I promised you help with your boredom cooking, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say this scratch butter chicken recipe is exactly what you need.
Is it perfect, like that incredible morsel you get when you go to a good restaurant? Maybe not. But then, is there anything that tastes better than food you didn’t have to make yourself? I’m pretty sure convenience is the secret ingredient that makes all things better!
But shy of having to brave the outdoors, this is about as good as it gets. And if you’re vegetarian, we’ve got a variation for you, too. Just sub firm or extra-firm tofu for your protein and you’ve got delicious butter tofu from scratch!
So rather than me rambling about how great it is forever, let’s go over how to make it so you can taste for yourself how yummy it is!
(If photos and guided how-tos aren’t your thing, you can also go directly to the scratch butter chicken recipe. 🙂 )
How to prepare the chicken for scratch butter chicken
When you’re making scratch butter chicken (as opposed to out of a can—hey, no judgement!), the chicken gets involved earlier on in the process. You’ll want to marinade it in lemon juice before you start actually cooking anything, because the acidity of the lemon will help to break down the proteins in the chicken and tenderize it. This contributes to a nice, tender bite in the finished product, and it also imparts a nice flavour because of the tangy lemon.
Once the first marinade is done (it’s just a quick 20-30 minutes), you’ll marinate the chicken again in a yogurt mixture. This helps to further tenderize the meat, and this will be a longer resting period. You can leave it in the marinade in your fridge for up to 2 days for the most tender chicken, but 12 hours is the minimum I’d recommend based on my research. The yogurt, which is acidic like the lemon, will tenderize the meat and make it taste amazing because of the spices you’ve mixed into the marinade!
So once you’ve gone ahead and mixed up your yogurt marinade, the secret to good scratch butter chicken is marinating the meat for at least 12 hours (up to 2 days) in the fridge. If you’re using tofu as a vegetarian protein, this step is more important for the flavour that it imparts, as the spices will penetrate the tofu and make it super yummy.
And after the second marinade, it’s time to move onto the cooking part!
The first cooking step in scratch butter chicken is to pan-fry the chicken and yogurt marinade. (If you’re using tofu, the same applies.)
Your yogurt mixture will have the moisture cook off, so it’s normal for it to look almost a little curdled. You won’t even notice it in the finished curry!
How to make butter chicken sauce
While your protein is cooking, you’ll want to make your tomato-cashew sauce, which you can do by pureeing the cashews and tomato in your blender. You’ll want to get it as smooth as possible, and so I use my bullet-type blender. It kind of looks like creamy carrot puree when you’re done!
Now is the amazing, fragrant step! Melt a little butter or add a little oil to the pan and stir-fry the whole spices! Aromas of clove, cardamom and cinnamon will fill your kitchen and is there really any greater gift? I think not.
Once your fragrant spices are cooking with your ginger root and garlic, you can stir in your tomato-cashew mixture, and you’ll cook this until it’s thickened. You should be able to draw the spoon across the bottom of the pan and leave a trail for a moment before the sauce covers the pan back up.
Once it’s thick, add a little water to thin it out and simmer for about 5 minutes.
At this point, you’ll add your chicken to cook it the rest of the way through. Because it also has the marinade with it, it’ll add an extra flavour depth to the sauce, too. Simmer another 5 minutes or so, until the chicken is tender but cooked through.
We’ll simmer a couple minutes longer with some extra spices (including garam masala). Then we add the cream! Yum!
How to serve this dish
Once the cream is mixed in, you’re ready to enjoy your scratch butter chicken! Serve it over cooked basmati rice with naan bread for a real treat! A nice green salad is also a refreshing side to include—especially with cucumber! The crisp flavour is really a nice accent to the richness of the butter chicken sauce.
In our house, we have this scratch butter chicken with rice and salad, and we get about 6 large helpings out of it. I’m sure it won’t last too much longer in your house than it does in ours! 😉
Scratch butter chicken recipe
- 2 lb chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice, freshly squeezed if possible
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1-2 tsp sea salt (divided)
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric (see note)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp garam masala (see note)
- 2 tsp minced garlic (divided)
- 2 tsp fresh ginger, minced (divided)
- 1 kg fresh tomatoes
- 1/2 cup raw cashews
- 1/4 cup salted butter
- 2 whole Ceylon cinnamon quills (see note)
- 4 whole green cardamom pods (see note)
- 4 whole cloves (see note)
- 1/2 tsp red chili flakes (or more or less to taste)
- 1 tbsp crushed curry leaf (see note)
- 1-2 tsp golden cane sugar (see note)
- 1 cup light cream
- In a container with lid, place the uncooked chicken cubes, lemon juice, 1 tsp of the paprika and 1/2 tsp of the salt. Stir it up, cover and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. This is your first marinade.
- Meanwhile, get your second marinade started. Mix your Greek yogurt with the turmeric, olive oil, curry leaf, half the garam masala, half the garlic and half the ginger. Once you're finished marinating the chicken in the lemon mixture, stir the yogurt mixture into the chicken and let marinate at least 12 hours and up to 2 days.
- When you're almost ready to start cooking the chicken, make a puree out of the tomatoes and cashews. We use a bullet-style blender for this, as it gets it nice and smooth. You'll want it as smooth as possible.
- To cook the chicken, heat a small amount of oil in a pan on medium-high heat and add the chicken and marinade. Cook until the liquid evaporates and the chicken is just cooked (not pink inside, but also not overcooked, so that it doesn't get too tough). Remove the chicken and thickened marinade from the pan and set aside.
- Melt the butter in the pan and add the whole cinnamon, cardamom and clove to toast the spices for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the remaining garlic, remaining ginger and chili flakes and fry for another minute or two until fragrant.
- Add the tomato puree to the pan, along with 1/2 tsp salt to start with (add more if you like it fairly salty) and the sugar. Cook until the sauce becomes thick enough that when you draw the spoon across the bottom of the pan, it leaves a trail for a moment before the pan is covered up again with the sauce.
- Add 1-2 cups water, depending on how thick you like your curry, and the remaining garam masala. Simmer for about 5 minutes and then add the chicken and marinade. Simmer the chicken gently for about 5 minutes to heat through and infuse the flavours.
- Remove the pan from the heat and cool 1-2 minutes before stirring in the cream. (If it's too hot, it might curdle.)
- Serve hot over cooked basmati rice with a side salad. For an extra treat, you can have some naan bread on the side!