Butter chicken? Isn’t that just a misspelling of battered chicken? No, they’re two different dishes. Battered chicken is chicken dipped in batter and deep fried. Butter chicken is tandoori chicken braised in sauce (yes, something like chicken tikka masala), and has a very interesting history.
In 1947, British India was divided into Union of India (what we know today as India) and Dominion of Pakistan (today, Pakistan and Bangladesh). The Partition of India resulted in massive population transfers. Muslims in India crossed the border to Pakistan while Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan moved to India.
Three employees of the Moti Mahal restaurant in Peshawar in Pakistan were among the millions that moved to India and became refugees. Without any skills to make a living except what they learned in Moti Mahal, they opened a Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi with the blessing of the original owner in Peshawar. They sold tandoori chicken which, until then, was little known outside of Peshawar.
The problem of what to do with leftover tandoori chicken gave birth to the dish that we now call butter chicken. To rehydrate the grilled chicken meat, it was braised in a sauce with copious amounts of butter and cream. Tomatoes and spices gave the sauce more flavor and color.
So, you can’t make butter chicken the traditional way unless you have tandoori chicken — chicken roasted in a tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven pretty much similar to the ones used by the people behind Earthen Jar Roast Pork.
Since we don’t own a tandoor, when we made butter chicken at home, my daughter, Alex, had to resort to what we have — an oven. She marinated chicken drumsticks and fillets with traditional Indian spices and yogurt, roasted the chicken in the oven then made the sauce where the deboned chicken was braised.
See our butter chicken recipe.