Butter chicken should be rich and creamy but also vibrant and complex, so we started by softening onion, garlic, ginger, and chili in butter followed by aromatic spices such as garam masala, coriander, cumin, and black pepper.
A combination of tomato paste and water provided a bright acidity, punch, and a deep color, while a full cup of cream gave the sauce a lush, velvety body. A few more tablespoons of solid butter added extra richness.
To imitate the deep charring produced by a tandoor oven, we broiled chicken thighs coated in yogurt (its milk proteins and lactose brown quickly and deeply) before cutting them into chunks and stirring them into the sauce.
Murgh Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)
Serves 4 to 6
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces and chilled, divided
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 serrano chili, stemmed, seeded, and minced
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons table salt, divided
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and serrano and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is softened and onion begins to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garam masala, coriander, cumin, and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add water and tomato paste and whisk until no lumps of tomato paste remain. Add sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.
Off heat, stir in cream. Using an immersion blender or blender, process until smooth, 30 to 60 seconds. Return sauce to simmer over medium heat and whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Remove saucepan from heat and cover to keep warm. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to four days; gently reheat sauce before adding hot chicken.)
Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Combine chicken, yogurt, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl and toss well to coat. Using tongs, transfer chicken to a wire rack set in aluminum foil—lined rimmed baking sheet. Broil until chicken is evenly charred on both sides and registers 175 degrees F, 16 to 20 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through broiling.
Let chicken rest for 5 minutes. While the chicken rests, warm sauce over medium-low heat. Cut chicken into 3/4-inch chunks and stir into sauce. Stir in 2 tablespoons cilantro and season with salt to taste. Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro, and serve.