Roasted chicken pieces cooked in a delicious buttered tomato sauce with a lot of spices. This Indian curry recipe is a true explosion of flavour.

The History Behind Murgh Makhani, a.k.a Butter Chicken Masala

“How about we create a new recipe using this chicken tikka that was roasted in Tandoor? We can make a gravy based on spices and tomatoes, add enough ghee to make it really creamy and cook the chicken pieces there! What do you think?” I imagine it must have been more or less like this the conversation between the members of the Punjabi food restaurant Moti Mahal, in the late 1950s. Little did they know that this recipe, created in their restaurant, would become one of the most famous dishes in India, Murgh Makhani.

Murgh, in the Punjabi language, means “chicken” and Makhani means “with butter”, so Murgh Makhani became internationally known as Butter Chicken Masala.

We learned this recipe during our Indian cooking course at the Culinary Academy of India (Brand Cai) and despite the long list of spices, it’s a very easy Indian chicken recipe. We included all the steps to make an authentic Butter Chicken Masala recipe that is creamy just like Indian restaurants. Also, we will also explain some shortcuts in case you want to make adaptations.

How to make Butter Chicken Masala: All the steps explained

I have a surprise to tell you. You will not learn ONE Indian recipe, you will learn TWO Indian recipes! To make this Chicken Butter Masala recipe the steps are:

  • Prepare the chicken – marinated and roasted (Tandoori Chicken Recipe)
  • Prepare the gravy base (Makhani Gravy Recipe)
  • Cook the two preparations briefly together, before serving.

Chicken (Tandoori Chicken Tikka Recipe)

The original recipe is made with chicken roasted in the Tandoor oven that reaches a very high temperature and gives an incredible smoked flavour. In the absence of a Tandoor oven, the best substitute would be to make it on the grill. However, to be more practical, it can be done in the conventional oven or in an iron frying pan.

The most important of this chicken preparation is the marinade, which is made with yoghurt, garlic and ginger paste, dry spices and time, at least 1 hour. It is more common to find Butter Chicken made with pieces of boneless thigh and drumstick. You can use chicken breast, but you will lose juiciness. Also, nothing prevents you from using chicken pieces with bone. Now, we do not recommend using chicken pieces with the skin, it is not a common practice in curries.

Makhani Gravy (Curry)

The makhani curry is known for its velvety texture, so we learned to beat the sauce in the blender and add cashew nuts to thicken. If you want to skip that part, you can substitute the whole spices (such as cloves, cinnamon, etc.) for the same spices but in powder and use tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes.

All Indian curries follow the same logic. First, you add the fat, in this case, butter or ghee, then the dry spices to flavour the fat. Next, you add garlic and ginger paste, onion, powdered spices and finally the other sauce ingredients.

This gravy serves as a basis for various other preparations, such as paneer butter masala, dal makhani, etc. It is worth making a larger amount of the recipe and freezing it in pots or Ziploc bags.

Finishing  Butter Chicken Masala Recipe

Finally, the dish takes heavy cream and toasted leaves of fenugreek (Kasuri Methi). The fenugreek is a very characteristic ingredient in Murgh Makhani, but it is also one of the most difficult to have in your pantry. If you don’t find fenugreek available, replace it with chopped coriander leaves on top.

Have you tried our Masala Chai Recipe? It is delicious!

Spicy or not?

This is up to you, adjust the amount of red chilli according to your preference. By following the measures of this recipe, it will result in a dish with heat, after all, the spices used are warm, but not necessarily have piquancy. Even in India, this is not a spicy dish, the red pepper used in the original recipe is Kashmiri Chili, a mild chilli, but with a smoky flavour and intense red colour. Therefore, we suggest replacing the original chilli with a mix of powdered cayenne pepper and paprika.

What is the difference between Chicken Tikka Masala and Butter Chicken Masala?

The term Chicken Tikka Masala is more popular than Butter Chicken Masala, but there is a critical difference between the two. Butter Chicken Masala, as we explained earlier, is an Indian dish, while Chicken Tikka Masala is an English dish. Well, the English are so fond of Indian food that they created their own version. Depending on the recipe, the English gravy may take a different spice mix, also it takes less cream and more tomatoes, but in general, the two are very similar.

In India, Butter Chicken Masala is served with Naan, Roti or basmati rice. The complex and hot flavours of this curry, the juicy chicken and the warm bread with rice is an incredible combination. It is no wonder that Butter Chicken Masala is one of many people’s favourite Indian dishes – and ours too!

How to make Butter Chicken Masala – Check out the recipe

Recipe featured image - a bowl of butter chicken masala, a dish similar to chicken tikka masala

Butter Chicken Masala (Murgh Makhani)

5 from 3 votes
Roasted chicken pieces cooked in a delicious buttered tomato sauce with a lot of spices. This Indian curry recipe is a true explosion of flavour.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Marinating 12 hours
Total Time 13 hours 15 minutes
Servings 6 servings

Adjust servings


For the Chicken Tikka

  • 1 kg chicken thigh and drumstick - boneless and skinless – cut into 3 cm pieces
  • 1,5 tbsp garlic - chopped or paste
  • 1 tbsp ginger - chopped or paste
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder - cayenne
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriender powder
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup yoghurt - better drain it for a while, or use greek yoghurt

For Makhani Gravy

  • 2 tbsp butter - or ghee
  • 1 tbsp oil - with neutral taste, avoid using olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cloves - whole
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1,5 tbsp garlic - chopped or paste
  • 1 tbsp ginger - chopped or paste
  • 1 onion - small, chopped
  • 1 fresh green chilli - deseeded and chopped
  • 5 tomatoes - cut into cubes or 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tbsp cashew nuts - optional

For Butter Chicken Masala

  • 2 tbsp butter - or ghee
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) - toasted, optional
  • ½ cup heavy cream

For garnish

  • Cilantro leaves
  • Heavy cream


Prepare the chicken (Chicken Tikka):

  • In a bowl, add the powdered spices, garlic, ginger and salt. Massage the chicken well with this mixture. Then add the yoghurt and spread to coat the chicken pieces. Marinate the chicken for at least 1 hour. If you have time, leave it for 12 hours in the refrigerator.
  • Before proceeding to the next step, ensure that the chicken is at room temperature, if you left it marinating in the refrigerator, remove it 1 hour in advance.
  • After the marinade, preheat the oven to 220 ° C. Place the chicken pieces in a non-stick form, drizzle with a little oil and roast at high temperature. When the chicken pieces are golden brown (approx. 10 min) turn the pieces over and repeat on the other side for another 5 min. If the oven has the Grill function, use it. Note: alternatively this step can be done in the frying pan.
  • Set aside

Prepare Makhani gravy

  • Bring a pan to the fire and melt the butter with oil. Add the whole spices: cumin seeds, cinnamon, cardamoms, bay leaf, cloves and black peppercorns. Let the aromas of the spices mix with the butter for approx. 30 seconds.
  • Then add the ginger and garlic. Stir well. Add onion and salt and sauté until golden.
  • Add the chopped fresh green chilli, tomatoes and cashew nuts. Sauté for a few minutes.
  • Add water and cook over medium heat for approx. 15 minutes or until reduced.
  • Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick from the gravy.
  • Place the gravy in a blender and blend until obtaining a smooth paste.

Finish Butter Chicken Masala

  • Heat a pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter and powdered spices (paprika, turmeric and cumin), stir quickly and add a little water to avoid burning.
  • Then, strain the sauce from the blender back into the pan. (Note: discard what was left in the strainer). Add the pieces of roasted chicken and cook for approx. 10 minutes.
  • Adjust the salt, add the cream and mix.
  • Toast the fenugreek leaves and add before serving.
  • For serving, garnish with a little cream and cilantro leaves


For a vegetarian version, replace the chicken with Paneer (ricotta).
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Menu Suggestion

Serve it with basmati rice and naan bread. Also, it is a good idea to add a bowl of raita, yoghurt is a great combination.