Butter chicken, also known as murgh makhani, was invented in the Indian city of Calcutta by chef Kundan Lal Gujral who added tomato puree to his chicken curry after running out of butter one day. The resulting dish became such a sensation that it's now available on menus worldwide, including at some of Toronto's most popular restaurants.
Indian butter chicken or butter chicken masala has become one of the most popular dishes in recent years among foodies. There are several different theories about butter chicken history, and many people have tried to recreate it from scratch in their kitchens, with varying levels of success. So what is so appealing about this dish? How can you make it perfect?
If you're interested in Indian cuisine and cooking, you've probably heard of butter chicken masala. This dish traces its roots back to Northern India in the city of Amritsar. This tasty recipe has become famous among foodies around the world, and one of the main reasons behind this popularity is its simplicity in preparation and pleasing taste when eaten.
However, did you know there are several other reasons this dish attracts so much attention? Let's explore some common myths and truths about Indian butter chicken and how to make it right!
The origins of butter chicken
No one knows for sure how butter chicken came to be, but it's thought that it was first developed in North India. Its creation could have happened organically, with the traditional Indian dish of chicken curry becoming more buttery over time.
The name butter chicken itself can be traced back to a specific restaurant whose owner used to refer to his signature dish as butter chicken as a secret code so he could communicate with his suppliers—who were banned from communicating directly with him by British law time.
However it came about, people love it for its creamy and rich tomato-based sauce and its melt-in-your-mouth tender chicken. Today, there are several variations of butter chicken throughout Indian cuisine (though most are made with cream), including tandoori Murg (chicken cooked in a clay oven) and dum Murg (butter chicken cooked in a slow cooker).
Butter chicken masala: Traditionally, making butter chicken involved frying chunks of boneless meat marinated in yoghurt until browned. Then onions would be added along with ginger, garlic, salt and turmeric before adding some water to make a gravy. A blend of garam masala spices would be added with tomatoes and cream or yoghurt before being simmered until thickened.
But nowadays, many Indian restaurants don't fry their meat anymore because they believe that cooking raw poultry or meat creates an environment where harmful bacteria can grow.
What makes butter chicken delicious
The dish originated in northern India, in Amritsar, to be exact. Legend has it that chefs there made chicken tikka with heavy amounts of butter to stay true to their Punjabi roots. But they didn't stop there: They added more butter as a garnish and called it butter chicken (or murgh makhani).
Today, Indian restaurants worldwide offer twists on what many consider a national treasure. The U.S., in particular, takes some liberties with its Indian butter chicken recipes by adding cream or tomato sauce—both of which are popular ingredients in Mughlai food.
The name butter chicken often confuses people. Is butter chicken a curry? What kind of dish is it? Both—sort of. But because butter chicken has evolved into a widely popular dish, it's not always easy to pin down its defining characteristics.
A good way to think about it is that butter chicken is an Indian-inspired dish served in most Indian restaurants that also contain cream and tomato sauce. That doesn't mean you can't find other variations, but these are two key ingredients in what makes many restaurants' versions unique from one another.
What is Indian butter chicken?
Butter chicken, or murgh makhani, known in India, originates from Punjab. The story goes that a Punjabi chef living in New Delhi was experimenting with butter-fried chicken and came up with something so delicious he decided to give it a name: murgh makhani, or buttery chicken.
People outside of India know butter chicken by its original name. Still, those in India often call it butter naan, as one of its key ingredients, is naan bread slathered with butter. Both are excellent choices when ordering butter chicken—don't ask for ketchup with your dish!
What to Serve with Butter Chicken
Butter chicken is a mild, sweet dish that pairs perfectly with Basmati rice or naan bread. A meal might include tandoori chicken, mild curry and basmati rice, and steamed vegetables. Butter chicken origin is North India, in which country it's commonly served as an entrée over white or brown Basmati rice, but not naan.
Instead of butter chicken masala, consider serving a grilled seafood salad with shrimp and avocado with lemon wedges for dressing. You can also serve a mint cucumber raita (spiced yoghurt dip) to cool off your guest's palates during the hot summer months.
The different names for butter chicken around the world
If you're unfamiliar with butter chicken, also known as murgh makhani, it's a popular Indian dish. It was originally created by Kundan Lal Gujral, a chef at Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi, in 1947. Although murgh makhani translates to butter chicken, its name has nothing to do with butter.
Instead, it gets its name from how much yoghurt and butter are used in its recipe (the word makhani means luxurious). The savoury main dish consists of chicken cooked in tomatoes and aromatic spices like garam masala and coriander with dried fenugreek leaves.
How to make the perfect authentic Indian Butter Chicken at home
Butter chicken has its origins in South India, but it's gained popularity worldwide as a delicious fusion dish. Start by making a simple marinade of yoghurt, butter and garam masala, or spice blend. Once you've got your base to work with, you can add just about anything you want: Grilled chicken breast is particularly tasty in butter chicken if you want to keep things lighter.
Just cut up a few boneless breasts into chunks and toss them into your favourite yoghurt marinade before grilling up until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. There are also a ton of recipes online that use ground beef instead of chicken — it depends on how many ingredients you have in your house kitchen and what type of dish you prefer!