The history of Indian cuisine is as enticing as its exotic aromas and flavors.
For instance, look at the origin of the ever popular butter chicken, also know as murgh makhni in Hindi. Its evolution is traced back to Kundan Lal Gujral, the owner of Moti Mahal restaurant at Daryangaj, Delhi (the one that currently functions there is not part of the same business). It is a fascinating tale of political, cultural and culinary happenings staged in the twentieth-century.
Kundan Lal Gujral, a Hindu, originally from the undivided India’s Peshawar in Punjab, fled to India following the partition. He was ingenious enough to overcome the times of political upheaval and open a restaurant in Old Delhi. This restaurant, Moti Mahal in Daryangaj, became internationally acclaimed for its tandoori creations—apparently Kundan’s inventions. Tandoori chicken, butter chicken, and dal makhni were served by elegant Peshawaris dressed in pathani suits to desi and foreign diners who stopped by for its celebrated dishes. The restaurant became a landmark in Delhi, and was sought after by famous visitors including world leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Bhutto, Kennedy, and the like. Thus began the popularity of butter chicken.
Ever since, this dish has received rave reviews from some of the best food critics around the world. And even today, it is highly in demand at the Indian restaurants around the globe.
If you have tasted this curry, you'll know why it's hugely popular. The creamy, velvety dish is pure indulgence. And what’s not to like about tender pieces of chicken grilled in flavorful spices, and simmered in herbs, tomatoes and cream? One word: mouthwatering!
My boys simply love this. In fact, it’s one of their favorite dish to order whenever we dine at Indian restaurants. As for my younger boy—a picky eater—it is the only dish he wants to indulge in. If it’s not on the menu, well then, tough luck!
I like it too. Actually, a lot. And for the very same reason, I like to stay away from it as much as possible. The trouble is, it's so rich and addictive, and I can’t stop myself from mopping the delicious gravy to the last bit once I get started!
That said, I do make it at home occasionally, to the great pleasure of my kids. I have done recipes from scratch, and shortcut recipes too without compromising on the taste. Like this one from the acclaimed food writer Monica Bhide I’m sharing with you today. I made it last week to hugely enthusiastic reviews from my family. As for me, I liked the easiness of the recipe compared to the other versions I usually do—baked as well as stove top preparations. And since most of us do not have much time to spend in the kitchen, I decided to share this simple recipe that does not sacrifice on the authentic flavors.
This recipe is really good. The curry looks, smells and tastes as good as the one from any fine Indian restaurant, if not better. The sauce is gloriously creamy, and not runny as some recipes come off. Amazingly, it does not have a long list of exotic spices and there’s very little prep work to do, ha.
So here’s a curry studded with all delicious flavors to the perfect balance—sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Now all you need is some pieces of naan to mop up the flavorful sauce. A must try!
Marinate the chicken overnight if possible. Don’t skip kasoori methi or dried fenugreek leaves—available at Indian/Pakistani grocery stores—which gives a unique flavor and aroma to the dish. Also remember that the curry should not be too tangy—so make sure you don’t add too much lemon juice or tomatoes. If you prefer it really saucy, add a bit more water for more liquid. You can totally skip the cream garnish and the artificial color, if you like. I did the color for the kids, and drizzled the cream on top solely for photographic purposes.
So, what you waiting for? Tie you aprons and get ready to transport yourself to India with this creamy, dreamy delight!
Butter Chicken — Murgh Makhni
(Adapted from here)
Prep: 15 min, plus extra time for marinating; cooking: 40 min
For the marinade
450g chicken breast or thigh fillet, cut into bite-sized strips (I used breast fillet)
½ cup whole milk Greek yoghurt (I used Almarai fresh labneh)
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
1 tablespoon Indian tandoori masala (Shan brand recommended, though I used Eastern)
2 tablespoon canned tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon melted butter, or ghee
salt, to taste
For the sauce
2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
4 small green chilies, finely chopped
10 cashew nuts, blended to a puree with a bit of water
2 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon tomato ketchup (I used Maggi)
2 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves or kasoori methi, crushed in the palm of your hand
1 cup water
100ml single cream (I used Nada)
2-3 drops of color (optional)
salt, to taste
Cut the chicken into bite-size strips and wash in cold water. Pat dry with a kitchen cloth.
Put all marinade ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Tip in chicken and use your fingers to coat well in the paste. Then cover and chill for at least an hour, or preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 200oC or 400oF. Place chicken on a foil lined baking tray, in a single layer, and pour over the marinade. Grill for 15 minutes or until lightly charred and cooked—no need to turn. The whole house will smell glorious from the spices wafting from the oven—sure to entice your taste buds.
Transfer chicken to a platter and reserve marinade in a separate bowl.
Meanwhile, start preparations for the sauce. In a large skillet, heat butter over medium-low heat. Add ginger-garlic paste and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and cooks until soft and completely pulpy, stirring occasionally and mashing with the back of the spatula, about 8 minutes. Stir in the reserved marinade, chili pepper, cashew paste, fenugreek leaves, tomato ketchup, sugar, water, color (if using), and salt to taste. Continue stirring about 30 seconds.
Now add the chicken pieces to the pan, cover and leave to simmer in low heat until all flavors are melded, about 8 minutes. Finally, stir in cream and cook for another 2 minutes. Adjust seasoning, if needed. Also, don’t hesitate to add a bit more water if the sauce is too thick.
Garnish with cilantro, and dollop with cream for the big finish, if you like. Serve with hot steamed basmati rice, ghee rice, or Indian breads like paratha, naan, kulcha, etc. This time I served it with Turkish bread, as you can see in the pictures.