Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Jul

Butter Chicken in a Silky Sauce

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.


  • 4 pounds chicken thighs, chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 3 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3/4 cup Greek-style (thick) yogurt
  • 7 tablespoons butter, chopped1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 6 cardamom pods (crush pods slightly to release seeds and more flavor)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/2 cup cream or coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh coriander, coarsely chopped


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.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Oh, heaven.

    Melle wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  2. My my.

    Samantha Moore wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  3. looks and sounds absolutely delicious!

    Rick wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  4. Shan spice packets will get to the same place without the cost…gotta go to an Indian market to get ’em though. Use the “tandoori” chicken mix for this recipe.

    Elle wrote on July 3rd, 2010
    • Tandoori chicken is NOT the same as butter chicken, they are 2 totally different combinations of masala/spices.

      You should really consult someone educated about Indian cooking before spreading erroneous information about something you clearly don’t know about!

      Ami wrote on January 15th, 2016
  5. If anyone has traveled through India – one would have noticed ‘Butter Chicken’ is THE National dish in Northern India. No menu of any local eatery, big or small, is complete without Butter chicken.
    Alison recipe is great, here is a slight variation as learned from a star rated Indian chef..
    After marinating the chicken as directed, grill it in an oven or on a gas/charcoal grill.
    Puree the tomatoes and cook them till all the liquids evaporate – now add the grilled chicken and butter, simmer for a while – finish by adding cream or coconut milk.

    pureed tomatoes can be cooked in bulk and frozen. If you ever have leftover grilled chicken, just combine the cooked frozen tomato puree and butter etc. and you can have Butter chicken in a snap.. Enjoy !!

    Resurgent wrote on July 3rd, 2010
    • My Indian friend told me that butter chicken started as making a meal out of leftovers and because of that it’s still looked down at in many parts of India; however, in West, it’s synonymous with Indian food!

      Primitive wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  6. Elle – check Shan spice packets ‘ingredients list’ before you buy. They used to contain loads of MSG – lately I have noticed they do not mention MSG but do mention sodium content upwards of a thousand mg per tsp. Best to mix your own spices as Mark has done from virgin material.

    Resurgent wrote on July 3rd, 2010
    • Yeah that too!

      Not to mention that the tandoori spice packet Elle recommended will NOT come out tasting like butter chicken!

      She clearly knows little to nothing about India or Indian food — the equivalent of those who think chop suey and fortune cookies are actual Chinese food!

      Ami wrote on January 15th, 2016
      • What is wrong with you? Your negativity is irritating. We get it, you’ve had butter chicken before. You’re still a dick.

        Sharmiila wrote on January 25th, 2016
  7. yummmmmmm

    Joyful Abode wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  8. Do you know if it freezes well? This may be a great dish to make on the weekend, then use later in the week. I’m making this week. Yummm.

    Gigi wrote on July 3rd, 2010
    • This will never get a chance to be frozen!

      Dave wrote on April 9th, 2012
  9. Wow, that looks so delicious I can’t believe it. I better go eat something, I must be hungry!

    Tuck wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  10. I will be eating this…. soon.

    Sassy Paleoman wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  11. I love Indian food and this recipe looks AMAZING! Very well done indeed!

    Mike Cheliak wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  12. This will be part of my meal plan for next week.

    brooki wrote on July 3rd, 2010
    • I second that. This recipe looks absolutely amazing.

      Scott wrote on July 4th, 2010
  13. YUM! That goes in the keeper file.

    slacker wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  14. my oh my… Last night I cooked thighs, trying to make up my own recipe to submit, then I see this the next morning. This is one I will print & file for use over & over…

    peggy wrote on July 4th, 2010
  15. I’m afraid to try butter chicken with a coconut milk base. Can anyone attest to it being good?

    Chaohinon wrote on July 4th, 2010
    • I can attest it’s delicious with Coconut milk….I would use 1/2 the amount at first if you want to try it out and decide whether or not you like it. My husband prefers the tomato base w/out the coconut milk though. Depends on what you’re in the mood for. I found that the coconut milk tone’s down the heat a little.

      Smiley wrote on March 6th, 2011
  16. Oh my gosh Chaohinon, coconut milk base is AWESOME in butter chicken. I think it really tempers the spices, so it still has a spicy kick but a smooth creamyness to it also. I don’t know if that makes sense but trust me, it’s AMAZING!

    Chandra wrote on July 4th, 2010
  17. I’ve been eating Paleo for about 3 months now, and I have always been told no yogurt or butter, as they are dairy based. Help me out here.

    Diana wrote on July 4th, 2010
  18. @ Diana, this is a Primal recipe…”primal” vs “paleo” allows delicious saturated fats such as butter. Read

    I am cooking this tomorrow night. My mouth is watering just reading the recipe!!!

    JoJo wrote on July 4th, 2010
  19. Oh wow, guess what I will be eating for dinner!

    Carla wrote on July 5th, 2010
  20. I am so making this next weekend.

    Mia wrote on July 5th, 2010
  21. Heaven. I love the long list of spices. I am learning how to mix spices as time goes on but I am not quite there. I will have to make this soon!

    Primal Toad wrote on July 5th, 2010
  22. Funny that you published this recipe yesterday, cause I was looking for a recipe with chicken and found that recipe directly on the main site.
    Cooked it yesterday. Had all of the ingredients at home. Never happens when I look up recipes 😀
    Was good and rich as I like it, but not as good as I thought it would be. Wonder if anybody has some improvements on this recipe. 😉

    Ernie O'Malley wrote on July 6th, 2010
    • I’ve taken several indian cooking classes, and I’d add a teaspoon of ginger paste and a half a small onion, diced small and saute the onion in the butter until it almost dissolves. Also, a touch more salt if you want it authentic. :) The reason some butter chicken is so red is that they add a few drops of food coloring (no thank you!)

      Kelly A wrote on September 6th, 2010
      • I wish I had read this before. It was good, but needed more flavour. Onion, ginger, pepper and salt would have done it. My spices were super-fresh, but I’d definitely add more next time.

        Amethyst42 wrote on April 8th, 2013
    • just make sure you have all the spices and that they all are of good quality

      Brian Kozmo wrote on November 6th, 2010
      • Hi,

        Can you recommend some really good places, online preferably, to buy excellent, fresh, and top quality spices? Herbs too, if you know of any?

        I’m just starting to teach myself to cook and want to know as much about spices, where they come from, all the variety’s, and where the best places are to get them. I’m deaf and there are no cooking or culinary schools where I live, so I am pretty much on my own when it comes to cooking. So any help at all, tips, info, recommendations, etc., would be greatly, greatly appreciated. Anyone reading this, on this wonderful Blog can feel free to email anytime, with any help.

        Thank you for your assistance.

        Helen –

        Helen wrote on November 27th, 2012
  23. My wife made this last night and it was excellent. Looking forward to the leftovers.

    Scott S wrote on July 6th, 2010
  24. Compliments to the creator of this recipe! It was absolutely yummy!

    I too look forward to tomorrow’s left overs!

    Carla wrote on July 6th, 2010
  25. I made this last night and it was fantastic. My 11yo son took one bite and murmured “Oh my god” and my daughter piped in “yeah, mom, this is amazing” WIN! Also, it was mild enough spice-wise that my 19mo baby ate it (and ate it and ate it) with no problems.

    Davida wrote on July 6th, 2010
  26. Did anyone have trouble finding the cardamon pods?

    Rebekah wrote on July 6th, 2010
    • I found them at an Asian supermarket (along with every possible spice under the sun, I love walking around there :) )

      Gerard wrote on July 25th, 2010
  27. Just made this today — nummy!!

    Julie wrote on July 6th, 2010
  28. I just tried this recipe tonight. A couple of things needs to be noted:

    If you have trouble with finding cardamon pods (or cardamon for that matter), use nutmeg.

    For those who like spicy foods you may want to add a little salt AND some cayenne pepper or hot sauce.

    After I put the chicken in the butter sauce as instructed the water in the chicken made the sauce “soupy”. I had to add a little stock to make it thick again. After I did that, the family loved it.

    Clarence wrote on July 6th, 2010
  29. I made it for dinner too. Mine turned out the same way, soupy. But was able to thicken it up. I added chili pepper flakes to my dish and it needed salt too. Everyone liked it. Yea!

    Gigi wrote on July 6th, 2010
  30. Look very good. Thanks. I would a bit of turmeric though.

    Chris wrote on July 7th, 2010
    • Interestingly, turmeric isn’t really necessary in this dish since it helps with digesting legumes. Plus, many garam masala blends include tumeric.

      Liz wrote on August 2nd, 2010
  31. I made this for dinner yesterday. It was great. I skipped the tomatoes added a head of cauliflower cut up into the mix and it was fantastic.

    GymX wrote on July 7th, 2010
  32. I made this last night. I ate it over cauliflower, boyfriend ate it over rice. It was DELICIOUS. The only thing I would change for next time is adding lots of veggies to it while it is cooking. Mine was also soupy so the veggies would thicken it up. Plus, I am partial to one dish meals (rather than an entree + veggie side dish).

    Tinamint wrote on July 7th, 2010
    • What veggies would you add? I thought the same things (a bit soupy, which would be great if you wanted to stretch it out and make a sort of soup with it, also a love of the meat+veggie meals).

      I’d add maybe more tomatoes (well-drained), okra, maybe some cauliflower?

      Thoughts? This recipe is absolutely the yummiest thing. It’s now a staple in our house.

      Julie wrote on July 8th, 2010
  33. Mine came out very soupy also. I’m thinking there may be a difference between everyone’s version of “large” tomatos. Also, my butter seems to be separating from the sauce. It did taste good, I think the enhancements of veggies, a bit of salt, and more cayenne would be perfect. I’m going to add more chicken and spices tonight and continue cooking it down.
    I found all the spices at Natural Grocers (Vitamin Cottage). Also, the last line, freshly chopped coriander, is cilantro, just for those of us who don’t know they are the same thing… : )

    Andrew wrote on July 7th, 2010
    • You know the recipe called for only 1TBSP of vinegar. I think if you added 1-2 more tablespoons it would be tangier. I thought it was missing something – I think it was that. Plus it needs more heat like cayenne pepper.

      Gigi wrote on July 7th, 2010
  34. I am going to be picking up the ingredients for this recipe this week! I am going to add additional veg, and I was thinking, eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini and probably cauliflower.

    Spinner wrote on July 8th, 2010
  35. I stumbled upon Mark’s MDA a few weeks ago and have just started reading up. I like a lot of what he says (preaches) but unfortunately coming from the Paleo lifestyle I’m not sure exactly how this dish made it into the wild.

    Granted, it’s delicious (my wife and I made it this evening), but even so I’m not quite sure we can ever eat it again. I (mainly for fun, partially to keep myself honest) use’s calorie counter ( and for kicks inputed in our slightly varied (read: healthier) version of this recipe, much to our dismay.

    Screenshot attached of the nutritional information, but the short of it is even with modified amounts of fat in the recipe (reduced butter, etc) our total calorie count for the recipe is 3070 calories (614/serving *5 total servings): (screen shot:

    When ONE serving has 50% of your daily allocated values of fat (and mind you, I’ve kicked up the fat after going paleo and reading MDA) and 75% of your saturated fats, not to mention 75% of your daily cholesterol allotment… and once again mind you, I know I didn’t eat just one serving of this… something’s gotta be done!

    I figure if we make this again we’re going much leaner on the meat (boneless, skinless lean lean chicken) and going to tone down or eliminate the butter all together. I understand that the recipe is “Butter Chicken” but pl-ease, that’s one heck of a calorie dense meal (and unfortunately not very filling for this Grok).

    Andrew wrote on July 10th, 2010
    • Oh please, nobody does calorie counting here!

      And “one serving has 50% of your daily values”.. Dude, who’s guidelines are you following anyways? Can you even trust these governmental guidelines? There are plenty of examples of various groups (esp. tribal groups) eating most of their calories from fat and they’re completely healthy. The people on this website are in love with fat. Your body needs it for proper functioning as well as energy. EAT the butter, EAT the skin, EAT the cholesterol (which your body needs!). I’d recommend a bit more research on this site as well as affiliated or linked sites before making your diets with less calories. I understand you’re probably afraid of gaining weight and dying of a heart attack because that’s all that you’ve heard, but seriously..

      Brian Kozmo wrote on November 6th, 2010

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