better-than-takeout butter chicken

Better-Than-Takeout Butter Chicken Recipe

Hey everyone! It’s Kevin, and today I have a recipe for everyone’s favorite Indian takeout food, butter chicken!

Usually, Indian food requires a ton of ingredients, so in this butter chicken recipe, I’ve reduced the ingredients down to what I believe are the essentials for creating an amazing butter chicken and nothing more. I know that it’s hard to believe, but I promise that this homemade butter chicken will be at least as good, if not better, than any takeout butter chicken you’ve had! The best part is, it’s a lot cheaper, and the amount of time you actually spend prepping and cooking is less than an hour!

better-than-takeout butter chicken

Why Is It Called Butter Chicken?

When I first tried butter chicken, I was confused by the name because the dish neither looked nor tasted like butter was a large component in it.

It turns out, butter chicken was actually invented by accident by the chef at Moti Mahal, a famous restaurant in Delhi, in the 1950s. The story is that the restaurant made a lot of tandoori chicken, which is a chicken dish roasted in a traditional Indian clay oven, but at the end of the day they didn’t know what to do with all the leftover dried up chicken. They didn’t want it to just go to waste, so butter chicken was invented as a way to rehydrate the dried chicken and serve it as a completely new dish!

The dried chicken was cooked with a mixture of butter and heavy cream, which combined with some flavorful spices and tomato sauce, brought completely new life to the tandoori chicken.

better-than-takeout butter chicken

What’s In The Marinade?

We marinate the chicken because leftover tandoori chicken is used in the original butter chicken recipe. Tandoori chicken is made by marinating chicken in yogurt, lemon juice, and a combination of spices and then roasting it in a clay oven.

The marinade consists of some common Indian spices, such as cumin and garam masala (which itself is a spice blend), garlic, ginger, and salt. These ingredients give the chicken an amazing flavor even without the sauce.

The most interesting part of the marinade though is the yogurt and lemon juice. Lemon juice is commonly used in the states in meat marinades to help tenderize the meat, but I’ve never really seen a Western recipe use yogurt in the marinade.

The yogurt serves a similar purpose to the lemon juice in that it helps make the chicken more tender. However, the lactic acid and calcium in the yogurt do it more “gently” and over a longer period of time, which is why you should marinate for at least 4 hours for butter chicken.

better-than-takeout butter chicken

Let’s Talk Sauce

Who doesn’t love the rich creamy flavor of the sauce that the butter chicken is cooked in? The key to an amazing butter chicken sauce lies in the use of butter and heavy cream. These are cooked together with a tomato and onion base and some common Indian spices to create an incredibly flavorful sauce.

As mentioned earlier, butter chicken was originally invented by accident to make dried out tandoori chicken edible again. This was accomplished by cooking the chicken in a sauce made with butter and heavy cream to help rehydrate the dried out chicken.

For this recipe, we don’t have dried out chicken, but the butter and heavy cream are still crucial to creating the creamy flavor that butter chicken is famous for.

For the tomato, I decided to use tomato puree. Some recipes use tomato sauce, but I found that it’s better to use plain tomato puree so that we have more control over the flavors. We just add a bit of salt and sugar and then let the strong flavors of the garam masala and cumin carry the depth of the flavor in the dish. Combined with the sweetness of the tomato puree and onions, the result is a rich and complex sauce that will haunt your dreams.


  • How long do I have to marinate for?

    I would recommend marinating for at least 4 hours so that the yogurt has a chance to tenderize the chicken and so that the flavors can fully penetrate the meat. My suggestion would be to marinate the chicken before you go to bed, which should take about 10 minutes, and then cook the chicken the next day.

  • What do you eat butter chicken with?

    My personal favorite is to eat it with freshly made naan! A simple alternative, and just as good, is to eat it with some rice. The sauce tastes amazing mixed together with rice.

  • What’s the difference between butter chicken and chicken tikka masala?

    One major difference is that while butter chicken is an authentic Indian dish, chicken tikka masala was actually invented in Britain! However, as similar as they do taste, butter chicken is usually more creamy and buttery (as the name would suggest), while chicken tikka masala usually has more of a tomato taste.

Are you ready? Let’s get started!

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Better-Than-Takeout Butter Chicken

5 from 1 vote
Recipe by Kevin Lee Course: Main CourseCuisine: IndianDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time


Marinating time



Typically, Indian recipes call for a ton of different ingredients, but this recipe uses only the essentials for creating an amazing butter chicken. It may be hard to believe, but the amount of flavor and complexity in this butter chicken will make you never want to order takeout again!


  • Marinade
  • 2 chicken breasts

  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (regular or greek yogurt)

  • Juice from one lemon

  • 2 teaspoons garam masala

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoons ground ginger

  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • Sauce
  • 6 tablespoons butter (divided into 3 chunks of 2 tablespoons)

  • 1 onion (diced; white or yellow onions)

  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)

  • 1 teaspoon garam masala

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 cup tomato puree

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro (optional for garnish)

  • Equipment
  • Large bowl

  • Large pan


  • Cut chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces (about 1/2 inch to 1 inch cubes)better-than-takeout butter chicken cut chicken
  • Combine the rest of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Add the chicken pieces and mix to completely coat the chicken with the marinade. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 4 hoursbetter-than-takeout butter chicken chicken coated in marinade
  • When the chicken is done marinating, take out of the fridge. Heat up a large pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, melt two tablespoons of butter in it
  • Add half of the chicken to the pan (we don’t want to overcrowd the pan). Cook each piece for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until it browns. The chicken doesn’t need to be fully cooked through at this point as we will finish cooking it in the saucebetter-than-takeout butter chicken chicken in pan
  • Add two more tablespoons of butter if the pan is looking a bit dry and cook the other half of the chicken
  • Set the chicken aside while we make the saucebetter-than-takeout butter chicken chicken cooked
  • In the same pan, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Cook the onions until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Scrape up the bits of browned pieces stuck to the pan from the chickenbetter-than-takeout butter chicken onions cooking
  • Add garam masala, ground cumin, and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute
  • Add tomato puree, heavy cream, sugar, and salt. Mix until sauce is combined and a even color
  • Add the chicken back into the sauce and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes, until the flavors in the sauce have combined and the sauce has thickened to your liking. Remove from heat (optionally, top with chopped cilantro) and serve with rice or naan. Enjoy!better-than-takeout butter chicken chicken in sauce


  • Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

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Typically, Indian recipes call for a ton of different ingredients, but this recipe uses only the essentials for creating an amazing butter chicken. It may be hard to believe, but the amount of flavor and complexity in this butter chicken will make you never want to order takeout again!

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