Butter chicken, the classic northern Indian restaurant dish, is easily made kosher by substituting rich, creamy coconut cream, coconut oil, and coconut milk for the yogurt, butter, and cream.Yum
About butter chicken
Butter chicken (murgh makhani) was, likely, originated in the 1950s at the Moti Mahal Hotel in Delhi as a use for leftover tandoori chicken. It’s part of a food tradition in northern India known as mughlai cuisine, or Indo-Persian fusion. Because mughlai dishes are generally restaurant fare, they’re often the best known in the West, even though they are historically contingent rather than indigenous Indian cuisine. One of the hallmarks of Persian influence is the use of dairy products to tenderize meats and make luscious sauces. This, of course, is inconvenient for kosher keepers. Luckily, though, coconut makes a great, rich substitute for dairy products here.
Because the dish is built around leftover tandoori chicken—that is, chicken grilled in a super hot tandoor clay oven—its home version requires grilling the chicken separately, then adding it to the sauce. In my recipe, we’re going to be grilling the chicken under the broiler in the oven, but if you want to throw it on the grill, more power to you. So, making butter chicken does have a few steps that need to be done ahead. Otherwise, though, it’s not difficult to prepare.
Marinating and grilling the chicken
The chicken, which is traditionally marinated in yogurt, is here marinated in coconut cream instead. What I do is place a can of coconut milk in the fridge for an hour or so, then scoop up the solidified cream for use in the marinade (you only need 1/4 cup). The rest of the coconut milk I reserve for the sauce. However, you could also used canned coconut cream, which is now readily available.
Along with the coconut cream, the marinade gets a sour punch from lemon juice and is mildly spiced with Kashmiri chili powder (or paprika), garam masala, and salt. For butter chicken, you’ll want to dice the chicken into small, bite-sized cubes. Throw it in with the marinade in a bowl or baking dish and toss well so all the chicken pieces get coated. At minimum, give it an hour to marinate, though overnight (or all day long in the fridge) is even better.
To mimic a tandoor oven, we’re cooking the chicken at fairly high heat (400F / 200C) for 30-40 minutes, followed by a few more minutes under the broiler. You can spread out the chicken on a lined sheet pan for cooking in the oven, or put it on an oven-safe wire rack placed inside a sheet pan, which is my favorite method. The grilled chicken gets folded into the sauce later.
Preparing the “butter” (makhani) sauce
The traditional method for making butter sauce is a little more involved, starting with whole tomatoes; in some versions, it’s also thickened with homemade cashew or almond cream. But if you use canned tomato sauce and coconut milk, which work great here, it’ll be one of the easiest Indian sauces you’ll make. It’s just a matter of cooking the ginger and garlic in a generous amount of coconut oil (in lieu of butter), then stirring in the tomatoes and spices and simmering until the oil begins to separate out from the sauce, about 10 minutes. (You can see what that looks like in the photo on the right.)
To finish, fold in the chicken and garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro (don’t skip the cilantro!). Basmati rice is perfect with this dish for soaking up the “butter” sauce.
Looking for more kosher Indian food?
- Quick Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Curry – This shortcut, parve curry is pretty my favorite weeknight meal.
- Curry Hill Matar Paneer – Another classic restaurant dish; you can substitute tofu for the paneer for a quick and dairy-free version.
- Zohar’s Khichri (Khichdi) – An ultimate bowl of comfort.
Kosher Indian “Butter” Chicken (meat)
Chicken and marinade:
- 1 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts* – 500 g
- 1/4 cup coconut cream (from the top of a can of coconut milk) – 60 ml
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp ginger-garlic paste – or 1/2 Tbsp each minced ginger and garlic
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chile powder** – you can sub sweet or hot paprika
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- salt – to taste
Marinate the chicken:
- Combine the coconut cream, lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste, chili powder (or paprika), garam masala, and salt in an oven-save baking dish. Whisk to combine, then dice the chicken into cubes and toss in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour and up to overnight.
Broil the chicken:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Place the chicken in the marinade into the oven and cook for 10 minutes.
- Turn the chicken and place under the broiler for 2 more minutes.
Make the "butter" sauce:
- Heat the coconut oil in a straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, stir in the ginger-garlic paste and toast for a minute.
- Add the tomato sauce and cook, stirring, for another munute.
- Add in the chili powder (or paprika), garam masala, and honey, and season with salt to taste.
- Swirl in the coconut milk. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until the oil begins to separate from the sauce.
- Fold in the grilled chicken pieces and, if using, the fenugreek leaves, and serve with rice or naan.