[This is the second post in a series about my Indian buffet adventures in Sunnyvale, California.]
My craving for Indian buffets is tied directly to how much I’m longing for one dish–butter chicken curry, or murgh makhani. It’s probably one of the most universally-loved Indian buffet dishes. During my Indian Buffet Adventures, I rarely found a restaurant that really messed up butter chicken…but it was also notable when I found a truly fantastic version. The sauce has to be just right: hot enough; layers of spice, rather than predominantly salt, cream and tomato; not too sweet. And the chicken has to be done well: charred, fresh-tasting, not repurposed from several-day-old leftover tandoori chicken.
I researched and tested several recipes to find the version that most reminded me of my favorite Indian buffets. In the end, I determined that there were several necessary elements:
- Dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) are crucial to getting that authentic Indian restaurant butter chicken taste.
- Heavy cream, and lots of it, is the other ingredient that really makes butter chicken taste like butter chicken.
- For the best flavor, the chicken must be charred. Short of buying a tandoori oven or busting out your charcoal grill, the easiest way to accomplish this is in your home oven, under the broiler.
First, rub the chicken with a mixture of salt, cayenne, lemon juice, and garam masala. Let this mixture sit for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Prepare the marinade, in which dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) is a crucial ingredient. It ain’t butter chicken unless there are fenugreek leaves.
After marinating for at least four hours or up to twenty-four hours (I love marinades with flexible timing), broil the chicken on high.
You can sneak a piece of charred chicken. It’s super delicious. I won’t tell!
Assembling the ingredients for the sauce requires careful planning and many prep bowls. All these spices help to create a deliciously nuanced dish. It’s a pain, but ultimately worth it if you love restaurant-style butter chicken.
Watch out for the tumeric-tomato splatter! Use a high-walled pan.
At the very end of the cooking process, add the cream and garam masala. I tried to use less cream, and you know what? It just tastes like regular chicken curry. The cream (and butter) really adds that dairy richness that’s one of the hallmark flavors of butter chicken. So splash on that cream!
Garnish with cilantro, serve with naan and rice, and eat yourself into a butter chicken food coma. Because you worked hard enough at cooking it…so now you deserve extra helpings.
Indian Butter Chicken Curry (Murgh Makhani)
For the Rub:
- 2 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1.5 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. garam masala
For the Marinade:
- 2- inch piece of fresh ginger
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup yogurt
- 1.5 tsp. dried fenugreek leaves kasuri methi
- 1 tsp. tumeric
- 1 tsp. garam masala homemade or store bought
- 1.5 Tbsp. flavorless cooking oil like canola
For the Sauce:
- 2.5- inch piece of fresh ginger
- 10 cloves garlic
- 10 almonds soaked in cool water for 30 minutes and then peeled
- 2-4 jalapeno peppers 2 for mildly spicy, 3 for medium spicy, and 4 for quite spicy, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
- 4 Tbsp. melted butter
- 4 green cardamom
- 1 black cardamom
- Two-inch cinnamon stick
- 2 cloves
- 3/4 tsp. fenugreek seeds methi
- 3-3.5 cups tomato puree
- 1 Tbsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 Tbsp. honey or more to taste
- 1 Tbsp. dried fenugreek leaves kasuri methi, very lightly toasted in a dry skillet and crushed
- 1 tsp. garam masala
- 3/4 cup heavy cream divided
- Lemon juice to taste
- Cilantro for garnish
For the Rub:
- Remove and discard skin from chicken. Place the chicken in a sealable plastic bag inside a bowl. Add cayenne, lemon juice, salt, and garam masala. Rub to coat the chicken with the spices and lemon juice, seal the bag, and refrigerate for 30 minutes while you prepare the marinade.
For the Marinade:
- Peel the ginger and garlic Roughly chop the ginger, and place garlic and chopped ginger in the bowl of a small food processor or blender with one or two tablespoons of water. Grind until smooth, drizzling in more water as necessary to blend the mixture.
- Mix garlic and ginger puree with the rest of the marinade ingredients. Remove chicken from refrigerator, add marinade to chicken inside plastic bag, and toss to coat. Reseal plastic bag and refrigerate for at least four hours, and up to twenty-four hours.
- Set broiler rack 4 inches from heat source and preheat broiler to high. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Remove chicken from sealed plastic bag and wipe off excess marinade. Lay out in a single layer on baking sheet and broil about 10 minutes, until color darkens. Flip chicken and broil until color darkens on the other side and you see charring, about 10 more minutes. Set chicken aside to rest while you prepare the sauce. (For safety's sake, refrigerate the chicken once it has cooled to room temperature.)
For the Sauce:
- Peel the ginger and garlic Roughly chop the ginger, and place garlic and chopped ginger in the bowl of a small food processor or blender with one or two tablespoons of water. Grind until smooth, drizzling in more water as necessary to blend the mixture. Set aside.
- Rinse the food processor or blender, and add the almonds with a tablespoon or two of almond soaking water. Blend until smooth, adding more water as necessary to blend the mixture. Set aside.
- Heat the butter in a heavy pot with high sides, such as a 5-quart enameled cast-iron dutch oven. Add green cardamom, black cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon stick. Sauté for a couple of minutes or until they start to sizzle and smell fragrant. Add the fenugreek seeds. When the fenugreek seeds sizzle, add the reserved ginger-garlic paste and the jalapenos. Cook in medium heat for 5-8 minutes, or until the water from the ginger-garlic paste evaporates.
- Add tomato puree, cayenne pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, or until the puree reduces to a thick paste and the butter separates from the sides of the pan. Set aside and cool for 15 minutes.
- Transfer sauce to a blender (or use an immersion blender directly in pot--watch out for splatters!) and puree until smooth. Return sauce to pan and add 2 cups of water and reserved almond paste. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until sauce reaches desired thickness. Add honey and crushed fenugreek leaves.
- Strip chicken from bone and chop into large chunks. (Discard the bone.) Add chicken pieces to sauce and stir well to combine. Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes at medium heat. Lower the heat and add garam masala and 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. heavy cream, stir, and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add additional lemon juice, honey, and salt as needed.
- For serving, garnish with fresh cilantro and drizzle with reserved 2 Tbsp. heavy cream. Serve with basmati rice and naan.