Photo: Oxmoor House 
Hands-on Time
45 Mins
Total Time
1 Hour 30 Mins
Serves 6 (serving size: 1 thigh and about 1/3 cup sauce)

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.

How to Make It

Step 1

There are four distinct building blocks to this dish: the spices, the chicken, the sauce, and

Step 2

the finish. Let's start with the spices.

Step 3


Step 4

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.

Step 5

Toast until someone in the next room asks what you're cooking--2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Step 6

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.

Step 7


Step 8

Rub the spice mixture into the chicken thighs. Let them soak up the flavors for about 3 to 4 minutes.

Step 9

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.

Step 10

Spray the pan evenly with cooking spray.

Step 11

When the pan has that hot, hazy look, add the chicken thighs in a single layer.

Step 12

Sear for 2 minutes on each side. Turn off heat and transfer the chicken to a plate.

Step 13


Step 14

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.)

Step 15

Simmer for 30 minutes, covered, over low heat.

Step 16

While the sauce is cooking, let's learn something. Grab a small saucepan.

Step 17


Step 18

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.

Step 19

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.

Step 20

Let that sauce hang out for a minute.

Step 21


Step 22

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.

Step 23

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.

Step 24

With the motor running, remove the lid. You're safe. The blender has created a vortex.

Step 25

Pour in the cream sauce. Blend for another minute or two. The color will get paler. That's simply from aeration.

Step 26


Step 27

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.

Step 28

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 29

Step by Step: Deglazing

Step 30

1) Dry-heat cooking leads to lovely crusty bits on the pan.

Step 31

2) You don't necessarily have to add a liquid to start the deglazing process--just something wet (like these tomatoes).

Step 32

3) Allow the heat to cook down the vegetables, releasing their moisture, and gently scrape the bottom of the pain while you stir. Voilá.

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