Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Butter Chicken or Murgh Makhani

I adore butter chicken. And I can't think of anyone (in my omnivorous acquaintances, anyway) who doesn't. Thick, creamy, spicy sauce and tender pieces of chicken... This stick-to-your-ribs richness is addictive and universally satisfying, all year-round. For some reason, Indian food and hot weather go very well together, and I had a craving.

My friend Marie (who is the cutest mommy in the world) made me realized I had never bothered to make some from scratch before; I used to commit the mortal sin of jarred-sauce with butter chicken. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. In order to redeem myself, I got to work!

Despite the name, there is not that much butter involved in this recipe. I am guessing the name comes from the intense, buttery texture of the sauce. However, that doesn't make it diet food! To get that texture, you can't skimp on the cooking cream, but you can do minimal damage by using the 15% stuff. There are a few steps to making this classic Indian treat, but it's nothing very complicated. The recipe was originally created to use up leftover tandoori chicken, so you need to marinate and cook yourself some chicken and THEN, make the sauce. If you have a tandoori chicken recipe you like, try making some extra next time you whip up a batch, or simply give my marinade a shot; it's delicious!

But really, the trickiest thing about butter chicken is mostly getting your hands on all the spices, some of which may require a bit of hunting (I am looking at you, cardamom and fenugreek!). I was lucky to find all the spices I needed pre-ground at the bulk store where I usually shop, but having a mortar and pestle comes in handy if you want to be authentic about it and make a paste out of some of the ingredients and spices. But if you don't have a mortar and pestle, you can always use a food processor.

4 skinless boneless chicken breasts

1 cup plain yogurt, preferably Greek or balkan style
1 lemon, juiced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic (or ground to a paste)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (or ground to a paste)
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, finely sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
4 to 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 to 5 cardamom pods, or 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 teaspoons dry fenugreek leaves, crushed, or 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup cashews or almonds, ground to a paste
1(28 ounces) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
1 cup cooking cream

Combine the yogurt, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, cayenne, garam masala, turmeric, garlic, ginger and salt in a medium bowl. Put the chicken in a freezer bag and cover with the marinade. Toss around to cover the chicken with the yogurt mixture and refrigerate, from 2 hours to overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven 425 degrees. Place the chicken on a rack over a roasting or baking pan (line your pan with aluminum foil, cuz that marinade can be a biatch to clean up) and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until cooked through. Set aside, and when the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into bite-sized pieces.

Put all your spices together in a small bowl. Ground your garlic and ginger together with a mortar and pestle or small food processor to form a paste.

Preheat a large pan over medium heat. Melt the butter, add the onions, and cook until softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and spices and cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the cashew or almond paste. Add the water, stirring, until the sauce has the desired consistency. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the pieces of chicken, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream.

Serve hot, over basmati rice and naan bread.

If you have nut allergies, skip the almond or cashew paste; you can always add 1 or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, to give your sauce the proper "body".

Whew! It's a lot of work but tender chicken in this subtly spicy sauce is totally worth it! Wash it down with dry white or rosé wine, served very cold.

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