Easy butter chicken

When people order butter chicken in my restaurants I presume that they know the dish has butter and cream in it, yet I once had a customer tell me he didn’t want any butter in his butter chicken. (I suggested he have a curry instead.) When I was doing my training in India, one of my first jobs was to melt four kilogrammes of unsalted butter so that the chef could use it to baste the chicken. This dish is meant to have plenty of fat and rich flavours. It’s our best-selling dish by far.

Serves: 4
Course: Dinner
  • To marinate the chicken:
  • 80g thick Greek yoghurt
  • 1tbs grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1tsp paprika
  • ½tsp fine sea salt
  • 750g boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into large pieces (50g)
  • For basting:
  • Large knob of butter, melted
  • For the sauce:
  • 125g butter
  • 1-2 fresh green chillies, halved lengthways
  • 1tbs grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1tbs grated or finely chopped garlic
  • 1tsp paprika
  • ½tsp fine sea salt
  • 1tbs cashew butter
  • 1 x 700g jar of tomato passata
  • 100ml cream
  • To serve: plain boiled basmati rice, a few spoonfuls of thick Greek yoghurt, handful of chopped fresh coriander, naan
  1. Preparation: measure out your spices into two separate bowls, one medium bowl for the paprika and salt for the marinade; and one small bowl for the paprika and salt for the sauce. Prep and measure out all the remaining ingredients before you start cooking so that everything is ready to go and the spices don’t burn.
  2. Put the yoghurt, ginger, garlic, paprika and salt in a medium bowl and mix to combine, then add the chicken pieces and stir to coat. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave out on the counter to marinate for 20-30 minutes while you make the sauce (or even better, let it marinate in the fridge overnight).
  3. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees/200 degrees fan.
  4. Transfer the chicken to a baking tray and spread out the pieces in a single layer. Cook in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, until almost cooked through. Remove from the oven and brush with the melted butter, then set aside.
  5. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, melt the butter in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a low heat. Add the green chillies, ginger and garlic and cook for a minute, until fragrant. Stir in the paprika and salt and cook for a minute, then stir in the cashew butter.
  6. Add the passata and stir to combine, then add the chicken, increase the heat to medium and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the flavours have combined and the sauce has reduced a bit.
  7. Add the cream and simmer for one to two minutes, then taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
  8. Remove and discard the green chilli halves. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the curry to settle for five minutes.
  9. Ladle the curry into warmed bowls on top of plain boiled basmati rice. Add a spoonful of Greek yoghurt on top of each bowl and garnish with chopped fresh coriander. Serve with warm naan on the side.

Spice Box by Sunil Ghai is published by Penguin Sandycove (2023). Photographs: Joanne Murphy