Everything I Know About Curry Pt. 2

Apr 5, 2019 | Cooking Tips

Last week I wrote about everything I know about curry. The thing was, it wasn’t everything I know. Curry is just too big a topic to cover in one post. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to cover all I want to cover in two posts, but we’ll see. If you haven’t read Everything I Know About Curry pt. 1 from last week, I would suggest you check it out before reading today’s post.

As we all know, when you build a house you start with a solid foundation. Using that metaphor, I would say that last week we poured a concrete slab, we let it set over the last week, and today we are pouring the concrete walls for the basement.

What I’m trying to say is that reading this post isn’t going to make a you curry master. Hell, I’m definitely not a curry master. What it will do is build on the information from last week and add to your foundational knowledge of curry. That foundation will make it easier for you to explore the wonderful world of curry in even more depth.

Today our focus is going to be on actually cooking curries. We are going to take a look at one classic curry, butter chicken. When broken down into it’s individual parts it should help to illustrate the points I made in pt 1. Let’s get to it.

Butter Chicken

By far one of the most famous Indian Dishes is Butter Chicken or murgh makhani. It is made up of two main components, the chicken and the sauce. To fully understand these two elements we need to first take a look at the origins of the dish.

The Origins of Butter Chicken

Butter chicken as we know it isn’t some ancient Indian dish. On the contrary. It was actually born out of the 1950’s.

Essentially, in Delhi there was a restaurant owned by three partners. They were trying to come up with ways to save money and reduce costs. One of the partners, the one who was mostly in charge of the food, realized that at the end of the night they always had Tandoori Chicken left over. This chicken would be pretty dry by closing time and so was generally thrown away.

After some thought this partner decided to put the chicken in some tomato gravy over night. The gravy was a combination of tomato, spices, and cream. The next morning the partner heated up the chicken and sauce and found the chicken to be tender and even more delicious than it had initially been. With a few tweaks, butter chicken was born.

With that in mind, let’s take a look a the two components of this dish.

Tandoori Chicken

Although butter chicken is a very new invention, tandoori chicken has been around possibly thousands of years. At it’s core, tandoori chicken is chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and then roasted in a tandoori oven. The spices used to marinate the chicken vary by region but generally are referred to as Tandoori Masala.

Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori Masala

Basic Tandoori Spice Blend for Tandoori Chicken 
This recipe is adapted from “The Indian Cooking Course” by Monisha Bharadwaj


  • 1 tsp Ground Cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cloves
  • 1 tsp Kashmir Chili Powder
  • 1 tbsp Dried Fenugreek Leaves
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 1 tbsp Ground Cumin
  • 1 tsp Ground Coriander


  • Mix All the Ingredients and in an airtight container
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

To make the tandoori chicken 3 tbsp of onion, ginger, and garlic paste is cooked in oil and then the spices are added. This is then mixed with 1/2 cup or so of yogurt, and the juice of half a lemon. A dozen or so pieces of chicken are then added to the marinate and left to sit over night. The chicken is then cooked on high heat either on a BBQ or in an oven. That’s really it.

The chicken most typically used for butter chicken is boneless, skinless, thighs. The thighs are better suited to this than breasts because they don’t dry out nearly as much. There is an added bonus that thighs are generally cheaper than breasts. Having said that, this marinade works well on any piece of chicken, or even whole chickens.

Marinating with Yogurt

One thing you may notice about this is that the chicken is marinated in yogurt. This is common in Indian cuisine as well as Mediterranean cuisine. And not only for chicken. It works well with any kind of protein. Enzymes in the yogurt help to tenderize the chicken while imparting a nice fresh flavour. It’s the same idea as marinating chicken in buttermilk prior to making fried chicken.

The Spices

You may also have noticed that the spices were cooked briefly in oil prior to being added to the yogurt. This was done to “open” the spices. Meaning to draw out their natural oils which is where the flavour comes from. If we were using whole spices, rather than ground, we wouldn’t use any oil. We would simply toast the spices in a dry pan and then grind them. This just doesn’t work as well with ground spices which have a tendency to stick and burn.

Cook the spices on a moderate heat and only until they start to release their smells.

Okay, so this recipe for Tandoori Chicken is basically the starting point for butter chicken. The only additional element is the sauce. Before we get into that, I want to say that Tandoori Chicken is absolutely delicious on it’s own. I actually suggest making the chicken one night and having it for dinner by itself. The next day you can make the sauce and have some butter chicken with the leftovers. This was how the dish came about anyway.

Remember, you don’t have to use chicken thighs or breast for this. You can easily make a whole chicken with this recipe, and then just pick any excess meat off the bones after dinner and add it to the sauce the next day.

The Butter Chicken Sauce (Makhani Sauce)

There are a lot of variations to this sauce. Some, like the one I am going to share with you use cream to enrich it. Others use ground cashews. The thing about cashews is that they are much less expensive in India than they are here. Because of this I tend to use cream.

Some people feel very strongly about whether or not cashews should be used to make butter chicken. This is a very regional argument that sometimes has a lot of emotion behind it. What I will say is that there is no one right way to make this dish. That is despite what some people will say.

Principles of Butter Chicken Sauce

The principles of this sauce are the same basic curry principles I shared in pt. 1 of this post. Make a paste with onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook that over a moderate heat and then add the spices. We then cook the spices until they become aromatic (start to release their smells). Then we add some tomato paste, cook that for a bit. And finally some liquid, in this case cream.

What may seem odd to you is that so far we haven’t seen or even mentioned butter. With that in mind, there are a few points I’m going to make. The term butter in this sense, more than likely refers to the texture of the sauce as opposed to actual butter. Having said that, in Indian cooking the fat or cooking oil most commonly used is Ghee. This is actually clarified butter. Finally, a little butter can be, and sometimes is whisked into the sauce at the end of cooking to make it richer and creamier. This isn’t always the case though.

Okay, let’s take a look at the recipe.

Butter Chicken

Butter Chicken Sauce (Makini Sauce)

Traditional Sauce for Butter Chicken. Add this to Tandoori Chicken to make your own delicious butter chicken. 
Author: Chef Ben Kelly


  • 1/2 baseball sized Onion
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 1 thumb sized Piece of Ginger
  • 1 ea Green Chili
  • 2 tbsp Canola Oil
  • 2 tbsp Butter
  • 1 tsp Dried Fenugreek Leaves
  • 1/2 cup Tomato Paste
  • 1/4 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp Ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp Ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 1/2 cup Whipping Cream
  • sm handful Fresh Cilantro Leaves
  • to taste Salt and Pepper
  • to taste lemon juice


  • Put the onion, ginger, garlic, and chili in a food processor and make a paste. 
  • Heat a pan over medium heat, add 2 tbsp of oil and 2 tbsp of butter and cook the onion paste just until it starts to brown slightly. 
  • Add the spices and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add 1/2 cup of water and cook for 4-5 minutes. 
  • Add the Cream and bring to a boil. 
  • Reduce heat, season to taste with salt and pepper. A small amount of sugar may be required. Taste and determine this for yourself. 
  • Finish with a few drops of lemon juice and the fresh cilantro. 
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Add this sauce to the cooked tandoori chicken and you have yourself some butter chicken. For a milder sauce, use less of the green chili. Also, that classic butter chicken flavour is primarily coming from two ingredients; fenugreek and cardamom. Don’t exclude those or this won’t taste like butter chicken.

The key to not having to add sugar to this is to brown the tomato paste. This will essentially caramelize it, drawing out the natural sweetness and sweetening the sauce. Do this before the water is added.


I really hope that you take more away from this than just a Butter Chicken Recipe. I used butter chicken as the example because you likely know what butter chicken is, and probably have eaten it (you really should if you haven’t. It’s delicious). I think it’s important to give context to these principles.

Putting knowledge in context is a good way to learn but it is no substitue to actually doing. So, make a curry. You can start with this one or something else but keep the basic principles in mind. They will stay pretty much the same across the board.

Curry can be a very healthy, and delicious way to jazz up your weekly meals. I hope that this has helped you understand curry better and has given you a bit of confidence to start playing with these ideas. That’s what it’s all about.

Have a great weekend everyone. And thank you for reading.


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