and certainly the more authentically Indian.

Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani, is said to owe its origins to the now-revered Delhi restaurant Moti Mahal and the enterprising Kundal Lal Gujral. 

It is suggested that as a means to avoid wastage, and allegedly a lack of refrigeration, off-cuts and leftover pieces of Tandoori Chicken were simmered in a rich tomato gravy, steeped in butter and cream. Thus a new dish was born and forthwith credited a stroke of gastronomic genius. 

Whether a happy accident or a considered masterstroke, there can be little argument over it’s deliciousness. Richly spiced chicken pieces charred and grilled to perfection are coated in a tangy tomatoey, creamy and above all else, buttery sauce – Makhani translating to “with butter” 

Though not the most original dish to call one’s favourite curry, it is unquestionably mine. The discovery of the ability to create a genuine restaurant quality version using a considered process of marinating and cooking chicken separately to the gravy was a moment of extreme personal excitement for me and something I have since been doing frequently.

Our version riffs on the frequency of nuts and seeds used in traditional Butter Chicken sauces. We use my much-loved ingredient of Peanut butter to boost the flavour of the creamy, buttery chicken to great result whilst adding the savoury richness of peanut.

Scale

Ingredients

THE CHICKEN

4 Large Chicken Breasts, cut into 34cm chunks

FIRST MARINADE

Juice of 2 Limes

1 tsp. Kashmiri Chili Powder, or regular chili powder 

Generous Pinch of Salt & Pepper

SECOND MARINADE

100g Natural or Greek Yoghurt,

4 Garlic Cloves,

1 Thumb Sized Piece of Ginger,

1 tsp. Garam Masala,

1 tsp. Ground Turmeric, 

1 tsp. Ground Cumin,

1 tsp. Beetroot Powder, optional for colour

THE GRAVY

50g Butter, unsalted

1 Onion, finely diced

4 Garlic Cloves, minced

1 Thumb Sized Piece of Ginger, grated

1 x 400g Tin of Peeled Plum Tomatoes,

1 tsp. Cumin Seeds,

1 tsp. Fenugreek Seeds, 

½ tsp. Kashmiri Chili Powder, or regular chili powder 

½ tsp. Ground Coriander,

½ tsp. Ground Cinnamon,

45 Cardamom Pods, bruised

250ml Water

25ml Double Cream,

Generous Pinch of Salt & Pepper

THE PEANUT CREAM

50ml Double Cream,

30g Smooth Peanut Butter

TO COOK

Ghee or Groundnut Oil

TO GARNISH

Ginger, julienned

Green Chili, julienned

Coriander, a few leaves roughly chopped

Peanuts, toasted 

TO SERVE

Steamed Rice

Naan Bread or Roti

METHOD

MARINATING THE CHICKEN

As with many Tandoori and Tikka recipes, this uses a two-step marination process.

The first is short (relatively), in an acidic, spicy marinade. Along with a healthy dose of salt, the acid helps to tenderise the meat and lays an initial, spicy foundation. An acidic marinade will actually start to cold-cook the meat, in the early stages, tenderising. Left too long, however, an acidic marinade will yield dry and stringy meat as it becomes ‘overcooked’. 

To avoid this, after an hour the second, heavily spiced, yoghurt-based marinade is added. This transforms your marinade to a more fat-based mixture, preventing the meat from overcooking but also works to transfer flavour, something fat-based marinades work extremely well for. This marinade can then be left for up to 24hrs.  

Chicken Tikka and Tandoori Chicken usually uses red food colouring to achieve the deep red colour it is known for. We have used Beetroot Powder as a natural and tasteless alternative. You are welcome to add a splash of food colouring if desired or omit all colouring entirely – the flavour will remain the same.

THE MARINADES

  1. Season the chicken generously with salt, pepper and the chilli powder, making sure that the chicken is evenly coated in seasoning. Place the chicken into a bowl or zip-lock bag and add the lime juice, ensuring the chicken pieces are suitably covered with lime juice. 

TIP – Re-sealable zip-lock bags work extremely well for this and will allow the chicken to be more easily manipulated and coated in the second marinade.

  1. Leave the chicken to marinate in the lime juice for 1 hour.  
  2. Place the yoghurt, garlic, ginger, garam masala, turmeric, cumin and beetroot powder, if choosing to use, into a food processor and blitz until smooth.
  3. Add the yoghurt marinade to the chicken, ensuring the chicken is evenly and entirely coated in the yoghurt marinade.  
  4. Leave the chicken to marinate for between 1-24 hours. 

THE PEANUT CREAM

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the cream and peanut butter and whisk together until smooth and evenly combined.
  2. Refrigerate until needed.

COOKING THE CHICKEN

TIP – I usually cook the chicken whilst finishing cooking the gravy.

  1. Remove the chicken from the fridge about 10 minutes before cooking.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220Cº or it’s highest setting.
  3. Thread the chicken pieces onto skewers, trying to leave a little space in between each piece. Balance the skewers over a deep-sided roasting tray so that the chicken is suspended over the tray. 

TIP – If you do not have skewers or a deep enough baking tray you can place the chicken over a wire rack or even a griddle pan – the aim is to have as much air circulating around the pieces as possible.  

  1. Place the chicken into the oven and cook for 25 minutes, turning over half way through until cooked through and starting to char. 

THE GRAVY

  1. Place a large pan over a medium heat with a lug of groundnut oil or spoonful of ghee. Add the cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds to the pan and cook for a minute or until they just start to spit. Add in the onion, ginger and garlic into the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes until just starting to colour.
  2. Add half the butter to the pan and once melted, add the ground spices and bruised cardamom pods and cook off for 1-2 minutes.   
  3. Add the plum tomatoes and mix together, breaking up the tomatoes as you go, and top up with the water. Bring the pan to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid, or some scrunched-up baking parchment, and leave to cook for about half an hour, stirring occasionally, to prevent anything catching. 

TIP – I usually cook the chicken at this point, whilst the sauce is simmering. 

  1. Once the sauce has cooked and reduced down slightly, try and fish out the cardamom, and then, using a hand blender or a food processor, blitz the sauce until smooth and silken. 
  2. Return the sauce to the pan, and place over a low heat. Add the remaining butter to the pan and allow to melt away into the sauce before adding 2 teaspoons of the peanut cream. 

FINISHING THE CURRY

  1. Slide the chicken off of the skewers and transfer into the gravy. Allow to heat through in the sauce for 10 minutes over a low heat or until ready to serve. 
  2. Once ready to serve, drizzle over another teaspoon of the peanut cream and add top with the julienned green chillies and ginger, finishing with a few toasted peanuts and coriander leaves. 
  3. Serve immediately with boiled rice and naan and the remainder of the peanut cream.

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