Butter Chicken: The Rich and Flavorful Classic of Indian Cuisine

Written by: Naseem Shaikh



Time to read 9 min


Indian cuisine is a delightful amalgamation of vibrant flavors and aromatic spices that have captivated worldwide food lovers. Among the numerous delectable dishes, Butter chicken stands out as a true classic. This iconic dish, also known as "Murgh Makhani" in Hindi, is a testament to the culinary prowess of India. With its luscious, creamy gravy and tender chicken pieces, butter chicken has become a global favorite. In this blog post, we will delve into the origins, preparation, and unique characteristics of this classic Indian dish.

Origins and History of Butter Chicken

Butter chicken has a fascinating history traced back to the vibrant city of Delhi, India. It was created by Kundan Lal Gujral, the founder of the renowned Moti Mahal restaurant, in the early 20th century.

The story goes that Gujral was inspired to invent butter chicken to repurpose leftover tandoori chicken. In those days, the tandoor was used to cook succulent chicken marinated in a blend of yogurt and spices. However, the leftover tandoori chicken tended to become dry when reheated. Gujral decided to find a solution that would not only make use of the leftovers but also create a delicious and memorable dish.

He came up with simmering the tandoori chicken in a rich tomato-based gravy. This process ensured that the chicken remained moist and tender while absorbing the flavors of the velvety sauce. Gujral added generous amounts of butter and cream to enhance the richness, which gave the dish its characteristic indulgence and smoothness.

The creation of butter chicken was a culinary revelation. It perfectly combined the smoky flavors of tandoori chicken with the creamy and tangy tomato gravy, resulting in a harmony of tastes that delighted diners. The dish quickly gained popularity among the locals in Delhi and travelers and food enthusiasts from around the world.

Moti Mahal restaurant became synonymous with butter chicken, becoming one of the restaurant's signature offerings. Its reputation spread far and wide, attracting a diverse clientele, including politicians, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries. As word of mouth spread, butter chicken's fame extended beyond Delhi, and it soon became a staple in Indian restaurants across the globe.

Today, butter chicken is celebrated as one of India's most iconic and beloved dishes. Its rich history and flavors showcase the creativity and ingenuity of Indian cuisine. It represents the ability to transform humble ingredients into a culinary masterpiece that has captivated taste buds worldwide.

Whether enjoyed in a traditional Indian restaurant or prepared at home, butter chicken continues to entice food lovers with its unique blend of tender chicken, velvety gravy, and aromatic Indian spices. It serves as a reminder of the rich culinary heritage of India and the remarkable stories behind our favorite dishes.

Origin and History of Butter Chicken

Preparation and Ingredients of Butter Chicken

Butter chicken is a dish that requires careful preparation and a blend of flavorful ingredients. Let's explore the step-by-step process of creating this mouthwatering delight.

1) Marination:

Marinating the chicken pieces is the first crucial step in preparing butter chicken. Start by taking boneless chicken, preferably chicken breast, and cut it into bite-sized chunks. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, ginger paste, garlic paste, red chili powder, turmeric powder, garam masala, and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Thoroughly coat the chicken pieces with this marinade, ensuring they are evenly covered. Let the chicken marinate for at least 1-2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator for the best results. This allows the flavors to penetrate the meat and makes it tender and flavorful.

2) Tandoori Cooking:

Traditionally, butter chicken is cooked in a tandoor, a clay oven that imparts a unique smoky flavor. However, if you don't have access to a tandoor, you can use a grill or oven to achieve similar results. Preheat your grill or oven to a high temperature (around 400°F or 200°C). Thread the marinated chicken pieces onto skewers and cook them until they are lightly charred and cooked through, typically 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them to avoid overcooking and drying out the chicken.

3) Gravy Preparation:

While the chicken is cooking, you can start preparing the rich and creamy tomato-based gravy. In a pan, melt a generous amount of butter over medium heat. Add finely chopped onions and cook them until they turn golden brown. Then, add ginger-garlic paste and sauté until the raw aroma fades away. Next, add finely chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, and cashew nuts for added creaminess. Mix well and cook until the tomatoes soften and the mixture thickens.

4) Spice Blend:

To enhance the gravy flavors, add aromatic spices. Typical spices in butter chicken include cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and a pinch of cinnamon. Add kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) to lend a distinctive aroma. Adjust the spices according to your preferences, balancing the heat, tanginess, and sweet flavors.

5) Creamy Finish:

Once the tomatoes are cooked, allow the mixture to cool slightly before transferring it to a blender. Blend the mixture until it forms a smooth paste. Pour it back into the pan and add butter and fresh cream dollop. Stir well, allowing the butter and cream to melt into the gravy, creating a luscious and creamy texture. You can add honey or sugar for a touch of sweetness, although this is optional.

6) Combining Chicken and Gravy:

Finally, add the tandoori chicken pieces to the gravy and gently simmer for a few minutes, allowing the chicken to soak up the flavors of the creamy sauce. Adjust the consistency of the gravy by adding water or chicken stock if needed. Sprinkle some kasuri methi for additional aroma and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

7) Serve and Enjoy:

Butter chicken is traditionally served with naan bread or steamed basmati rice. The butter chicken gravy generously coats the tender chicken, creating a sumptuous and satisfying dish. Accompany it with cooling raita, a yogurt-based condiment, and perhaps some pickles for added tanginess.

Preparation and Ingredients of Butter Chicken

Distinctive Flavors and Aromas of Butter Chicken

Butter chicken is celebrated for its unique blend of flavors and aromas that tantalize the taste buds and create an unforgettable culinary experience. Let's explore the distinct characteristics that make this dish so exceptional.

Tender and Juicy Chicken:

One of the key elements of butter chicken is the succulent and tender chicken. The marination process allows the flavors to penetrate the meat, resulting in chicken that is not only well-seasoned but also moist and juicy. Whether cooked in a tandoor, grill, or oven, the chicken retains its tenderness while acquiring a slightly smoky flavor.

Creamy Tomato-Based Gravy:

The creamy tomato-based gravy is the heart and soul of butter chicken. It strikes a perfect balance between tanginess and richness. Combining tomatoes, onions, and spices creates a harmonious blend of flavors. The tomatoes lend a tangy and slightly sweet note, while the onions add depth and richness to the gravy. Adding cashews further enhances the creaminess, creating a velvety texture that coats each piece of chicken.

Aromatic Spice Blend:

The spices used in butter chicken are vital in their distinctive flavor profile. Aromatic spices such as cumin, coriander, and turmeric infuse the gravy with their earthy and warm notes. These spices add depth to the dish and contribute to its vibrant color. Additionally, kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) brings a subtle bitterness and an aromatic aroma that elevates the overall flavor profile.

Indulgent Butter and Cream:

As the name suggests, butter chicken would only be complete with adding butter and cream. The butter adds a rich, velvety texture and a buttery undertone that enhances the overall decadence of the dish. The cream further enriches the gravy, lending a smooth, luscious consistency that coats the chicken. These ingredients contribute to the indulgent nature of butter chicken and make it a truly satisfying experience.

Balanced Sweetness:

A taste of sweetness is often added to butter chicken to achieve a well-rounded flavor. This can be accomplished by incorporating honey or sugar into the gravy. The sweetness helps to balance the tanginess of the tomatoes and spices, creating a harmonious interplay of flavors. However, the level of sweetness can be adjusted according to personal preference, allowing for a customized taste experience.

The combination of tender chicken, creamy tomato-based gravy, aromatic Indian spices, indulgent butter and cream, and balanced sweetness creates a symphony of flavors and aromas in every bite of butter chicken. Each element works in harmony to deliver a rich, flavorful, and utterly satisfying dish.

So, whether you're a fan of Indian cuisine or new to its charms, butter chicken promises a culinary adventure that will leave you craving more. Indulge in this iconic dish and savor the distinctive flavors and aromas that have made it a global favorite.

Flavors and Aroma of Butter Chicken

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Popularity and Global Appeal of Butter Chicken

Butter chicken has gained immense popularity and garnered a global following, becoming a beloved dish in Indian cuisine. Let's explore the reasons behind its widespread acclaim and why it has captivated people's taste buds worldwide.

Rich and Luxurious Flavors:

One of the primary reasons for the global appeal of butter chicken is its rich and luxurious flavors. The combination of tender chicken, creamy tomato-based gravy, and a blend of aromatic spices creates a taste sensation that is both comforting and indulgent. The flavors are well-balanced, with the tanginess of the tomatoes complementing the richness of the butter and cream. This harmonious blend of flavors is universally appealing and satisfies various palates.

Creamy and Velvety Texture:

Butter chicken's creamy and velvety texture adds to its allure. Incorporating butter and cream into the gravy creates a luscious and silky consistency that coats each piece of chicken. This smooth texture enhances the overall eating experience, making it an irresistible dish for those seeking a genuinely indulgent meal.

Versatility and Adaptability:

Another reason for butter chicken's popularity is its versatility and adaptability. While the traditional version uses chicken as the protein, it can be easily modified to suit different dietary preferences. Vegetarian variations can be made by replacing chicken with paneer (cottage cheese) or tofu, appealing to those who follow a vegetarian or plant-based diet. This adaptability allows butter chicken to cater to various tastes and dietary requirements, expanding its global appeal.

Cultural Fusion:

Butter chicken's popularity is not limited to India; it has seamlessly integrated into various culinary cultures worldwide. Indian cuisine has been warmly embraced in many countries, and butter chicken has become a staple in Indian restaurants worldwide. It has become a symbol of cultural fusion, representing the globalization of food and the appreciation for diverse flavors and cooking techniques.

Accessible and Approachable:

Despite its complex flavors, butter chicken remains accessible and approachable to a broad audience. It strikes a balance between being familiar and adventurous, making it suitable for newcomers to Indian cuisine and seasoned food enthusiasts. The combination of familiar ingredients like chicken and tomatoes and the indulgent creamy gravy makes it a comfortable entry point for those exploring the diverse world of Indian flavors.

Social Media and Culinary Influences:

The rise of social media and culinary influences has also contributed to the popularity of butter chicken. Food bloggers, influencers, and chefs often showcase and share their versions of butter chicken, leading to increased exposure and interest in the dish. Mouthwatering images and enticing descriptions on platforms like Instagram and YouTube have piqued the curiosity of food lovers worldwide, encouraging them to try this iconic Indian dish.

Popularity of Butter Chicken


With its rich history and exquisite flavors, butter chicken stands tall as a quintessentially Indian dish. Its appeal lies in the perfect marriage of tender chicken, smoky flavors, and the indulgence of the creamy tomato-based gravy. Whether you are a seasoned fan of Indian cuisine or new to its charms, butter chicken promises an unforgettable culinary experience that will leave you craving more. So, the next time you come across this delightful dish on a menu, embrace the opportunity to savor the magic of butter chicken.

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