Sunday, December 18, 2011

Butter Chicken - A Lesson in Indian Cooking with @MichPetersJones

@Michpetersjones on MasterChef UK
I had been asking @michpetersjones of Food, Football and a Baby blog, to see the episodes of MasterChef UK she was on. She was on twice, first in Series 4, then as a comeback contestant on Series 5, and both times making it to the quarter finals!

After much peer pressure, she relented to letting us come over to watch the episodes, as well as teaching us to make butter chicken. That is how mooself, @bigaddie and @MirabelleMacs wound up at the home of @michpetersjones on a snowy Sunday afternoon. If you've seen a lot of activity on Twitter today under the hashtag #yegCurry, that's because mooself and @bigaddie were live tweeting about the process as we went along.

To see the recipe and more tips and tricks, visit @michpetersjones blog post about the cooking lesson.

Cooking the chicken
When we arrived around 2pm, the chicken was already to go into the oven. It had to be prepped the night before so that it could marinated and let the flavors soak in. Put the chicken into a deep pan and put it into the oven for 20 minutes, cooking at 450F. In an ideal world, you would barbecue it so it would get a nice smoky flavor, while maintaining it's moisture. However, we do live in snowy, cold #yeg so the oven would have to do!

After 20 or 30 minutes, take the pan of chicken out of the oven. Transfer the chicken to a sheet pan and put it back into the oven. Turn the dial to grill, but keep an eye on the chicken so it doesn't burn. Try not to overcook as you will be cooking it for a while in the sauce as well. Keep cooking til it's slightly dark around the edges. Then remove from the oven and set aside until it's ready to be added to the sauce.

Keep the chicken drippings from the deep pan for the sauce.

Basmati rice
Once you have the chicken cooking, you can begin making the rice. Use 6 cups of basmati rice to 8 cups of water. Also add star anise, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamon, and saffron to flavor. There's no need to use expensive saffron for this purpose, a cheaper kind will do. You can also toast the rice prior to cooking in water if you'd like more flavor. It is recommended that you use the absorption method to cook the rice, by allowing it to steam in it's own liquid. To do this, pre-boil the water before adding to the rice. Add the water into the pot, then turn the heat on high and wait until you see the water begin to bubble. Once it begins to boil, cover the pot with foil and turn the heat to low. Unlike a lid, the foil won't allow any steam to escape and will also keep the rice nice and hot once it is ready and you turn the heat off. This does require some self restraint as you cannot peek at all until it's finished cooking! Set a timer for 15 minutes and let it cook away. Once the 15 minutes is up, turn off the heat and let it sit for another 5 to continue cooking in the steam.
Simmering the sauce
First chop the onions so you can cook them. There is some contention over onions and their texture. Some people like the texture of onions in their butter chicken sauce, while others do not and prefer to purée their onions after cooking. If you prefer a smoother texture, it's recommended you either purée the sauce in the blender after its' completely finished cooking or else use an immersion blender right in the pot. 

Put approximately 2 tablespoons of butter into a pot along with some vegetable oil. Add the onions and cook until they are browned and soft. Although some recipes might ask you to put the ginger and garlic in at the same time, don't do it! The ginger and garlic will taste somewhat burnt if you put it in right at the same time as you start your onions, as it's a long cooking process. It's best to cook the onions slow and low to get them nice and soft. The onions are the base of your sauce, so it's best to take the time to get this right! Don't rush it!

With the chicken added to the sauce
When adding the spices, add the whole garam masala straight to the sauce. However, remind your guests to be careful when they eat as they don't want to bite into a whole cardamon pod! If you want to be able to remove the spices after cooking, you can place them into a muslin bag and tie it closed, this way you can simply remove it after the cooking is done. This is what MasterChef UK made @michpetersjones do as they feared someone would chip their teeth on the spices! Also if you decide to purée the sauce in a blender, best to pick the spices out prior to doing so.

Adding cream to the sauce
Once the onions are cooked, put in the ginger and garlic, along with the rest of your spices. These include 1 tablespoon of tandoori masala, 1 tablespoon of garam masala, and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Once the bottom of the pot begins to brown, add the tomatoes to deglaze the pan. You can use puréed tomatoes or even passata (strained Italian tomatoes) or a mixture of both. If you use only passata, you will notice the sauce will be slightly sweeter. Turn the heat to low and continue stirring.

Then add 1 tablespoon of kasoori methi, 1 teaspoon of salt (you can add more if needed), and you can also add some red chili powder to make it more spicy if necessary. Turn the heat up a bit to help the sauce cook down and thicken up. To make the sauce just slightly less textured, use a potato masher to smooth out the sauce. 

Add the cashew paste to thicken
Keep cooking until you see that the oil starts to seep out of the sauce as it cooks down. It is not done until you see this or that the sauce is becoming shiny. This step helps to mellow out the spice flavors, if you do not allow this step to occur, you'll notice that the flavors of the spices is overpowering. Also do not use water in the sauce or it will make the spice flavors taste harsher. The sauce should be very thick and almost difficult to stir. Once it is at this stage, you can begin adding your cooked chicken and stirring it so the sauce coats all the chicken it.

Take the chicken drippings and strain it into a microwave safe container. Reheat the chicken drippings until it is hot, then add to the sauce pot. Make sure that if the sauce is still too thick at this point, that you use chicken or vegetable stock to thin it out, or else it will thicken up even more when you add the cream.

Note that if you stop at this point, plus minus the kasoori methi, this is the same sauce that is used for Chicken Tikka Masala. What makes it butter chicken is the addition of the cream.

Ready to eat!
Always temper your cream before you put it in the sauce or the cream will split. In other words, put a bit of the cooked sauce into the cold cream before adding the cream to the sauce. You can use whipping cream or even half and half. If you use half and half though, you will have to thicken the sauce more than if you used a heavier cream. When you add the cream, keep stirring the sauce, adding a bit of cream at a time. If the sauce is too thin, reduce the sauce down, just make sure you steam and not boil the cream.

Once you are close to happy with the thickness of the sauce, add cashew paste to thicken it more. If you don't want to use heavy cream, you can simply use cashew paste to thicken it. For those with nut allergies, substitute with cornstarch, just remember to slake it first! Also, you can add tumeric to make it more yellow if the color is not quite right.

Lastly, add a few pinches of sugar to taste, finish with cilantro and enjoy!!!!  Remember, Indian food should never be hot on your tongue, only in the back of your throat or the roof of your mouth!

If you enjoyed this blog post, visit @michpetersjones at Food, Football and a Baby for more recipes! Also, look for more Indian cooking courses with @michpetersjones at Get Cooking Edmonton in the new year! There is an all day Indian cooking class on March 11th!

More photos at PhotoBucket!


  1. It was great having you and your humans over Marlow :-) Can't wait for round 2!

  2. I'm so jealous! Looks like you had a great night of spicy TV and food! Thanks for blogging this Moo and for sharing the info Michelle. Will definitely be trying this out in the future. Much better than my pre-packaged butter chicken curry!

  3. Okay, yum. This dish is SO good, my hubby requests it often. Even though I modified the recipe to make it healthier, I still gave 5 stars because the original tastes good too. Also, your photos are really great. corporate catering

    1. She did the full fat version just for this occasion. You can eliminate the cream and use more cashew paste to thicken it. You can also use low fat yogurt or milk instead of cream, etc. We've also since done it with chicken breasts without skin, etc. Still yummy!

  4. This definitely looks top-notch but may be a bit difficult to prepare for the casual cooks. The pictures motivate me to try though!
    restaurant seo

    1. David, it's quite easy to cook! I'm a very poor cook (ie. I start kitchen fires and blow up microwaves making microwave popcorn) and have made it many times since. The only thing is that it's a bit time consuming, however, you can make a batch and divide it into freezer bags and freeze some for later! So if you plan it out right, you can just cook a big batch one day and have some for months to come.

      Give it a whirl! It's not really that hard, I promise!

  5. Oooh, I've been wanting to make butter chicken from scratch for ages. Great post. Please drop me a line on if it is ok with you if I link to it on my blog, Carole's Chatter. Cheers

  6. Fabulous recipe! I will make this for sure. Kathy Ramos


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