Like all great things, the creation of Butter chicken was a eureka moment for its creators. Kundal Lal Jaggi and Kundan Lal Gujral, owners of the prestigious Moti Mahal Eatery in Delhi, one fine evening, accidentally mixed the leftover tandoori chicken with a tomato gravy rich in butter and cream.
It was before the partition of India, in Peshawar, at a small Indian style Dhaba called Mukhey da Dhaba, where Kundal Lal Gujral worked and later bought the establishment and renamed it as Moti Mahal. When he realized the Tandoori chicken seekhs hanging all day long would tend to dry if not sold by the end of the day, he created a basic gravy with tomatoes, butter, cream, and some minimal spices to tenderize the tandoori chicken, so it becomes moist and palatable. Little did he know that what he created was not just a dish but history. And ever since, Murg Makhani (later known as butter-chicken) has flourished and become one of the most loved curries in India. Its variations, Dal Makhani and Paneer Makhani, were later created for the pure vegetarians.
It was in 1975 that the famous Murg Makhani appeared as Butter Chicken on the menu of Manhattan-based Gaylord Indian Restaurant and became popularly known as Butter Chicken after that. So famous that, most recently, it has become of the most ordered menu items on UberEats in British Columbia.
Within a decade of its inception, it spread worldwide and prospered in different forms, as fillings in Wraps, Rotis, Rolls, and Pies, as side curry for rice and naan, or as a standalone dish. Today, you will find Butter Chicken tacos, pizzas, rolls, burgers, biryani, and just about everything you can think of.
A traditional butter chicken is made by marinating the chicken in lemon, yoghurt, and spices, which help tenderize the meat. The marinated chicken is then roasted, traditionally, in a clay oven (but at home, it’s pan-roasted). It is then cooked in the gravy—cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger-garlic paste, green chillies, tomato puree, salt and a little sugar, cashew paste, and fresh cream.
The best thing about the butter chicken is that it goes with anything, rice, jeera rice, parantha, naan, and roti.
The beauty of Butter Chicken lies in the subtle balance of tanginess and a velvety texture. It is difficult to get it right, and often you may find versions that are either too sweet or way too spicy.
The vegetarian option of butter chicken has recently become famous where the chicken is being replaced with tandoori soya chunks. This curry has been reinvented for completely vegan people by replacing dairy with coconut cream and vegetable ghee instead of butter/ghee.