On Diwali in 2017 I had the good fortune to meet the owner of a south Mumbai restaurant best known for its legendary Butter chicken. Butter chicken is one of India's most popular dishes world wide. Often called Chicken Makhani the general impression is that it has butter in it. The original creators of this dish Moti Mahal's Kundan Lal Gujral uses white butter in his recipe. But a conversation with this Mumbai restauranteur who has been dishing out butter chicken to hungry Mumbaikers for nearly a century revealed that they use no butter in this recipe at all. He went on to give me an 'andaaza' recipe (andaaza means approximate) and made me promise that I wouldn't reveal the name of his restaurant and would tweak it enough to make it just slightly different from his version. I went home and tried 4 different versions of his recipe. The recipe that follows is one that is easier for home chefs like you and I to prepare for our families in a regular kitchen.
Chicken Tikka masala is a British creation and quite similar to Butter chicken except that it uses chicken tikka (kebabs) instead of shredded Tandoori chicken and tomatoes from a can. Food historians argue that butter chicken was turned into Chicken Tikka Masala by a British chef who used a can of readymade tomato puree and cream and dunked chicken tikka in it. Possibly tracing the roots of some of these recipes will never quite lead us to an exact answer but eventually the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
FOR THE RED SAUCE
1.25 KG RED PLUM TOMATOES, WASHED AND QUARTERED
2 TBSP VEGETABLE OIL (NOT OLIVE OIL) OR GHEE
1/4 CUP TOMATO PASTE
20 GRAMS GARLIC WHOLE (omit for Jain)
3 INCHES OF PEELED GINGER ROOT COARSELY CHOPPED
6 WHOLE GREEN CARDAMOM PODS
3 INCHES OF CINNAMON STICK BROKEN INTO 2 PIECES
6 WHOLE CLOVES
1 TEASPOON KASURI METHI OR DRIED FENUGREEK LEAVES
1.5 TBPS TANDOORI MASALA PASTE- A GOOD COMMERCIAL BRAND
50 GRAMS CASHEW PIECES UNROASTED, UNSALTED
FOR THE BECHAMEL
2 TBSP MAIDA OR ALL PURPOSE FLOUR OR RICE FLOUR
2 TBSP VEGETABLE OIL OR BUTTER
1 CUP WHOLE MILK
1/2 CUP HEAVY CREAM
25 GRAMS MAWA OR SOLIDIFIED MILK SOLIDS
500-600 GRAMS SHREDDED TANDOORI CHICKEN OR USE CHOPPED TANDOORI CHICKEN TIKKA
OR 500 GRAMS FRESH PANEER CUT INTO 1 INCH CUBES
SPRIGS OF CORIANDER TO GARNISH
COMBINE ALL THE INGREDIENTS FOR THE RED SAUCE EXCEPT THE CASHEWS IN A DUTCH OVEN LIKE POT OR LARGE SAUCEPAN. ADD WATER UNTIL THE TOMATOES ARE COVERED BY ABOUT 2 INCHES OF LIQUID.
SET THE PAN TO SIMMER ON A MEDIUM FLAME FOR 25 MINUTES OR UNTIL THE TOMATOES ARE TOTALLY PULPED. STIR FROM TIME TO TIME.USING A SLOTTED SPOON DISCARD ALL THE WHOLE DRIED SPICES- CARDAMOM, CLOVES AND CINNAMON.
ADD THE CASHEWS AND KEEP COOKING UNTIL THE TOMATOES ARE COMPLETELY PULPED THICK AND FRAGRANT. ADD MORE LIQUID IF REQUIRED.
REMOVE FROM THE FIRE AND COOL.
PUREE THE COOLED TOMATOES TO A PASTE.
ON A MEDIUM FLAME IN A NON-STICK SKILLET HEAT THE OIL OR BUTTER AND ADD THE FLOUR. STIR TO BLEND AND COOK UNTIL FLOUR IS BUBBLY BUT DO NOT BROWN. ADD THE CREAM AND STIR WELL. STIR IN THE MILK AND COOK 1 MINUTE. ADD THE MAWA AND STIR TO BLEND INTO A SMOOTH THICK PASTE.
STIR THIS HOT BECHAMEL SAUCE INTO THE TOMATO PUREE AND MIX THROUGHLY.
ADD THE CHICKEN TIKKA OR SHREDDED TANDOORI CHICKEN PIECES AND SET ON A LOW FLAME.
STIR REGULARLY TO PREVENT ANY BURNING. COOK 30 MINUTES OR SO.
REMOVE FROM FLAME, POUR INTO A SERVING DISH, GARNISH WITH CORIANDER SPRIGS AND SERVE HOT WITH NAAN OR PLAIN BOILED RICE.