Sunday, July 10, 2011

Indian Butter Chicken Recipe and The Origins of Indian Cuisine

Indian “Butter” Chicken Recipe and The Origins of Indian Cuisine
By: Chef Cristian Feher
Indian Butter Chicken - Photo ©Cristian Feher 2011

I find that Indian cuisine is the type of food that people either love or hate. Its strong combination of aromatic spices can be intimidating to those accustomed to eating milder tasting food. But it’s intoxicating to those who love to crank the volume on taste.

Indian cuisine was born in a land where the harsh climate pushed Man to come up with ingenious ways to survive. Amongst the age old methods of survival was food preservation. As I’ve written in other articles, the advent of refrigeration is very recent. For ages back people have sought ways to preserve their food in climates where spoilage was accelerated by the ambient heat, and where food was not abundant. Although protein sources were scarce compared to the lush forests of Europe and North America, Indian culture was in a prime location - right in the middle of an ancient trade route between Asia, the middle East and Africa. And one of the most readily available goods traveled and traded along the route were spices. It was quickly proven that a high concentration of spices retarded, and even prevented in some cases, bacterial growth in food. And thus was born a cuisine of strong tastes and bold spices, not for luxury or pleasure, but for function - to keep foods from spoiling. However, as it is in every culture, the food artists (whether chefs, servants, or home makers) developed something functional into something wonderful and enjoyable, Indian cuisine as we know it today.

Butter chicken is one of the most popular Indian dishes known today by most of the world, aside from curry. The allure of this dish, in addition to its aromatic taste and rich texture, is that no two versions of butter chicken are ever the same. From restaurant to restaurant, and chef to chef, butter chicken always tastes slightly different. This is my rendition of butter chicken. By using Kelapo virgin coconut oil instead of butter I have achieved a lighter consistency and have added the slight aroma of coconut.

This recipe yields 4 servings.


- 3 boneless chicken breasts

- 2 cups of diced onion

- 2 tbsp of Kelapo virgin coconut oil

- 5 garlic cloves (2 tbsp of minced garlic)

- 1 tbsp of fresh minced ginger

- 2 tsp of garam masala

- ¼ tsp of ground cardamom

- ¼ tsp of cayenne pepper

- 3 bay leaves

- ½ tsp of cinnamon

- 3 tbsp of cashew butter (or peanut butter)

- 3 cups of pureed tomato (about 5 fresh tomatoes)

- 2 tsp of brown sugar

- plenty of sea salt to taste


1. The first step is to prepare all of your ingredients. This means that you dice the chicken, dice the onion, mince the garlic, mince the ginger, puree the fresh, ripe tomatoes in the blender or food processor.

2. Put the Kelapo coconut oil into a deep skillet and add the onion, garlic, ginger, bay leaves, and spices (not the salt). Fry the onion until it becomes translucent (about 15 mins.)

3. Once the onion is translucent, add the chicken and fry for another 10-12 minutes. After 12 minutes, add the cashew butter and stir it really well so that it dissolves into the mixture.

4. Add the tomato, sugar, and plenty of salt to taste. Remember that it takes a lot of salt to bring out the flavor in tomatoes. When adding salt, always add a little, taste, add a little, taste, and so on. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer for another 20 minutes. It should thicken more as you cook down the tomatoes and evaporate the water. Serve with basmati rice, chopped cilantro and naan bread. Enjoy!

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