Butter Chicken - The Best Accident Ever?

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Butter Chicken - The Best Accident Ever?

Recently I stumbled across a recipe supposedly for ‘butter chicken’ on BBC Good Food. Alarm bells started to ring as I notice words like ‘healthy’ cropping up, and portion sizes of 367 calories boasted about. Then I read the ingredients. Bizarrely there is no mention of butter whatsoever... Well, in case it wasn’t clear: there should be butter in butter chicken. Lots of butter. And cream. And it isn’t particularly healthy. Nor should it be.

Let’s be charitable and assume that BBC Good Food accidently forgot to include butter in their butter chicken recipe. Accidents do happen, after all. Allegedly an accident occurred in Delhi back in the 1950s, and a man named Kundan Lal Gurjal was entirely to blame. The story allegedy goes as follows: due to the absence of refrigeration in his restaurant, Kundan could not store his leftover tandoori chicken. Instead, he mixed the excess in silky tomato gravy and lavish butter – stumbling by accident on the now world-wide adored dish, butter chicken.  This accident is one of the many explanations of the origin of butter chicken, but let’s stop calling it an accident. More often than not, the word accident has negative connotations with misfortune. Well, there’s nothing misfortunate about Kundan’s creation, and whether it be a stroke of genius or just pure luck, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it came to be. 

Butter chicken with coconut milk and pilau rice recipe. Learn more about Indian cooking at : http://www.sharmini.co.uk/mambolive/ Recipe : http://www.sharmini.co.uk/mambolive/recipes/non-vegetarian/butter-chicken-with-coconut-milk-.html

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My first taste of butter chicken was down to luck. The prospect of ordering a curry that wasn’t swamped with chillies was undesirable, and testosterone fuelled curry nights with mates made ordering dishes like butter chicken and korma subject to intolerable ridicule anyway. Instead, peer pressure demanded that it was cool to order the spiciest dish possible, whether it was enjoyable or not. Luckily, I was one of the few that genuinely enjoyed the heat of a Madras, Vindaloo or a Dhansak. Unfortunately, though, this narrow-mindedness resulted in 21 years of life deprived of butter chicken. I owe a great deal of gratitude to a lovely Keralan lady named Sharmini, both for ending this drought and for the inspiration for the recipe below. Back in my University of York days, I had the pleasure of being taught by Sharmini how to make many delicious dishes including Keralan Kadala chickpea curry and Indian carrot pudding (Gajar Halwar). But the recipe that has stuck with me ever since is butter chicken.  Of course, my version includes rather a lot more chillies than Sharmini suggests...  

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) (Serves 4-6) 

Ingredients for 1st Part 

  • 800g chicken thigh 

  • 400ml coconut cream 

  • 40g unsalted butter 

  • 1 large diced onion 

  • 4 large garlic cloves 

  • Roughly 3cm fresh root ginger 

  • 6 red birds eye chillies chopped. 

  • 3 cardamom pods crushed 

  • 2 cloves 

  • Salt to taste  

Method for 1st Part 

  1. Heat the butter on a low heat. As it starts to melt and disperse around the pan, add the crushed cardamom pods and cloves. 

  1. When it begins to splutter and the aroma is released, add the diced onion and cook gently until golden brown for about 5 minutes.  

  1. Dice the chillies, ginger and garlic as finely as possible and add to the onion mixture. Stir to ensure no burning. 

  1. Prepare the chicken thigh. Add in fairly large chunks as the chicken will need to be cooked for longer than breast meat. If cut too small, it will disintegrate as cooking progresses. If pressed for time, use chicken breast. 

  1. Add a couple of pinches of salt 

  1. Once the chicken has begun to soak in all the flavours, add the coconut milk and leave simmering on a medium heat for 40 to 60 minutes. 

Ingredients for 2nd Part 

  • 6 medium salad tomatoes. 

  • 200g tomato puree 

  • 10g unsalted butter 

  • 2 tablespoons of double cream 

  • Half a lemon’s juice 

  • 1 heaped teaspoon of sugar 

  • Salt to taste 

  • A large handful of fresh coriander 

  • Half a red onion 

  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder 

  • 1 tablespoon of garam masala 

Method for 2nd Part 

  1. Whilst the chicken is cooking, chop the tomatoes as finely as possible and add to a separate pan with the butter. 

  1. Sweat down for about 15 minutes and then add tomato puree and chilli powder. 

  1. Add the lemon juice, sugar and salt.  

  1. Once relatively smooth, pour the mixture into the chicken and combine. 

  1. Adjust salt and sugar levels depending on personal taste, and add a scattering of garam masala. Cook for a further 10 minutes. 

  1. Garnish with some chopped red onion and fresh coriander