Kitchn Love Letters

This Shortcut Butter Chicken Is One of My All-Time Favorite Easy Dinners

published Mar 18, 2023
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

One of my favorite things about Indian food is how the slow-cooked sauces are full of fragrant and warm spices and are as much a star of the show as the protein or vegetables they’re cooked with. Although I’d like to spend a few hours cooking, a slow-cooked dish is not doable when I’m short on time to get dinner ready. This recipe for butter chicken, however, comes together in less than half an hour and still delivers big on flavor and deliciousness. Tender bites of boneless chicken are suspended in a buttery spiced tomato sauce — a perfect match with fluffy basmati rice or warm naan. A few shortcuts make this doable even on a weekday, and leftovers make for a great lunch or future meal to stash in the freezer. 

Why I Love Butter Chicken 

This recipe does a few smart things to cut down on prep, ingredients, and cook time. The first is to use just one spice blend, garam masala, plus two other spices rather than a longer list of spices. If you like spicy heat, cayenne pepper is also a welcome addition. Boneless chicken is cut into one-inch pieces so they cook quickly and evenly. Instead of marinating the chicken in yogurt for hours, the chicken is coated in some of the spice rub to quickly jump-start the flavors instead. Finally, tomato paste and tomato sauce are used for the base of the sauce. Since they are already cooked down and smooth, there’s no need to blend the sauce until smooth like you would one made from chunky tomato pieces.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

How to Make Butter Chicken 

  1. Season the chicken. Mix the spices together and use some of it to season the chicken; reserve the remaining for the sauce.
  2. Brown the chicken. Brown the chicken in lots of butter first, then remove from the pot.
  3. Sauté the aromatics. Sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger.
  4. Add the spices. Toss in the remaining spice blend, a cinnamon stick, and some tomato paste, and cook until fragrant.
  5. Simmer everything together. Add a can of tomato paste, water, and the seared chicken to the pot and simmer until the chicken is cooked through.
  6. Finish the sauce. Stir cream, more butter, and lemon juice into the sauce. Serve with rice or naan, garnished with cilantro.

If You’re Making Butter Chicken, a Few Tips 

  • Salt the chicken. I like to toss the chicken with the spice rub and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. This gives a good base of flavor and seasoning first into the chicken, which then goes into the entire dish. Taste at the end and add more salt if needed.
  • Keep the fat in the pan. After the chicken is browned, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon to keep the fat in the pan for the onions. 
  • Sauté the onions until tender. I recommend turning the heat down after the onions go in the pan to make sure they don’t burn. Add some oil or more butter if the pan seems dry, and make sure to cook until the onions are tender. The recipe calls for cooking them for just two minutes, which doesn’t soften them up quite enough for my tastes.
  • Deglaze the pot with water first. When it’s time to add the liquids and chicken to the pot, pour in the water first and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Doing so makes sure all that flavor ends up in the sauce, and it’s easier to see the browned bits with just water over them. After the bits are scraped up, then add the tomato sauce and chicken.