May 21, 2024


Food never sleeps.

Butter Chicken – Downshiftology

7 min read


A spoonful of this Indian butter chicken with warm basmati rice may just be one of the best chicken recipes you’ll ever have. Juicy chicken thighs are marinated in a delicious spiced yogurt blend. But the real MVP here is this rich and creamy curry sauce – it’s ridiculously good.

Butter chicken with rice in a bowl.

First, Let’s Distinguish Between Butter Chicken vs. Tikka Masala

There’s so much to love about Indian food, especially when rich curry sauces are involved. There’s the fan favorite tikka masala, but let’s not confuse it with butter chicken (also known as murgh makhani) because the sauces are a bit different.

The sauce for tikka masala is less creamy and has a more prominent spiced kick to it. Butter chicken on the other hand has a creamier, more buttery sauce that balances out the rich spices. So if you’re all for ultra-creamy curry sauces, you’re going to absolutely love this butter chicken recipe.

Ingredients for butter chicken on a table

It’s All About The Butter Chicken Sauce (and Marinade)!

When I thought about how I could simplify the ingredient list (because I’m all for making recipes easier), I realized there’s not a lot of room for shortcuts here. Especially when it comes to more traditional and authentic dishes like butter chicken. So, I’m sticking with the classic ingredients used in this recipe, but with a few small additions that’ll make this the best chicken curry ever.

  • Spices: Both the marinade and the sauce use similar spices, including Kashmiri red chili powder and garam masala. Additionally, the chicken marinade includes ground turmeric and the curry sauce includes ground coriander and cumin.
  • Yogurt: I’m using Greek yogurt for this recipe, but any plain yogurt (evne dairy-free yogurt) works as well. Just make to use full-fat yogurt for creamy, flavorful, and tangy chicken.
  • Lemon Juice: Stick with fresh squeezed lemon!
  • Garlic and Ginger: There’s two options for you here. You can mince fresh ginger and garlic, or take the easier route and buy garlic ginger paste.
  • Onion: A diced yellow onion adds depth of flavor to the sauce.
  • Cashews: This is my secret tip to make the curry sauce as creamy as can be!
  • Tomatoes: One can of crushed tomatoes serves as the base for the sauce.
  • Butter: Unsalted butter is ideal, but you can also substitute that with ghee or oil if you’re dairy-sensitive or dairy-free.
  • Heavy Cream: Both heavy cream or coconut cream work great!

Find the printable recipe with measurements below

Chili powders on a plate for butter chicken

American Chili Powder vs Kashmiri Red Chili Powder

If you didn’t know – American chili powder is actually a blend of ground dried chiles with other spices like cayenne pepper, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, and paprika. This savory blend makes it perfect for adding into Tex-Mex dishes (like my classic chili recipe).

When it comes to Indian food, Kashmiri red chili powder is everyone’s go-to for a variety of dishes. It’s simply made from ground dried chiles alone, and is actually mild in flavor. Plus, its vibrant red color adds beautiful warm tones – especially in curries!

Pro Tip: Carefully look to make sure the word “Kashmiri” is labeled on the packaging. If it just says red chili powder, it’s going to have much more intense heat. To put this into perspective – Kashmiri chili powder is between 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville heat units, while red chili powder reaches 4,000 Scoville heat units!

So, here’s a quick run-down of the different chili powders and their heat level:

  • Cayenne – very hot
  • Red Chili Powder – very hot
  • Deggi Mirch – medium hot
  • Kashmiri Chili Powder – mild
  • Paprika – mild

Chicken Thighs vs Chicken Breast

I’ll just be straightforward and say use chicken thighs. I’m a little biased given how much I love chicken thigh recipes – but for good reason. They’re much more tender than chicken breasts and won’t dry out as you continue to simmer the chicken in the curry sauce. Also, traditional butter chicken uses chicken thighs. So, that’s gotta mean something right?

How To Make The Best Indian Butter Chicken

The steps below may look intimidating. But once you start cooking, it’s actually really simple. Just don’t skip out on anything, as each step serves a purpose for super delicious results.


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