Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Murgh Makhani

Also known as "Butter Chicken," many non-Indians are introduced to the vast cuisine of the subcontinent through this New Delhi creation. The most likely reasons for its popularity are that there is no over-powering heat and that all the spices are subdued by the yoghurt in the marinade and the butter in the final sauce. I cannot tell you how many orders of this a great friend and I have had over the years. Today the sassy sauciere queen Lily has gone to New York City for two weeks, and I took it upon myself to learn how to make this dish so that we can enjoy it from the comfort of the couch in front of Sex and the City re-runs when we next meet up.

I was also drawn to this recipe because I learned that it includes a spice that I have never used before: fenugreek seeds. I was really curious to know what this spice tastes like, and now I know: curry. Seriously. Most Indian curries I have tried (though I am no authority on the subject) have evident notes of fenugreek. If you have never had a curry and are waiting to lose your murgh makhani virginity, fenugreek is like maple syrup but with peppery hits.

It is an odd remark, but - of all places - I drew my inspiration from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Meat Book. Found in his "Fast Cooking" chapter, his recipe comes from Indian sisters-in-law. My angelheart Eric scoffed at the notion of this being fast cooking; he noted, acerbically, that this obviously does not take into account the amount of time to take and return the spice vials. That being said, the actual cooking time is brief.

I made a few changes to the ingredients. I omitted green chillies but will include them in parentheses should you wish to use them. I did not have any mixed spice on hand (also known as pudding spice), but substituted 2 teaspoons of it for 1/2 teaspoon each of: cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, and ginger. I used lemon juice instead of lime, finding it less acidic and more compatible with butter and chicken. Finally, I reduced the amount of butter from 125g/4.5oz to 100g/3.5oz. This serves four comfortably.

Murgh Makhani
(Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Meat Book)

750g/1.6lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

For the Tikka marinade:
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 teaspoons chilli powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons mixed spice (or substitute as above)
2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons groundnut (or sunflower) oil
(2-4 green chillies, finely chopped)

For the tomato sauce:
2 x 400g/14oz tins of chopped tomatoes plus their juice
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
(1-3 small green chillies, finely grated)
5 cloves
1 teaspoon salt
175ml/6 fl. oz water

For the makhani sauce:
100g/3.5oz butter
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Tomato sauce (as above)
2 teaspoons tomato puree
4 teaspoons honey
150ml/5 fl. oz double/heavy cream
1 tablespoon ground fenugreek
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

To prepare the chicken:
1) Mix the Tikka ingredients together in a large bowl.
2) Add the chicken to the bowl, rub Tikka in well.
3) Leave to marinate overnight or for about 6 hours.
4) Bring out of the fridge 30 minutes before roasting.
5) Preheat oven to 230 C/445 F.
6) Put chicken on a roasting dish with the marinade and cover with buttered foil.
7) Roast for 5 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200 C/390 F and roast for 20 minutes.
8) Once roasted, take out from oven and leave to rest.

To make the tomato sauce:
1) Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil.
2) Once boiled, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
3) Stir regularly. The sauce should thicken.
4) Push sauce into a bowl through a sieve, remember to include the sauce hanging on to the underside of the sieve. Discard remnants in the sieve.

To complete the makhani sauce:
1) Melt butter in a large pan.
2) Add cumin and let sizzle for 2 minutes.
3) Add the now-sieved tomato sauce.
4) Bring to a simmer, then leave for 5 minutes.
5) Add the rest of the ingredients.
6) Simmer gently, then stir occasionally until the sauce has thickened and is creamy, approximately 5 minutes.
7) Add chicken, which you can cut however you please; I cut mine into cubes.
8) Mix well and heat through, about 5 minutes.

While roasting the chicken, I made the tomato sauce. When the chicken was resting, I made the makhani sauce. Easily on the table within 45 minutes. I served the murgh makhani with a mound of plain boiled jasmine rice, but add whatever carbohydrate(s) you wish in order to soak up the brick-coloured sauce. Perfectly spicy to awaken one's tastebuds, and lusciously buttery to provide comfort and luxury.

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Shaun - I love Indian dishes, but am usually limited to ordering sag aloo & a korma dish at restaurants, as because of my Estonian background (at least that's my excuse:), I'm not very good with hot & spicy dishes. Your Murgh Makhani sounds safe n mild enough:)
I've got fenugreek seeds, and knew about their curryness - very keen to try your recipe soon!
You are so right. This is the first Indian dish that I got addicted to when I was introduced to the cuisine. I even attended a Sur La Table class because they were teaching how to make this. Now you are making me crave Indian cuisine for lunch !
Curry is one of my favourite dishes. The curry we make here in the Caribbean is neither South or North Indian but rather a combo of both. :)

I love the mellowness of your curry and the colour is beautiful. I can imagine how flavourful the ginger and yogurt are in this dish.
Great story Shaun and I love the sound of the curry and the changes you've made too. Also that is one of my husband's favourite books.
You really do need a carload of spices to make a really good and authentic curry, and collecting them is time consuming. I'm curious, Shaun. What is actually in pudding spice? It doesn't seem like this very tasty dish would even need any additional spices beyond the many you already used.
Delicious. I love any dish that involves an arms length of spices - gives me a reason to use up all of those that haven't been used before! And i adore creamy curries.
Sounds like a great dish Shaun! I love Indian food so I may have to give it a try.

P.S. - I'm glad you've found my new location because I no longer am involved w/ Zinfully Delicious.
I love vreamy curries too, and this one looks yummy.

I was recently looking at a recipe for this in The Bollywood Cookbook (really!! everything you'd expect it to be) but yours looks a bit more saucy, and I like curries with plenty of delicious sauce.
Pille - Murgh Mukhani is indeed very mild, for even my grandfather of weak constitution lapped it up. It is not a very time consuming dish, either. And if you have spices on the verge of expiry, it is a great way to use them up.

Veron - It has been a while since I last had something Indian, too, but there is something incredibly life-giving in the application of all those spices. What else did you learn to make at the Williams-Sonoma lesson (Eric has been trying to get me to sign up for one of those courses for the longest time now).

Cynthia - What would you say marks the distinction between North and South Indian cuisine? I'm sure yours is a mixture as Indians from all over the subcontinent have moved to the Caribbean and Eastern Africa since the 19th century (maybe earlier, but this is the earliest period I am aware of). What is the best Caribbean curry you can think of?

Amanda - The curry went down really well and was easy to take care of. I, too, love "The River Cottage Meat Book" but this was the first time I have actually used a recipe from it. I have joyfully read it cover to cover a few times over the last two or so years I have had it.

Susan, lovie - Pudding Spice is a British spice mix that usually has allspice, ginger, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. It is used in traditional goodies, like gingerbread and Christmas pudding. I had each of these on hand anyway, so I just used them. Chinese Five Spice is the only spice or herb mix that I have on hand. I tend to just combine the mixes myself. As to whether it is really needed, I would have to say that its components (or the mix itself) are required because the final result tasted of Murgh Makhani, the variants of which I have had many. So, it must all work in there somehow.

Freya, love - I, too, love to use bucketloads of herbs and spices. I did not know what fenugreek tasted of by itself, so this seemed like a great recipe to try as so much is required. This could have been creamier, but I thought 150ml of cream was sufficient.

Bruno - Please do give it a try and let me know, especially if you love curries. This is even mild enough for a Summer evening outdoors, served with riesling. Yes, I had noticed you weren't posting on the Zinfully Delicious blog anymore.

Kelly-Jane - Oh, ye, weaker than me when it comes to an inability to resist cookery books! Please do tell me more about the Bollywood cookbook, for I have not heard about it. This was creamy but not a swamp of fat; 150ml is perfectly adequate for the richness.
We must be telepathic or something because I just had Sayur Lodeh (an Indonesian vegetable curry) for dinner. Most people, especially those who aren't used to curries or spicy food, find that Butter Chicken is the one curry dish that they can handle. Well, I personally find it less daunting as opposed to it's counterparts like rogan josh. =) All said and done, your Butter Chicken would've been pretty darn perfect with the Sayur Lodeh I had for dinner. =)
Victoria - I love rogan josh and lamb vindaloo. I will make them when I come back to New Zealand, for it will still be wet and chilly in September. Sayur lodeh is a great dish, and the spices used are a great incentive to eat more veggies.
Seriously...butter chicken is my all time favorite dish. In fact my daughter and I had plans to make several different versions just to find the one we like best. Somehow we never actually got to do it...thanks for the reminder.
Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum, yum, yum. Oh goodness gracious, I'll be making this soon. Thanks for the inspiration!
Ruth - I am always surprised by how many fans there are of butter chicken, but what is not to love? I would love to hear about your butter chicken experiment, should you and your daughter have time to get around to it.

Christina - I don't know what it would be look to eat right now, given the heat on the West Coast, but it is worth trying - effortless and flavorful.
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