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Alison Mollenhauer was right on when she named the recipe she submitted for the Primal Blueprint Reader-Created Cookbook Contest “Butter Chicken” instead of simply “Chicken Curry”. Yes, the recipe has spices like garam marsala, cumin and cardamom. Yes, the air in your kitchen will be heavy with the enticing aroma of curry. But it’s the silky, rich, lick-the-back-of-your-spoon texture that really stands out in this dish. The credit goes to a generous amount of butter and the addition of cream or coconut milk, mellowing the spices and turning this fairly simple dish into something luxurious. The moist, tender meat of chicken thighs can take some credit too, as the chicken practically melts in your mouth with each bite.
For this recipe, Alison uses a marinating technique that makes the chicken as tender and flavorful as possible and you can too if you “do” dairy. Marinating meat in Greek-style yogurt (or other acidic dairy products like buttermilk) breaks down the enzymes in meat and tenderizes the protein. A yogurt marinade is especially great with meat that leans towards dry or tough, like chicken breast or lamb. In the case of chicken thighs the marinade adds additional flavor and tenderness, but since dark meat tends to be tender anyway those of you who don’t love dairy can skip the yogurt and still end up with a really tasty meal.
As the sauce bubbles on your stove, lean in and inhale. Even with all the spices milling around you might be able to detect the distinct aroma of the cardamom pods. Although cardamom is part of the ginger family, it will probably remind you of cinnamon or nutmeg, as they share the same sweet-spicy aroma. Inside each pod are dozens of little seeds that will flavor the dish; the pods will pretty much dissolve as they cook so there is no need to remove them at the end. (If you buy ground cardamom seeds instead of the pods, use it sparingly in this recipe. A little goes a long way.)
Alison’s recipe feeds her family of five with leftovers remaining, and we can’t think of a good reason to cut the recipe in half even if you’re not feeding that many. Butter Chicken is the perfect dish to make in large quantities and eat over the course of several days. The flavors will just keep getting richer and that buttery, creamy texture even more irresistible.
Combine chicken, garlic, spices and yogurt in a covered container. Refrigerate for an hour or two.
Melt butter in a deep pan. Add vinegar, tomato paste, tomatoes, cardamom and cinnamon. Boil rapidly, stirring until sauce is thick (approximately 20 minutes).
Reduce heat to a simmer and add chicken. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally until chicken is cooked through. Add cream or coconut milk, simmer a few minutes more, and garnish with chopped cilantro.