You could call it “butter chicken”, “balti chicken”, or even “murgh makani”, but made by your own hands, in your own kitchen, it’s really just a “chicken curry”, and there’s everything right about that. Especially when you throw everything in a slow cooker and forget about it for hours. The important details are the flavors of your spices and curry powders, and the quality of your meat and coconut milk – buy the best you can afford. If you haven’t yet discovered Penzey’s, check them out. I highly recommend their Maharaja and Vindaloo curry powders, but you can certainly grind and/or blend your own (or luck out with a friend who does – thanks again, Usha!)
I put this recipe together after salivating over Tieghan’s Butter Chicken on Pinterest and referring to a recipe I learned from Suneeta Vaswani when she was in California back in 2000. Just this morning, while doing research on authentic “murgh makani”, I found the lovely eCurry site by Soma and her family in West Bengal, India—a comprehensive resource for learning more about Indian Cuisine.
So, until you can get to a proper tandoor, satisfy your curry cravings by plugging in your slow cooker. If you want to work harder, you can always make some homemade naan.
Slow Cooker Butter Chicken
makes 6–8 servings
- 8–12 bone-in chicken thighs, skin and excess fat removed
- 2 tablespoons ghee or butter
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced and mashed with 1 teaspoon salt
- 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated on a microplane
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 1 ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ground
- 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 13–14 ounce can full-fat coconut milk Chaokoh is the best
- 7–8 ounce container Greek yogurt 2% Fage
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- For serving: rice and naan, raiti, and fresh cilantro or parsley
Melt ghee in stove-top safe slow cooker insert set on stovetop, medium heat. (Or use sauté pan through next two steps then transfer to slow cooker/crock pot.) Add onions and cook for 5 minutes to soften, stirring now and then. Add garlic, ginger, and spices. Stir and cook for a minute then add the tomato paste and cook for another minute or so.
Add the coconut milk and yogurt. Add chicken thighs, transfer slow cooker insert to slow cooker, and cook on High 4 hours. When chicken is cooked, add the cream and allow it to gently heat. Sprinkle with cilantro or parsley leaves and serve with naan and raita.
You can also make this in the oven, use a Dutch-oven or other large, covered casserole. Cook the onions as above and optionally brown the chicken thighs. Add spices and other ingredients as above and place in preheated 350° oven for about an hour. Remove pot from oven and add cream. Cover the pot and let rest for a few minutes.
Amy’s Kitchen Coach Tips
- I like slow cooking with the bone-in thighs and think it provides more depth to the flavors, but you can certainly use boneless chicken, and even cut into bite-sized pieces – it’s all just a matter of preference. If you do go with the bones, it causes no problem at all at dinner time; the chicken is so tender, it falls off the bone with a touch of your fork.
- Simple raita: stir some small diced cucumber into plain yogurt with a pinch of salt and squeeze of lemon juice.
- I highly recommend Penzeys curry powders. I splurge on the bright yellow Maharajah which has a mild, rich flavor without much heat – turmeric, fennugreek, cinnamon and saffron are major players. I also keep Vindaloo on hand, for when I want more spicy heat. Try some and see what you like.