No-Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

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(Indian Murgh Makhani, or Butter Chicken – recipe in post.)

One of The Boyfriend’s first dinner requests, when I told him he could pick whatever he wanted, was that I make something like the dishes at an Indian restaurant we both like. I could only assume he meant the oh-so-popular Indian dish Murgh Makhani, or Butter Chicken.

Before diving into recipes (having never made it myself) I looked up the restaurant to glean any information I could. What I found out was that they didn’t actually use any butter in their butter chicken. Butterless Butter Chicken – I like it!
So I went in search and found that this was not so uncommon – recipes aplenty for butter free Chicken Makhani. In fact, it seems you could make nearly any butter chicken recipe and simply omit the butter… strange, since the ingredient is in the name. Still, I chose to use Bal’s No-Butter Chicken recipe, via the Cooking Channel, only slightly adapted.

No-Butter Chicken
(Adapted from Bal Arneson – serves 3-4)

2 TBSP grapeseed, peanut, or coconut oil
1 small onion or 1/2 of a large, diced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP fresh ginger, grated
2 TBSP tomato paste
2 tsp. whole cumin seeds or 1.5 tsp. ground cumin
1 TBSP garam masala
1/2-1 tsp. red chile flakes (more to taste)
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1/2 tsp. ground corriander
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 LB. boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 TBSP dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt, or greek yogurt
1/2 cup water

Optional: fresh cilantro, for garnish

(One common method for butter chicken is to marinate the cubed chicken for at least an hour ahead in the spices, salt, and tomato paste. Feel free to do this if you have the time, but I found it turned out fine without it.)

1.   Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
2.   To the pan, add the onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook 3-4 minutes or until the onion has begun to caramelize, stirring occasionally to keep the garlic from burning. Add in the tomato paste, all of the spices, and salt – stir and let cook for 30 seconds – 1 minute to toast the spices.
3.   Add the chicken and brown sugar to the pan, stir to coat, and cook for 3-4 minutes before stirring in the yogurt and water. Let cook another 8-10 minutes, or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the sauce is thick.
4.   Serve with cooked rice, steamed or sauteed vegetables, naan bread, etc.

Update (Sept. 2013) — I have made this dish so many times now, and it is definitely one of our favorites! Recently I adapted the recipe to work in a slow cooker. The recipe stays the same, and the directions are simple:
1.   Add all ingredients EXCEPT the chicken and yogurt to your slow cooker. Set on low and let cook for 4-5 hours.
2.   Using an immersion blender, blend all the ingredients in the slow cooker until smooth. This step is optional, but makes a lusciously creamy sauce. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can carefully transfer the sauce to a blender, then return it to the slow cooker.
3.   Add in the cut-up chicken, and turn the heat to high. Let cook for 50-60 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
4.   Remove from heat, stir in the yogurt, and serve with rice. 
Leftovers keep well in the fridge, so I suggest doubling the recipe!

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I do love me some Indian food!

The smell of those spices hitting the pan is really something. By the time the meal is ready the whole house will smell glorious, sure to draw everyone to the table.
Having flipped through several recipes before choosing this one, I was a little worried that the ingredient list might be on the short side in comparison to other, perhaps more authentic, recipes – but I can assure you, the flavor was by no means lacking!

Obviously, I couldn’t make Murgh Makhani without making a batch of garlic Naan bread. If you’ve never had Naan, you seriously need to drop what you’re doing and make some – it’s like the most fabulous pita bread in the world. It’s like what pita dreams to be when it’s little, but then as it grows up it gains a sense of perspective and resigns itself to a life less than perfect.

There are a few different ways to make Naan, both in terms of method and ingredients, but I found that Kulsum over at Journey Kitchen has a wonderful recipe/tutorial that follows all of my favorite things. It’s yeasted, and uses Ghee (which is like the incredible love-child between clarified and browned butter, and can be found in most grocer’s international section or made at home – awesome tutorial by VegeYum here) – now, Naan doesn’t have to be yeasted, but I find the combination of yeast and ghee make a really rich, authentic flavor. Plus, Kulsum suggests the very simple heavy-bottom skillet method, which I also happen to like.

The recipe gave great results – the dough was soft and supple like the Pillsbury Doughboy’s bottom, and it bubbled and browned to perfection in the pan.

I kneaded some garlic into the dough, and after cooking it brushed the bread with butter and fresh chopped cilantro. Totally optional, but totally delicious.
Besides the garlic, I followed the recipe as it was written, so rather than plagiarize it here I’ll just hit you up with the link:

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I asked The Boyfriend if this was what he’d wanted, if it lived up to his expectations in recalling the restaurant, and he firmly stated that it not only outshined that but was the best he’d ever tasted. Foolish of me to think he isn’t biased, but I’ll take the compliment.

This will definitely be a dish to make again and again. And maybe again right now…

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16 Responses to No-Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

  1. Katherine Martinelli January 22, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    Butter chicken is one of my favorite dishes and while I’ve made it many times it’s never even occurred to me to omit the butter! I can’t wait to try this rendition. And making my own naan has been on my list for far too long.

    • Willow January 22, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

      One of my favorites, too – and the Naan is a must! Let me know how it turns out if you make it. :)

  2. Mary January 23, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    This looks really wonderful and I happen to love butter chicken. This is my first visit to your blog, so I took some time to browse through your earlier posts. I’m so glad I did that. I really like the food and recipes you share with your readers and I’ll definitely be back. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary,

    • Willow January 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

      Thank you so much! I hope you continue to enjoy what I have to share. :)

  3. homeboundtheheartoflife January 23, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    Hi Willow, I actually don’t want to comment on this lovely sounding recipe in particular ;-)… I just wanted to let you know that I’m glad I found your blog. Love the photos and recipes and will check in regularly from now on. Have a lovely day, greetings from Germany, Helene

    • Willow January 23, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

      Thank you so much, Helene! It’s great to hear feedback and I’m happy to have a new reader.

  4. Lauren @ Healthy Food For Living January 23, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    This chicken looks fantastic! I adore Indian food, but have never had much luck making it at home. This recipe is definitely going on my “to-make” list!

    • Willow January 23, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

      Yay – I hope you like it!

  5. Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes January 24, 2012 at 3:44 am #

    As always your photos are gorgeous and the presentation beautiful!

    Love the new Blog Header btw

  6. Mama's Gotta Bake January 29, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    I love Indian food, I can’t wait to give this one a try!

    • Willow January 29, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

      Great, let me know what you think!

  7. michael February 18, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    that look very tasty :)

    • Willow February 18, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      Thanks – it was very tasty!

  8. Hungry Nomad July 25, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    This looks amazing. Thanks for sharing. Just followed your recipe. Will eat shortly. Am looking forward to it. :)

    • Willow July 27, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

      Wonderful, I hope you liked it! :)

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