This stove-top Healthy Butter Chicken Recipe is made with marinated chicken tossed in creamy buttery tomato curry sauce. Enjoyed over white rice and garnished with cilantro - it makes a great comfort food.
This is a great recipe for those easy weeknight dinners. Because it's a classic dish with big flavors and great texture.
I didn't know I was a fan of Indian cuisine until I tried this dish at an Indian restaurant and I've been hooked ever since.
What is Butter Chicken?
Butter chicken is a traditional Indian dish known as murgh makhani. The original recipe has a type of curry made from chicken and heavily spiced tomato and butter sauce.
Butter chicken is known for its rich flavor and texture. It's similar to another traditional Indian dish, chicken Tikka masala. While they are both curries, butter chicken tends to be creamier and sweeter than Tikka masala, which lends it flavor largely to spices and rich tomato gravy.
Did you know? Chicken Tikka Masala and Butter Chicken are very similar but have subtle difference in creaminess and spice factor.
How healthy is Butter Chicken?
No doubt this easy butter chicken recipe has copious amounts of butter. It's not called butter chicken for nothing. And while we certainly don't shy away from healthy saturated fats like butter, lard, and tallow - it may be on the heavy side even for someone who embraces necessary fats.
There are ways to make this recipe leaner. But before we get into that, it's worth noting that because this classic dish is heavy on the fats, it's important to source the best quality fats your budget allows.
That will include rich, yellow butter from pastured and grass-fed cows. To increase the nutrient profile further, use raw cream that contains the beneficial enzymes that are typically destroyed during pasteurization.
And finally, use chicken bone broth to up the mineral and vitamin content. Yes, this will inherently increase the bottom line calories, but it will make the butter chicken sauce more satisfying and nutritious.
Make it Nutrient-Dense: Use chicken bone broth instead of water to thin out curry sauce - this will add more nutrients and flavor. Additionally, use raw cream instead of pasteurized heavy cream for same reason.
What are the ingredients in Butter Chicken?
I'm not going to lie. The list of ingredients here is a little on the lengthy side but nothing unusual for a traditional recipe. If you want the authentic flavor - you have to use authentic ingredients.
- Chicken: we prefer chicken thighs but chicken breast works well for a leaner option
- Greek yogurt: this will become the base of the marinade
- Butter: pastured butter is ideal
- Yellow onion: this adds so much flavor - it will be blended but dicing finely helps to make the the sauce smoother
- Garlic and ginger: a staple in Indian traditional dish
- Tomato paste: adds necessary richness and tangy flavor
- Water or broth: to thin out the curry sauce
- Heavy cream: adds incredible smooth texture to the sauce
- Spices for marinade: garam masala, turmeric, red chili powder, cumin, salt
- Spices for curry: garam masala, paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, bay leaves, salt
Aside from the ingredient list, this healthy butter chicken recipe comes together quickly once you get going.
Suggested Substitutions and Variations
We already talked about how rich in healthy fats this recipe is. But with a few simple substitutions, you can make this into a leaner version.
Follow these tips to make this low fat butter chicken recipe:
- use boneless skinless chicken breast instead of thighs (you can also use leftover roast chicken and skip the marinading step and go straight for the buttery tomato gravy)
- cut the butter amount in half
- use milk instead of cream
- use water instead of bone broth
Keep in mind that using the tips above will make the butter chicken leaner but it will also make it less flavorful. In culinary terms: fat = flavor.
Helpful Tip: Consider eating Healthy Butter Chicken over riced cauliflower instead of white rice to include more vegetables.
Frequently Asked Questions & Tips
Dairy is necessary to get that traditional Indian dish. However, there are simple swaps that you can take to make this dairy free. Instead of the yogurt marinade, use a dairy free yogurt. Swap ghee for butter and coconut milk for heavy cream.
Butter chicken has a very distinct curry flavor thanks to the unique blend of spices. However, the generous amount of butter and cream cuts the intensity of the curry spices, lending to a mildly sweet flavor.
In short, butter chicken can be healthy when made with properly sourced ingredients. It is high in fat and protein, making it a great low carb and keto meal, as long as you serve it over riced cauliflower.
Storage and Reheating Instructions
To store: transfer leftover butter chicken to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Storage containers: glass snapware is best choice for both butter chicken and leftover rice
To reheat: In a small saucepan, reheat butter chicken on medium-low heat with the lid to trap heat. You may need to add a few tablespoons of water to thin out and so the bottom doesn't burn.
How to make butter chicken
The complete printable recipe is below in the recipe card for your convenience.
This Healthy Butter Chicken recipe calls for these ingredients that you will need: chicken thighs or breast, Greek yogurt, butter, extra virgin olive oil, yellow onion, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, chicken broth (or water), heavy cream, bay leaves, and spices like garam masala, turmeric, red chili powder, ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika, cinnamon, and sea salt.
Step 1. Marinating chicken
Cut chicken breasts or thighs into 1" pieces. In a large bowl, toss with Greek yogurt, garam masala, turmeric, red chili powder, sea salt, and ground cumin.
Cover and set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes but best overnight.
Step 2. Making curry sauce
Heat olive oil and butter in a deep frying pan. Cook chicken on medium-high heat for about 3 minutes on each side, just until it browns and releases easily from pan.
Depending on the size of your pan, doing this in batches may be necessary to avoid overcrowding.
Remove chicken from pan and set aside. Add more butter and cook the chopped onions on low heat. Scrape all browned bits the chicken left over on the bottom of the pan. That is flavor!
Add garlic and ginger and saute for about a minute. Followed by garam masala, paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander, and cinnamon and stir over medium-low heat for about 30 seconds.
Add tomato paste, water or bone broth, bay leaves, and salt. Gently simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens.
Remove bay leaves and blend using an immersion blender. Alternatively, you can blend the sauce in a blender.
Add the browned chicken with juices back into the pan. Add remaining butter and heavy cream and gently simmer on low heat for a few minutes until the chicken is fully cooked.
Step 3: Serve and enjoy
Remove sauce immediately from heat and garnish with cilantro. Serve over a side of rice or dip with naan bread.
Helpful Tools & Links
Below are some links that may be helpful to you as you make this recipe. You can find some of these items cheaper at your local store but it helps to have a link so you know what you're looking for.
- Tools: chef knife, cutting board, large mixing bowl, deep frying pan with lid, immersion blender
- Ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, tomato paste, garam masala, turmeric, red chili powder, ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika, cinnamon, bay leaves, real salt,
- Storage Supplies: glass storage containers
What to eat with Healthy Butter Chicken
Traditionally, butter chicken is enjoyed with a side of white rice or homemade naan bread. You can also use basmati or jasmine rice, brown rice, or even cauliflower rice to cut the carbs.
Check it out! How to Cook Perfect Rice in Instant Pot (instructions for soaked rice and not soaked)
Looking for more related recipes? Here are some ideas:
- Instant Pot Lamb and Squash Curry
- Veggie-Packed Sloppy Joes
- Instant Pot Chicken Stew
- Chicken Cabbage Casserole
- Potato Chicken Bake
Did you make this? Please leave a ⭐ recipe rating in the recipe card below and leave a review in the comments. Thank you!💚
Healthy Butter Chicken Recipe
Butter Curry Sauce Ingredients
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion diced
- 6 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger minced
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tomato paste
- 3 cups water or broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
- 1 cup heavy cream
- In a large bowl, combine cubed chicken with all the ingredients for the marinade. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator if time allows.
- In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. When oil sizzles, add chicken to the hot pan and cook in batches, making sure to not overcrowd. Cook chicken for about 3 minutes on each side just until it browns and releases. Set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Add more butter to the pan if needed. Cook onions until they start to sweat (approximately 5 minutes). Scrape up any browned bits stuck on the bottom of the pan.
- Add garlic and ginger and saute for about 1 minute or until fragrant.
- Add garam masala, paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander, and cinnamon and toast over medium-low heat for about 30 seconds.
- Add tomato paste, water or broth, bay leaves, and salt. Let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens.
- Remove bay leaves. Using an immersion blender, carefully blend the sauce until smooth. Alternatively, you can blend in a blender.
- Pour the pureed sauce back into the pan. Add the browned chicken with juices back into the pan and cook for 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and heavy cream. Simmer gently on low heat for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat, garnish with cilantro and serve over rice.
- Approximately 30 minutes prior to cooking chicken, transfer the meat from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.
- To increase nutrient profile: use pastured butter, raw cream, and broth (instead of water).
- Leftover butter chicken can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.