This dish can be made as spicy or as mild as you like, by adjusting the amount of chili added during the first step. It makes a tender chicken dish with an orange-coloured tomato gravy and is best served with something to mop up the gravy. I've served it over coconut basmati rice in this recipe; however, naan, pita, roti/chapati, daal (lentils) or plain rice would be just as acceptable.
Butter chicken varies in flavour from region to region and restaurant to restaurant and family to family. No two butter chicken recipes would taste the same and it's even fun to vary the spices a bit to suit your tastes.
Altering the recipe: I've called for whole spices if possible, which is the ideal situation. Ideally one would roast the whole spices and then grind them together as indicated. If you only have the ground spices, roast the spices you have whole, or, if none of them are whole, add them in the same step as you would add the turmeric. Marinating times are recommended, but I've also prepared it from scratch with little to no marination with delicious results; marination will simply intensify the flavours.
1 kg (2 pounds) of chicken (I prefer diced boneless skinless chicken breast)
Juice of 1 lime (or 2-3 tbsp of commercial lime juice)
Salt to taste (I add about a teaspoon)
1 red chili pepper or 1 teaspoon red chili powder (adjust for desired heat)
in a large non-metallic bowl. (The lime juice will make a metal bowl transfer the metal flavour to the chicken.) Marinate for approximately an hour.
In a flat, dry pan, on medium heat, roast:
4-8 cloves (1/4 tsp ground)
1 tsp peppercorns (1/2 tsp ground)
a 1" stick of cinnamon (1/2 tsp ground)
2 bay leaves
10-20 cashew nuts (may omit if nut allergies)
seeds from the inside of 4 green cardamom pods (1/4 tsp ground)
1 tsp cardamom seeds (1/2 tsp ground)
2 tsp cumin seeds (1 tsp ground)
until fragrant and nuts are slightly toasted. Grind into a coarse powder with a mortar and pestle or a clean coffee grinder.
Mix the coarse spice powder, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, and 1 cup of fresh plain yogurt and mix with the marinating chicken. Allow to marinate for another hour.
Heat 3 tablespoons of cooking oil or ghee (clarified butter) in a deep pan on medium heat. (I use a wok because it's hard to stir a sauce in a large skillet without spilling. A stock pot also works.) When hot, add 2 small or 1 large onion, coarsely chopped. Fry until golden. Add 3 cloves of chopped garlic and 1 tbsp of ginger paste (or 1-2 teaspoons ground ginger.) Fry for about a minute.
Add only the chicken from your marinating mix and fry until the chicken is opaque and white, but not necessarily fully cooked.
Add one can (796 mL/28 oz) of crushed tomatoes and the rest of the yogurt marinade. Simmer until the chicken is tender and the tomato sauce has reduced somewhat in volume.
Garnish with cilantro leaves.
Indian Coconut Rice
My favourite way to make this is to throw everything in a rice cooker and forget about it. If you have that luxury, I highly suggest it. It's another recipe that can be prepared 1000 ways with any variation in the combination of ingredients. This is how I made it:
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil or ghee in a pan. Fry 1 onion, finely chopped in a large pan, until soft. Add:
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp salt
Add 2 cups of basmati rice to the pan and stir fry until rice is coated and beginning to toast, about 2 minutes. Add 2 cans of coconut milk and 1/4 cup of water. (Throw this all in the rice cooker!)
If you have no rice cooker:
Heat and stir until boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Simmer for about 20 minutes, without lifting the pot lid, until liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Once liquid is absorbed, remove the pot from the burner, again, keeping the lid on, and leave it rest for about ten minutes. Fluff with a fork.