Apr 14, 2015

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
The sauce is thick, creamy and rich; I always serve the dish with a side of naan bread to dip in the extra sauce.

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This is a simplified version of the traditional Indian recipe but it is no less delicious. There is a reason butter chicken is one of the most popular Indian dishes around. In India, butter chicken, or Murgh Makhani in Hindi, is typically served with the bone left in the chicken and cooked in a tandoor. In the United States the dish is usually served off the bone. Butter chicken, similar to chicken tikka masala, originated in Delhi, India in the 1950’s and is now popular worldwide.

The butter chicken sauce is thick, creamy and rich. I always serve the dish with a side of warmed naan bread to dip in the extra sauce. This is one of those meals where I can’t help but go back for seconds. You can usually find me walking back and forth between the kitchen to take a few “taste tests” and “quality control” the recipe while it cooks.

Indian Butter Chicken Recipe (Murgh Makhani)

Indian butter chicken made with chicken breast simmered in spiced tomato base finished with yogurt

Key Ingredients in This Recipe

  • Chicken – I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts in this recipe. As the sauce simmers the chicken becomes tender. Since it cooks in the sauce the chicken breasts don’t dry out like a lean meat typically would. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs can also be swapped in.
  • Spices – Butter chicken is seasoned with garam masala, cumin, coriander, chili powder and a bay leaf. The spices are briefly sautéed before the other liquid is added to deepen the flavor of the curry. Garam masala is a spice blend so not all will be the same. The mixture often differs region to region. It’s typically made from a combination of cinnamon, bay leaves, cumin, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, cloves, chili, nutmeg and mace though the blend can vary. The addition of chili powder helps to deepen the color of the creamy sauce.
  • Tomato paste – Tomato paste is concentrated tomatoes that have been cooked down until it becomes a thick, dense paste. I try to buy tubes of tomato paste rather than small cans. The tubes allow you to reseal and keep the paste for later (they last a long time) resulting in less waste.
  • Crushed tomatoes – Canned crushed tomatoes are a blend of diced tomatoes and tomato puree. The tomatoes are first cooked and peeled before they are diced. It adds some texture to the butter chicken without resulting in large chunks of tomato in the sauce.
  • Yogurt – Plain cows milk yogurt is stirred into the butter chicken to create a creamy, velvety sauce.
  • Cornstarch – Cornstarch is mixed with cold water to form what is called a slurry. The slurry is added to the sauce and brought back to a simmer so the sauce thickens. Blending the cornstarch with water first ensures it evenly blends in with the sauce rather than clumping.

How to Make Butter Chicken

sautéed chicken
Step 1: Sauté the chicken. 

Heat a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add the peanut oil and heat through. Add the chicken and sauté until it is lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.

sautéed onions with chicken
Step 2: Cook the aromatics. 

Add the butter and allow to melt then add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until the garlic is fragrant, about an additional 30 seconds.

sautéed chicken with spices
Step 3: Add the spices. 

Stir in the ginger, masala, cumin, coriander, chili powder and the bay leaf. Let cook, stirring constantly, until spices are fragrant but not burnt, about 1 minute.

chicken simmered in tomato paste and crushed tomato mixture
Step 4: Simmer the sauce. 

Add the tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the heavy cream and yogurt. Let simmer until the liquid has reduced by about a third and the chicken has completely cooked through.

butter chicken sauce slurry
Step 5: Mix in the slurry. 

In a small jar or container, combine the cornstarch and ¼ cup of cold water. Shake or whisk to mix, then slowly whisk mixture into the sauce. Adding the slurry mixture (cornstarch and water) will tighten the sauce so that it’s thicker and thoroughly coats the chicken.

Tips and Tricks for This Recipe

Troubleshooting this Recipe

My sauce is too thick

The liquid in crushed tomatoes can vary brand to brand so if when the yogurt and heavy cream are added to the pot the sauce is too thick, I recommend adding a little bit of water to thin the sauce, about 1/4 cup at a time. If your sauce is thick you can also omit the cornstarch slurry.

My sauce is runny

If your sauce is runny and too thin, you may just need to add a bit more cornstarch slurry to tighten it.

To Make This Recipe Ahead of Time

Butter chicken reheats very well so it’s easy to make ahead of time. Make the recipe as directed below and store covered and refrigerated for 2 to 3 days. Store frozen in resealable plastic bags for up to a month.

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) in serving bowls over rice with side of naan bread

Other Recipes to Try

If you enjoy this butter chicken recipe, I recommend checking out some of these

Indian Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

Print Pin
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1” chunks
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ medium white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk plain yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Kosher salt, as needed

Instructions:

  • Heat a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add the peanut oil and heat through. Add the chicken and sauté until it is lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the butter and allow to melt then add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant, about an additional 30 seconds.
  • Stir in the ginger, garam masala, cumin, coriander, chili powder and the bay leaf. Let cook, stirring constantly, until spices are fragrant but not burnt, about 1 minute.
  • Add the tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the heavy cream and yogurt. Let simmer until the liquid has reduced by about a third and the chicken has completely cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  • In a small jar or container, combine the cornstarch and ¼ cup of cold water. Shake or whisk to mix, then slowly whisk mixture into the sauce.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
  • Serve the butter chicken hot with a side of basmati rice and naan bread.

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This recipe was updated on 6/26/19 to be made in one pot rather than cooking the chicken separately. The spices have also been doubled to add more flavor. Thank you for your comments and feedback on recipes – you help me to make the best recipes I can!

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Recipe Rating




  1. 5 stars
    This recipe was fantastic!! Used more heavy cream and decreased the yogurt a little, but other than that made it exactly as written. Tasted just as good as what we get at our favorite Indian restaurant!! Will definitely be making this over and over!!

  2. 4 stars
    I really liked this. I’m a bit new to cooking and for myself I considered this to be “fine cooking”. I was apprehensive at first. But did rather well. Different steps are broken down well with an ease added in the righting. I’m excited to try more recipes by you. Thanks for the ego boost.

  3. I absolutely love this recipe. This is my 3rd time using it and every time we love it. My kids can be really picky (I’m sure others are too) but this dish they just dig in and plates are clean when they are done. Love it

  4. This is the best makhani we have tried. Not nearly enough of the spices though…. the amounts listed barely even give any flavor. I dump in a whole bunch more…. but otherwise the proportions and the combo of ingredients is great. I’m due for a baby any day now and making a huge batch to freeze some for next week or so. Yum!!

  5. This was the first time I have either tried to eat or cook indian butter chicken. I am so impressed by this recipe. I hope to make it again. It was truly delicious. Thank you for posting this recipe.

  6. Just tried this. It’s the best makhani we’ve tried! Tripled the recipe and it worked perfectly. Also added 3/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper as we like it a little spicy, served it with spiced rice, naan, and chopped peanuts, pineapple, cilantro, green onion, and toasted coconut. It was our son’s birthday dinner and everyone loved it!

  7. Just made this tonight and it was a total hit!! Definitely a new favourite – I already can’t wait to make it again! Thanks for sharing this recipe 🙂