One of the problems with eating in the winter season is boredom. Indian butter chicken, with its stirring mixture of ginger and garlic, cumin, clove and garam masala, perks up the flagging appetite while it fortifies with the addition of cream and tomatoes. The recipe here comes from my friend Chef Ambarish Lulay. He trained in France and the United States. He was a silver medalist in the Culinary Olympics in Germany. While he is well versed in the French repertoire, on a bitter cold night when my husband’s mother died, it was butter chicken that he brought to comfort us.
Ambarish’s Note: “Below are the two recipes that make up Chicken Makhni or butter chicken. Seasoned cooks will tell you that the secret to a good butter chicken is great tandoori chicken. The second most important thing is the slow simmering of the sauce to make sure the tomatoes are cooked properly. I often boost the flavor of the tomatoes with a quarter cup of tomato paste and use cashew paste in the sauce instead of cream. Serve with basmati rice.”
Step 1: Tandoori Chicken
8 chicken thighs (skinless and boneless)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
4 tbl lemon juice
1 pt strained or Greek yogurt
2 tbl puréed ginger
2 tbl puréed garlic
1 tsp cumin, freshly ground
1 tsp garam masala
1 pinch saffron
Red food coloring (optional)
Score the thighs lightly and rub with salt, chili powder and lemon juice.
Whisk the rest of the ingredients together and rub on the chicken and marinate a minimum of 4 hours to overnight.
To cook use a tandoor, grill, or roast the chicken in a 450° oven.
Step 2: Makhni Gravy
6 oz clarified butter
10 whole cloves
8 green cardamom pods
3 tbl ginger-garlic paste (made of equal parts ginger and garlic)
2 jalapenos, minced
1 tsp red chili powder
2 ½ lbs tomatoes, skinned and pureed in blender
8 oz cream
salt to taste
2 tbl honey
2- 3 tsp fresh fenugreek leaves, if available
1 tbl ginger, julienne
Note: Indian cooks often have a jar of ginger-garlic paste on hand in the refrigerator.
Heat 4 oz clarified butter or ghee. Add the whole spices and wait to hear the “crackle.” Add ginger-garlic paste, the minced jalapeños, and red chili powder and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 2 oz butter and cook until the fat separates. Add puréed tomatoes and cream. Reheat tandoori chicken in this sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and honey. Garnish with julienne ginger and fresh fenugreek leaves.