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:

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  1. Thanks to Resurgent for the great tip to grill the chicken- I just tried that and it added a whole new dimension to the dish. I’m in butter chicken heaven!
    My top tip is to make sure that you reduce the sauce down until it’s nice and thick as this intensifies your flavours. (Your sauce will be a vibrant orange red colour.) It’s correct that the sauce will “split” or that the oil separates and that’s the beauty of Indian curries.
    Don’t substitute the cardamon- it’s got a gorgeous and very unique flavour- my concern with nutmeg is that is can easily overpower the other ingredients. And by all means, season away- my husband always adds extra salt to his plate!
    For those concerned about the calories and fat- just serve it with heaps of vegies on the side- you should be able to feed at least 8 hungry adults with this recipe.
    Finally, thanks to everyone who tried the recipe.

    alimolly wrote on July 23rd, 2010
  2. You guys had me going — I was really confused by the recipe calling for “1/2 cup of fresh coriander, coarsely chopped”. I was wondering where I was going to find a coriander plant. Thank goodness you post photos of the ingredients so I saw it was supposed to be cilantro :)

    Gina E wrote on July 27th, 2010
  3. This was a big hit for us! We added sliced red pepper and a touch of Cajun salt. The meat was very tender – thanks for the recipe!

    wedward wrote on July 31st, 2010
  4. I LOVE this recipe! Served it over rice. I added a teeny tiny bit of salt to it at the end, but otherwise no changes. Chicken was tender and full of flavour. It did come out a little soupy though, wondering how to change this. Also wondering the difference in results between using cream vs coconut milk.

    But I found it was even better on its leftover days! Sooo good.

    Desukar wrote on July 31st, 2010
  5. Cooked this with the coconut milk, added a teaspoon or two of salt at the end, and substituted chili powder with about 2 or 3 teaspoons of chopped peri-peri (preserved chilies).

    When I added the chicken to the sauce, it looked as if there was not enough liquid in the pot. I was anxious that the chicken on the bottom would burn and the chicken on the top would not cook. So I added a little more butter and tomato paste to get it going.

    Great recipe, it comes very close to the Butter Chicken served by a popular curry house down the street from me. I think they add more tomato paste to their recipe, as their sauce is almost red.

    Matt wrote on August 12th, 2010
  6. Mine also came out soupy even though I used less coconut milk (I was using the remains of a container from something else. I left out the tomatoes, too, (son doesn’t like them and I don’t like to peel tomatoes), but I added a bit of extra tomato paste to compensate. I served this over steamed cauliflower florets. I added salt to mine at the table, as well as some Tabasco sauce. I’ll add red chili flakes to the sauce next time.

    I’m having this for lunch today, over steamed cauliflower and chard ribbons.

    Anna wrote on August 31st, 2010
  7. Gina,

    Coriander and cilantro are the same plant. In Europe I think both the leaves and seeds are called coriander, but in the US, both names are used, though I think cilantro is more prevalent (Mexican influence?). I’ve always seen the seeds called coriander, though.

    Anna wrote on August 31st, 2010
  8. This is a wonderful staple dish of Indian Cuisine where it is also named “Butter Chicken”. It is a good choice when needing to eat out.

    kel wrote on September 1st, 2010
  9. Did anyone have trouble finding the garam masala? I wasn’t able to find it at my local food co-op and they had a ton of different spices and herbs. This looks so good, but I think a few veggies should be added.

    Xendara wrote on September 27th, 2010
  10. I made this using ghee, and added shredded bok choy, yellow zucchini and eggplant. Really nice, especially on a cold, rainy day. I used chicken thighs on the bone, and just hacked each thigh into about 3 pieces so that some of that bone goodness would seep into the sauce.

    It does need salt, and I’d even say one could up the spices even more.. maybe add a bit of heat to it as well. Really good!

    Tracy wrote on September 28th, 2010
  11. I serve my Butter Chicken over spaghetti squash (sauteed with more butter and garlic)instead of rice and I throw in some snap peas for colour and more veg content! Delish!

    Jenn wrote on October 20th, 2010
  12. just made this with red fish instead of chicken, added sliced mushrooms to soak up some of the sauce, and peas. also it definitely needs salt. otherwise, mmmmm!

    tracy wrote on November 1st, 2010
  13. I am making this right now, it smells amazing. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any garam masala, so I opted for curry powder instead. Also, it took me two grocery stores to find self packaged cardamom seeds, then the third store had a small jar of pods for ten dollars! There was no way I was spending ten bucks on a little jar of pods so I went with the seeds; hopefully I used the right amount. I am very excited for dinner tonight 😀

    Robert L wrote on November 4th, 2010
  14. This dish is one of the best dishes I’ve ever had. I’ve already eaten this dish twice in the past week and I have the next batch sitting in my fridge as I write.

    I disagree that this dish needs salt. I also don’t think I would recommend simply replacing Garam Masala with a curry. Garam Masala is made from cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon and cloves – in that order, and is quite a different taste and smell than any curry I’ve ever seen. It’d probably be better to just buy these ingredients separately. The one thing I did replace, though, was the fresh cardamon pods with ground cardamon.

    Brian Kozmo wrote on November 6th, 2010
  15. Its great, I give it a 4/5. But if you just used the spices and yougrt marinade taste amazing with checking by itself 5/5.

    crash wrote on February 7th, 2011
  16. Love, love, love this dish…perfectly flavorful! I added a variety of bell peppers and squash while cooking the tomatoes. I used lean (kefir) instead of greek yogurt and think it made the sauce a little thick, but when adding the coconut, it made it much more ‘silky’ smooth. Also, I used Swad brand Corriander Chutney (from HEB international section) in the marinate (contains coriander, serrano peppers, vinegar, sugar and garlic- and a few preservatives unfortunately) which really perked up the recipe. It’s become a staple at our home.

    Smiley wrote on March 6th, 2011
  17. Hmm…had troubles with it because of the fat from the chicken thighs. It took longer to thicken than I thought it would, and I think it took on too much of a greasy taste. Any tips on getting rid of that? I’m not much of a cook. :)

    Jon Griffith wrote on July 10th, 2011
  18. I just made this today and it was AMAZING! I marinated the chicken overnight (as was instructed in another recipe I’ve used before), but other than that I followed it as written. VERY good!! Used coconut milk as well, and it was perfect.
    I’ve had similar curries in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and many Asian style curries are on the soupy side. Mine turned out that way as well, but I enjoy that, was perfectly thick for my taste.
    Great recipe!

    Tray wrote on July 12th, 2011
  19. This recipe came out great and everyone loved it. I’d like to modify it so that it uses bone-in chicken rather than boneless. Any recommendations on how to do this? Cooking times, etc?

    Shilpa wrote on July 26th, 2011
  20. this. looks. wonderful. making this tonight and I plan on adding some zucchini in it. I have to go back to the store after work because I didn’t know fresh coriander was just cilantro. :(
    Can I use full fat milk instead of coconut milk?

    Lisa wrote on July 26th, 2011
  21. This recipe is delicious! My usually picky boys, ages 5 and 3, ate it right up. They especially liked that I told them it was ‘caveman’ chicken and would make them strong and mighty 😉 The whole family liked it so much that no one missed the grains. I served it with cauliflower and peas.

    Mom of 4 wrote on September 12th, 2011
    • My husband and son both loved this dish, I have not really cooked much before (my husband has always cooked) so I was anxious about trying to make all these “primal” meals. I am very glad to say the pictures, directions and ingredients on each of the recipes I have tried from MDA have all turned out great (also made primal tex-mex tortillas, pot roast, shepard pie, meatloaf) I have not had enough leftovers to make a second meal out of anything yet! Thanks Mark for posting all the free recipes as well as the great advice, it is much appreciated!

      Rae wrote on April 4th, 2012
  22. Gorgeous! I bought all the ingredients and left husband to cook it. Turned out great and tasted even better! :)

    Penfold_67 wrote on September 14th, 2011
  23. I can’t believe I have never seen this recipe on your site! My whole family LOVES Butter Chicken and I cannot wait to try your recipe! Also intrigued by the sweet potato option, sounds delish.

    Mel wrote on December 5th, 2011
  24. I made this today (without tomato paste, sadly). I instead of only coconut milk, I added half coconut/half homemade yogurt to the sauce.

    The chicken was entire legs that are pastured, so very high quality. I marinated it in whey and salt for 24 hours (by accident), then broiled it in the oven until the skin became crispy. I let it cool down, then shredded the meat off the bones.

    I do not know if this is the quality of the meat, or if it was the 24 hour marination in kefir whey or the crazy good sauce of this recipe….but the entire thing still turned out… Delicious!

    Thanks for the recipe!

    Catbreu wrote on December 10th, 2011
  25. Sounds and looks so yummy :) Went to whole foods today to buy all of the ingredients…Cheers to My first primal homecooked dinner…dosnt look or sound like a bad choice!!!

    Brittany wrote on January 5th, 2012
  26. attempting to make this right now and can’t figure out if I am supposed to put the chicken and yogurt mixture into the sauce or rinse the chicken first.

    luv2bmykidsmom wrote on January 17th, 2012
  27. Can I freeze the uneaten portions for future lunch or dinners?
    If yes, how can I do that? 😀

    Rachael wrote on January 20th, 2012
  28. this was not as good as my own recipe for indian butter chicken that i use cashew butter to thicken… also – there is no salt in it – so no matter how many spices there are in it – it’s just bland… i guess i just need my salt!

    melissa daams wrote on April 4th, 2012
    • I wish you’d post your version of the recipe. I’d like to try it. I think I’ll make this one and add more spice and cashew butter to thicken it a bit.

      Alycia wrote on January 28th, 2013
  29. How will you eat it because we in India and Pakistan eat with whole wheat flat bread or rice? Now as we are not allowed both of them, how can we eat curry then?

    Najam wrote on May 5th, 2012
  30. Najam: Just with a spoon; no need for rice or bread with it. If you feel like you need something to sop it up with, you can try making cauliflower “rice.” The recipe may not be authentic, but it’s delicious!

    superdeluxe wrote on May 5th, 2012
  31. I am new to all of this and indian has never been a favorite of mine, athough I am willing to try the receipes. I do however love thai.are there any thai recipes that I could try paleo style??

    Lori Ludlam wrote on May 6th, 2012
  32. Shan packets still contain MSG. Do not buy! You can find other butter chicken packs at the Indian grocers. Glad I checked, I just about used this today ended up in the trash. My usual are the Parampara – so fresh and recipe on the back.

    Rani wrote on May 23rd, 2012
  33. Thumbs down on this recipe — it’s too bland and soupy. I’ll have to jazz it up per the suggestions from this community (which I should have read first).

    jake3_14 wrote on May 28th, 2012
  34. I tried this dish tonight and it was very soupy and lacked a bit of kick in the sauce. I used the whole amount of coconut milk though so maybe that was it. Can anyway also tell me exactly how they thickened the sauce up? It was quit water based even before adding the coconut milk. Maybe cook the chicken before hand and then put it in?

    Homzy wrote on June 8th, 2012
  35. Can I just ask, what do you do with the cinnamon stick? Do you just stick it in there or grate/grind it?

    Donnie wrote on August 20th, 2012
  36. Made this last week. absolutely delicious. Gonna try the Chick Tikka Masala tonight

    Lisa wrote on December 21st, 2012
  37. This is a fantastic recipe!! I am eating it as we speak and I mixed my own spices, as well as made an extra batch of sauce for a quick dinner in the future! Thank you Mark!!!!

    Cora wrote on February 15th, 2013
  38. This was the best chicken marsala I ever had and I have had many!
    I would added Cheyenne though;)
    DON’T BE FRIGHTENED TO TRY THIS RECIPE it’s killer good! Even without the coconut milk.
    This is very concentrated so If you eat it with veggies(like I did) or with rice, just put a bit on your plate and rub it into the food. It will go far with flavor.

    Abigail wrote on April 25th, 2013
  39. Made this last night, and turned out great! I’ve been looking for a good butter chicken recipe for years, and was happy to finally find one.

    I made a few small modifications. I used about 3lbs of chicken for the same amount of spices, plus some Himalayan salt. Mixed it up with some 2% greek yogurt (was appalled that the two grocery stores I went to did not carry a higher fat option) in a glass baking dish, covered, and left to marinade in the fridge for 1-2 hours (probably closer to two). As another reader recommended, I grilled the chicken in the oven (stirring occasionally) before adding it to the sauce. It worked out really well, the chicken cooked (uncovered at about 350F) while I prepared the sauce. I used three large tomatoes instead of 4, and boiled them for several minutes prior to removing the skin (makes the process much easier). Once the sauce reduced (20 min, as in the recipe), I added the chicken (but not the liquid), simmered for a bit, added 1 cup of coconut milk (was plenty) and some salt (this may or may not be necessary depending on your tastes). Simmered it some more, then stirred in two tablespoons of cashew butter to thicken (one may be enough depending on how thick/runny you like your sauce). I also removed the cinnamon stick shortly after adding the chicken, and as I don’t like an overpowering cardamom flavour, I also fished out the pods towards the very end. Not a huge fan of fresh coriander, so omitted that all together.

    In any case, turned out absolutely delicious! Looking forward to the leftovers :)

    Thank you, Mark, for the wonderful recipe!

    Sonya wrote on April 29th, 2013
  40. I’m trying to cut out most dairy – would the marinade come out okay if I used more coconut milk instead? Sounds amazing!

    Jerica wrote on July 20th, 2013

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