The spice tailor butter chicken: an Indian classic

The spice tailor butter chicken

The Spice Tailor of London is a magician with spices and delicious dishes. The king of Indian (restaurant) curries, butter chicken is a velvety, tomato-based curry with little nuggets of lightly charred tandoori chicken hiding in its creamy depths. I have so many memories of eating this dish that i think we must have ordered it every time we went to an Indian restaurant! My two Delhi favourites were served at Moti Mahal and The Embassy and, later, the restaurant at The Park Royal where I spent some time learning in the kitchen. The recipe does have a few steps, and you can cheat by buying ready-made tandoori chicken or pastes, but it won’t be as good or as satisfying. This sauce has a lot of tomatoes, so the end product will depend on how sweet or sour the tomatoes are. You will need to taste and adjust the final dish as necessary, adding more or less sugar depending on how tart or sweet the sauce is. Serve with Naan or Paratha for a delicious and satisfying meal. 


For the tandoori-style chicken pieces:

For the chicken:

6 skinned, bone-in chicken joints, cooked as for Tandoori-style Chicken, but cook for 18 minutes
(for original Tandoori-style Chicken when not cooking for butter chicken, cook for 20 – 22 minutes, until cooked through.)

A slice of unsalted butter, melted 

A little paprika or Kashmiri chilli powder

For the marinade:

2½ tbsp lemon juice

1 rounded tsp salt 

120g full-fat plain yoghurt 

4 large garlic cloves  

1 Indian green finger chilli deseeded 

15g roughly chopped root ginger (peeled weight)

1½ – 2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder or paprika (for colour)

1 rounded tsp ground cumin

1 rounded tsp garam masala 

2 tbsp vegetable oil   

For the butter chicken:

20g finely grated root ginger (peeled weight)

8 large garlic cloves 

2 tbsp vegetable oil 

80g unsalted butter, plus more if needed 

1 bay leaf

2 black cardamom pods

6 green cardamom pods

2cm cinnamon stick 

4 cloves

600g vine tomatoes, blended to a fine puree 

3 – 4 small green chillies, stalks removed, pierced with a knife


1 tsp sugar, or to taste (depends on the sweetness of the tomatoes)

¼ – ½ tsp chilli powder 

1 tsp paprika

2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves, finely crushed with your fingers 

1 rounded tsp garam masala 

80ml – 100ml single (light) cream, to taste


For the tandoori-style chicken pieces 

Slash each piece of chicken 3 times down to the bone at the thickest parts of the flesh. Place in a bowl and marinate in about half the lemon juice and half the salt for 30 minutes if possible. 

Blend together all the ingredients for the marinade until smooth (add the extra lemon and salt if you didn’t marinate as above). Add to the chicken and leave to marinate for as long as possible – preferably overnight, covered in the fridge – but at least for 3 – 4 hours. 

Remove the chicken from the fridge 30 minutes or so before cooking. Preheat the barbecue to a medium-high heat, or preheat your oven grill (broiler) to a fan-assisted high setting and line a baking sheet with foil.

Place the chicken on the barbecue and cook, turning often and moving around to prevent burning and hot spots, until charred, cooked for 18 minutes, turning often. Or place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet under the grill, and grill until charred on both sides and cooked through; it should take the same amount of time. If it is cooked but not very brown, move closer to the grill bars for a few minutes at the end of cooking time. 

Baste with the butter – mixed with the paprika or Kashmiri chilli powder. 

For the butter chicken:

Blend together the ginger and garlic using a little water to help the blades turn. 

Heat the oil and half the butter in a large non-stick saucepan over a medium – high heat and add the whole spices. Once they have sizzled for 15 seconds, add the ginger and garlic paste and cook until all the moisture has evaporated and the garlic smells cooked and looks grainy. Add the tomatoes and cook down until the resulting paste releases oil, around 20 minutes. 

Now you need to brown this paste over a gentle heat, stirring often, until it darkens considerably, 6 – 8 minutes. Add 250ml (1 generous cup) water, bring to the boil, then pass through a sieve, trying to extract as much liquid and flavour from the tomatoes and spices as you can. Discard the very few, very dry solids. Set the sauce aside. 

Cut or peel large chunks off the chicken pieces and reserve with any juices and charring that is still on the cooking foil. 

Heat the remaining butter, throw in the green chillies and cook for 1 minute. Add the sauce, salt and a good splash of water and simmer for 3 – 4 minutes. Add the chicken, with any juices and charring from the foil. Add the sugar, chilli powder, paprika, fenugreek and garam masala. Simmer, stirring often, for 3 – 4 minutes, adding a little water if it is too thick. It should be lightly creamy. Take off the heat and stir in the cream, then taste and adjust the salt, sugar, cream or butter to taste as you need.