What Does Butter Chicken Taste Like?

With its rich, buttery tomato sauce and tender chicken pieces, butter chicken stands out among Indian curries. But for those who have yet to try it, the question remains — what does butter chicken taste like exactly?

Butter chicken has a mildly spiced, creamy, tomato-based sauce that complements the juicy chicken. The balance of richness, tang, spice, and protein has made it a globally beloved Indian dish.

In this article, we’ll explore everything that defines the taste of butter chicken along with its origins, regional variations, and best accompaniments. Read on to become a butter chicken connoisseur!

Overview of Butter Chicken

Here’s a quick butter chicken primer:

  • Butter chicken, also known as murgh makhani, is a dish of chicken in a spice-infused creamy tomato sauce.
  • Believed to have originated in Delhi, butter chicken is now popular across India and internationally.
  • Signature spices used include garam masala, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, chili, and ginger.
  • The sauce has a signature rich orange hue from pureed tomatoes and red Kashmiri chilies.
  • The chicken is marinated then braised in the spiced sauce until ultra tender.

In a nutshell, butter chicken offers an irresistible combination of succulent chicken cloaked in a velvety, mildly spicy tomato cream sauce. But describing the exact taste requires more detail.

The Distinctive Flavor of Butter Chicken

Butter chicken offers layers of flavor that come together harmoniously:

  • Savory tomato – The smooth, lightly tart tomato puree provides the base. Onions, garlic, and ginger add savoriness.
  • Warm spice – Garam masala and other spices offer subtle heat and indian aroma.
  • Buttery creaminess – Butter and creamy dairy soften and round out the flavors.
  • Sweet and tangy – Hints of sweetness balance against the acidity from tomatoes and spices.
  • Smoky – Traditionally the chicken gets a light char over open flames for subtle smokiness.
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The result is a luxuriously creamy yet bright sauce with multidimensional Indian spice flavors.

The Texture of Butter Chicken

In addition to well-balanced flavor, butter chicken offers appealing, fork-tender textures:

  • Tender moist chicken – The chicken pieces become fall-off-the-bone tender after braising but stay juicy.
  • Rich silky sauce – The pureed tomato and cream sauce becomes smooth and thick with stewing.
  • Contrasting rice – Basmati rice or naan offer a perfect neutral foil for the rich sauce.
  • Crunchy garnishes – Onion, cilantro and lime wedges provide fresh contrast.

Properly prepared, the chicken delivers incredible tenderness that pairs beautifully with the lush sauce for a singular texture experience.

Butter Chicken Ingredients

While recipes can vary, these ingredients form the foundation of classic butter chicken:

  • Chicken – Boneless thighs, breasts or drumsticks work well. Dark meat preferred for moistness.
  • Onion – Diced onion provides savory allium flavor to the sauce.
  • Tomatoes – Blanched, peeled, pureed fresh tomatoes create the body.
  • Yogurt – Natural yogurt adds tang and tenderness to the sauce.
  • Spices – Garam masala, cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili powder or fresh chilies.
  • Ginger and garlic – Provide aromatic flavor base along with onion.
  • Butter and cream – Give the sauce its rich, silky texture.
  • Garnishes – Cilantro, lime, onion, chili. Plain rice or naan bread.

These basic ingredients meld together through careful simmering into the heavenly butter chicken sauce.

The Origins and History of Butter Chicken

While many origin stories exist, butter chicken traces back to mid-20th century Delhi:

  • One legend credits Kundan Lal Gujral, who founded the iconic Moti Mahal restaurant shortly after partition in 1947.
  • Unable to find refrigeration, he experimented braising chicken in a spiced tomato gravy so it could sit for longer periods without spoiling.
  • His recipe evolved with makhani sauce into the butter chicken we know today.
  • By the 1970s, butter chicken was served across India. The name references the rich, buttery taste.
  • It soon spread worldwide as one of the most popular Indian dishes at restaurants from North America to the UK to Asia.
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While its exact roots are debated, Delhi deserves credit for inventing this creamy tomatoey chicken delicacy now famous worldwide.

Variations Between Traditional and Restaurant Style

Homemade and restaurant versions can vary:

  • Traditional – Uses primary ingredients of chicken, tomatoes, yogurt, spices, and ghee. Simmered on stovetop or in a tandoor oven.
  • Restaurant style – More elaborate recipes with cream, butter, fenugreek, chili. Cooked in commercial tandoors or grills for smoky flavor.
  • Homestyle – Shortcut versions use tomato sauce and cream. Minimal spices besides garam masala.
  • British Indian takeout – Tend to be sweeter and richer from more cream, coconut milk. Toned down spice.

So while traditional butter chicken focuses on chicken in a simple spiced tomato-yogurt sauce, modern restaurant and takeout versions elaborate with more richness. But the core components remain.

Different Butter Chicken Regional Variations

As the dish spread, distinct regional twists developed:

  • Punjab – Uses tandoor smoked chicken and spicier chilies for bolder flavor.
  • Mumbai – Employs coconut milk for added richness and tart kokum fruit.
  • Kerala – Features curry leaves, fennel, and coconut milk. Chicken sauteed first for caramelization.
  • Kashmir – Includes dried ginger, fennel, and garam masala with chili for warmth.
  • Hyderabadi – Uses sesame oil, poppy seeds, and coconut for nutty richness.

The core components unite the dish across regions, while customized spice blends and special touches make each area’s version unique.

What Does Butter Chicken Pair Well With?

Butter chicken beautifully complements:

  • Rice – Basmati rice, biryani, pulao act as soothing counterparts to the rich sauce.
  • Breads – Naan, roti, or parathas for dipping and soaking up sauce.
  • Vegetables – onion, cauliflower, peas, paneer cheese.
  • Condiments – yogurt, lime, mango chutney provide contrast.
  • Chutneys – Mint, cilantro, or tamarind chutneys balance the richness.
  • Drinks – Lassi, Indian beer, sweet mango juice, or hot masala chai.
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Starchy rice and breads complement butter chicken flawlessly, absorbing and carrying flavors to the perfect bite.

Tips and Techniques for Nailing Butter Chicken

Use these preparation tips for the ideal butter chicken:

  • Marinate the chicken – Rub chicken with yogurt, spices, and lime juice for ultra tender, flavorful meat.
  • Brown the chicken – Get nice color on chicken before braising for added depth.
  • Simmer the sauce – Gently cook the sauce to allow flavors to meld and chicken to become fall-off-the-bone-tender.
  • Use fresh spices – Whole spices simmered in the sauce give the fullest flavor.
  • Finish with butter and cream – Swirl in cubes of butter and pour fresh cream at the end without boiling to enrich sauce.
  • Garnish with lime and cilantro – Squeeze of lime and sprinkle of chopped cilantro right before serving adds brightness.

When each step is done with care, the chicken and sauce transform into an incredible flavor experience.

Key Takeaways – What Does Butter Chicken Taste Like

  • Butter chicken features succulent chicken in a creamy, mildly spicy tomato-based sauce.
  • The hallmark taste comes from the tomato-spice sauce enriched with butter and cream.
  • It likely originated in Delhi but now has beloved regional variations across India.
  • Basmati rice or naan are perfect for soaking up the luxurious sauce.
  • Marinating the chicken, gently simmering the sauce, and adding butter and cream last are key techniques.
  • When done right, butter chicken offers a heavenly medley of savory, spicy, tart, and rich flavors!

Next time you’re craving comfort food with a touch of Indian flair, whip up some butter chicken to enjoy its trademark luscious spiced sauce. Just save some naan to sop up every last drop!