Hed Chef

A sweet twist on butter chicken

Butter chicken
Butter chickenPHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - It is debatable who created butter chicken but there is no dispute that the dish originated from Punjab.

Author John Ayto writes in The Diner’s Dictionary: Word Origins Of Food And Drink that butter chicken is a dish of tandoori chicken served in a sauce made with spices, tomato puree and butter.

But Monish Gujral, who wrote The Moti Mahal Cookbook, claims that his grandfather Kundan Lal Gujral invented the dish at his famous Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi in 1947.

Going by Mr Gujral’s account, butter chicken was invented as a means to repurpose tandoori chicken that has dried out from being hung by the sides of the tandoor, a clay oven fashioned out of a hole in the ground.

The version I am sharing is adapted from two recipes – from Mr Gujral and from chef Sanjeev Kapoor, who published his take in How To Cook Indian: More Than 500 Classic Recipes For The Modern Kitchen.

I use lime juice instead of lemon as I like its stronger citrus scent.

Mr Gujral’s recipe calls for the tomato-based gravy to be strained while Mr Kapoor strains the tomato mixture before transferring it to a food process to blitz it until smooth. He then strains the processed tomato mixture again to remove any remaining  solids. 

I skipped all of that. Instead, I used a handheld food processor to blend the tomato mixture into a smooth gravy.

Mr Kapoor uses honey in his recipe and purists may flip, but I find the sweetness balances out the sourness of the lime and tomatoes.

Butter chicken



1½ tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
¾ tsp salt
1½ tsp chilli powder


1 flat tsp garam masala
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground chilli powder
4 garlic cloves pounded into a paste
15g ginger pounded into a paste
200g Greek yogurt

Butter chicken

600g boneless chicken legs with skin removed
1 tsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
30g unsalted butter
3 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
1 chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, pounded into a paste
15g ginger, pounded into a paste
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
6 ripe medium-sized tomatoes (660g), sliced into chunks
100ml thickened cream
1½ tsp salt
1 Tbs honey



1. Place the chicken and pre-marinade of lime juice, salt and chilli powder in a deep dish. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Mix the marinade ingredients of garam masala, ground turmeric, ground chilli powder, garlic paste, ginger paste and Greek yogurt in a bowl and add them to the chicken.


Mix well to ensure the meat is fully coated. Allow to marinate for three to four hours in the refrigerator. 

3. Preheat oven to 180 deg C.


Place the chicken on wire rack and grill for 10 minutes.

Turn over and grill for another five minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

4. In a clean pan, dry-fry the kasoori methi until fragrant, then set aside.

5. Heat the butter in a deep-frying pan. Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and cloves. Fry till fragrant. 

6. Add the onion, garlic paste and ginger paste. Fry until the onion is softened. Stir in the chilli powder and garam masala.


Add the tomatoes and kasoori methi. 

7. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the tomatoes are pulpy, then use a food processor to blend into a smooth gravy. 

8. Add in the thickened cream and season with salt. Stir in the honey.

9. Add the grilled chicken and cook for three to four minutes until the mixtures bubbles to a boil. Serve with hot rice or naan. 

Serves four.