Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) is a classic Indian dish that warrants more exploration by the serious home cook. It is a beautiful study in spice harmonization, and while tomatoes make up the bulk of the sauce, the flavors of toasted spice and butter predominate. Here we introduce beurre fondue, a quickie water-butter preparation that helps carry the butter flavor throughout the dish while using less butter than you'd normally find in classic butter chicken.
2 tablespoons raw cashews
2 teaspoons coriander seed
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 white peppercorns
1 tablespoon methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
3 cups tomatoes, steam-peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 cup roughly chopped red onion
1 cup water, divided
1 tablespoon grated fresh gingerroot
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 serrano chile, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
How to Make It
There are four distinct building blocks to this dish: the spices, the chicken, the sauce, and
the finish. Let's start with the spices.
TOAST THE SPICES
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the cashews, the coriander, the cumin, the salt, the red pepper flakes, and the white peppercorns.
Toast until someone in the next room asks what you're cooking--2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Transfer the toasted cashews, spices, and the methi to a mortar and pestle, a mini food processor, or a coffee grinder. Crush or process the spice mixture until it's finely ground.
SEASON AND SEAR THE CHICKEN
Rub the spice mixture into the chicken thighs. Let them soak up the flavors for about 3 to 4 minutes.
Heat a large, high-sided pan appropriate to handle the rest of this braising process. You're cooking 6 thighs and well over a quart of "stuff." medium-high heat.
Spray the pan evenly with cooking spray.
When the pan has that hot, hazy look, add the chicken thighs in a single layer.
Sear for 2 minutes on each side. Turn off heat and transfer the chicken to a plate.
START THE TOMATO SAUCE
Add the tomatoes, the red onion, 1/2 cup of water, the ginger, the garlic, and the chile. Turn the heat back on and stir to deglaze. (See Step By Step below.)
Simmer for 30 minutes, covered, over low heat.
While the sauce is cooking, let's learn something. Grab a small saucepan.
MAKE A BEURRE FONDUE
Heat up the other 1/2 cup of water to about 190°. Those little bubbles form on the bottom of the pot, but no bubbling takes place per se. Makes sense? Now, turn off the heat.
Now, using a small wire whisk, stir in the butter, followed by the crème fraîche. This is a version of beurre fondue, an emulsified butter and water "sauce" popularized by Thomas Keller when he wrote his French Laundry Cookbook. The crème fraîche makes it a quickie cream sauce. Have fun with that.
Let that sauce hang out for a minute.
COMBINE THE SAUCES
Now, go blend the tomato mixture. You can use an immersion blender, but ideally you'll use a standard blender, if you promise to be careful.
Pour the tomato mixture into the blender, put the lid on, and remove the center piece. Further cover with a tea towel, and give a couple of quick pulses. Now, progressively raise the speed, clicking through all the buttons like a 5-year-old, until you get to "frappé or liquefy," favorite 1970s kitchen blender terms.
With the motor running, remove the lid. You're safe. The blender has created a vortex.
Pour in the cream sauce. Blend for another minute or two. The color will get paler. That's simply from aeration.
BRAISE THE CHICKEN
Put the sauce back in your braising pan and add the chicken thighs. Cook over the lowest heat setting for about 30 minutes, or until the thighs can be "pulled" with tongs.
Serve, preferably over simply cooked basmati rice. A good store-bought naan is quite delicious--and just what you want to sop up the last of your masterful sauce.
Step by Step: Deglazing
1) Dry-heat cooking leads to lovely crusty bits on the pan.
2) You don't necessarily have to add a liquid to start the deglazing process--just something wet (like these tomatoes).
3) Allow the heat to cook down the vegetables, releasing their moisture, and gently scrape the bottom of the pain while you stir. Voilá.
Cooking Light Mad Delicious
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