For people who care about their food

Camellia Panjabi’s Butter Chicken

Butter chicken


  • 2lb (900g) chicken (skinned quarters, smaller pieces on the bone) or boneless pieces (tikkas)
  • 4-5 tablespoons (tbsp) oil

For the marinade:

  • 2 cups full-fat yoghurt [or a carton of plain yoghurt]
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • ½” square of fresh ginger
  • ⅔ teaspoon (tsp) red chilli powder or paprika
  • ¼ tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp cumin powder
  • ½ tsp garam masala powder
  • a tiny pinch of tandoori colouring (optional)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp lime juice

For the makhani sauce:

  • 1½lb (700g) tomatoes
  • ½ tsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) [I had a spice jar of something which might once have been fenugreek leaves but they smelled like dust so I decided against using them.]
  • 3oz (75g) chilled butter
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • few drops of vinegar
  • ¼ tsp garam masala powder
  • salt
  • 1½oz (40g) single cream [Cream is a liquid – why the heck talk about it in solid weights like ounces and grams? I just bunged some in.]


1. First prepare the marinade. Place the yoghurt in a piece of muslin and leave to hang to allow the whey to drip away. Purée the garlic and ginger in a blender. Add this and the marinade spices, salt and lime juice to the yoghurt and mix well.
[You must be joking! It’s a marinade. I’m not going to pass my yoghurt through muslin. Similarly, finely chopped garlic and ginger will do just fine. Trust me.]

2. Scald the tomatoes for the makhani sauce and peel off the skin. Reduce to a semi-pulp with a fork or potato masher. Put the kasuri methi into a grinder and reduce to a powder.
[Oops, I forgot to include the tomatoes in the photo of ingredients. See my photo essay. I dug some out of the fridge, and popped them into boiling water to make them easy to skin – it helps to mark a cross on them with a knife first. I also didn’t think it was worth mashing them to a pulp either, although I did chop them. I knew they’d taste better if they were sautéed to a pulp in butter – oh yes, that instruction comes later but I’m bad for not reading ahead.]



3. Make gashes in the chicken if using pieces on the bone. Marinate the chicken in the yoghurt mixture for at least 1 hour, preferably 2; for best results leave overnight.

4. When ready to cook, heat the oil in a large, thick-bottomed skillet and put in the chicken with the marinade. Cover and cook over a low heat until done. Turn the chicken over during cooking.
[NO! Do NOT put the chicken in with the marinade. You’ll boil the chicken. Take the chicken out of the marinade, using tongs or whatever, and fry it in a little bit of hot oil or butter, on a fairly high heat – in a frying pan. This will brown the chicken and seal in the juices. Then, and only then, you can add the marinade. And there’s no need to cover it.]

5. Put the tomato pulp into a frying pan and cook for 5 minutes or so until the liquid has evaporated slightly.
[Ah yes, I’d already figured that out.]

6. Add the chilled butter and paprika; after the butter has melted, let it cook for just 1 minute. Taste. If it has no sourness, add a few drops of vinegar. Add the kasuri methi and garam masala powder and salt to taste. After 30 seconds, add the cream and stir. The sauce is now ready. Pour it into the skillet and mix well with the chicken. Serve immediately.

Camellia Panjabi’s Notes:

If butter is cooked for as long as 3 minutes it will turn into ghee and become a grainy emulsion. So start with chilled butter and cook for less than 2 minutes after the butter has melted.
[Mine didn’t turn into a grainy emulsion even though it was cooking for longer than three minutes while we were taking the photos. In any case, this is simply not true. Ghee is clarified butter – made by melting butter and skimming off the milk solids, not from cooking butter too much.]

You can cook the chicken ahead of time. But makhani sauce takes only 5-6 minutes to prepare and should be made when the dish is to be eaten. You can cook the tomato ahead, but add the butter just before serving.

In India, restaurateurs mix a little raw papaya purée into the marinade as a tenderiser.


Please also see my photo essay if you want a step by step guide to making this dish.

50 Great Curries of India

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Camellia Panjabi
Paperback, 192 pages
1995, Kyle Cathie Limited
ISBN 1 85626 186 7
RRP: £9.99

Read my review of 50 Great Curries of India

2 Responses to “Camellia Panjabi’s Butter Chicken”

  1. Chrisou

    I’ve been making butter chicken from this recipe several times now, but was always disappointed with the consistency, because it is really not a wise thing to cook yogurt, because it will curdle. Thank you very much for your note saying that the chicken should be cooked separately! However, I feel like I am missing something, because I find it impossible to get the marinade off the chicken. Do you have a strategy for separating them? Since I cut the chicken into small cubes before marinating, it would take ages to get it off again.. Or would you recommend cooking the chicken first and then putting it in the marinade?
    Kind regards,
    A butter chicken lover

  2. Not Delia

    Hi Chrisou,

    Thanks for your comment. I wrote the above post more than 11 years ago! I can’t remember making that specific dish but, jusdging by my comments in the post, I obviously found Panjabi’s recipe a bit of a faff and didn’t follow her methods anyway. Back in those days, Pat Chapman was still the best source of advice for curry fans, as he had been since the early ’80s and maybe even before that.

    These days I would recommend Dan Toombs “The Curry Guy”. There’s a recipe for butter chicken on page 132 of that book. He suggests “finishing” with the reserved marinade – I interpret that to mean add it at the end and heat it just enough to kill bacteria but don’t boil it so it splits.

    As for removing marinade from chicken prior to cooking, that which doesn’t just fall off can be wiped off with kitchen paper.

    Hope this helps.

    Happy curry making! 🙂

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