***Updated to include instant pot friendly version***
Butter Chicken is one of my all time favourite curries. Something about the tangy creamy spicy sauce just makes my tastebuds so happy! But the heavy cream and butter that go into the sauce can be a bit….well… heavy. So here is my lightened up butter chicken that keeps all of the creamy flavour elements but without the cream and butter!
Technically its butter chicken without the butter. So I guess its just chicken.
But it tastes sooo much better than just chicken.
How to make a healthy butter chicken?
The key is in the layers of spices. You need to marinate and cook the chicken separately. It is basically a basic tandoori chicken marinade. Ideally you can BBQ it to give it that extra smokey flavour. But I also have made this in the oven and it turns out just as good. I provide both instructions in the recipe below.
Short on time? Just buy marinated tandoori chicken from your local south asian butcher and BBQ the chicken while you make this sauce. Nobody will know you didnt make this all from scratch!
The sauce is lightened up with the use of coconut milk. To develop the flavours, you really need to let the coconut milk simmer in all the spices to allow the coconut flavour to mellow out and the remaining curry flavours to shine. Once the whole thing comes together its really hard to tell between this dairy free butter chicken and the real deal.
Paleo and Whole30 friendly – Easy Butter Chicken
This recipe is not complicated. Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. Most are likely already in your spice cupboard. And it comes together in less than 30 minutes.
I used coconut yogurt instead of greek yogurt to marinate the chicken, but if you tolerate regular yogurt feel free to use this instead to marinate your meat. Or if you can’t find coconut yogurt, use coconut milk instead. The high fat content in coconut milk will help give the chicken a nice and creamy flavour. And you really dont taste it in there after it is cooked.
The one special ingredient that I highly recommend is adding dried kasori methi (fenugreek leaves) at the end – this really amps up the ‘desi’ flavours in this dish. Other than that, give yourself a few hours to marinate the chicken ahead of time to really deepen the flavours, but if you are in a pinch, just marinate and cook right away. It will still turn out great. This easy healthy butter chicken can be ready in 20 to 30 minutes!
For my vegetarian friends
This butter chicken sauce is totally vegan actually. So you can swap out the chicken for chickpeas, tofu or paneer and you can have a really delicious meal.
This would be really good as dairy free tofu makhni. Marinate the tofu just like you would the chicken and then bake or BBQ till warmed through and add to the sauce!
How do you like to eat your butter chicken? I love it with some garlic naan on the side.
To keep this meal totally Whole30 /Paleo/ Keto last week we tried to make this gluten free roti from my heartbeets to eat with my dairy free butter chicken. I would say that nothing beats real roti or naan with butter chicken. But if you need a gluten free version this is a pretty good alternative. And with only 3 ingredients it was not too complicated to make either.
Instant Pot Butter Chicken
The original recipe is for stove top butter chicken but in a pinch it works wonderfully in the instant pot as well. Depending on how much time you have to prep, you could make the chicken ahead of time and keep the grilled tandoori chicken ready to go and just make the sauce in the IP, add the cooked chicken and cook on high pressure for 5 minutes.
Or if you are making instant pot butter chicken from scratch. Cook the marinated chicken in the instant pot first on saute. Cook till almost cooked through, remove it from the instant pot and then make the sauce in the instant pot on saute. Add the chicken back in and cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. I like to add the fenugreek at the end and then let it infuse the sauce for an additional 5 minutes while it is still warm.
Ive updated the recipe below to be instant pot friendly as well!
Whole30 Butter Chicken (Dairy Free)
For Tandoori Chicken
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 inch piece ginger peeled
- 1 green chilli
- 2 lbs (900g) skinless boneless chicken breast or thighs cut into bite size pieces
- 2 tbsp Coconut Yogurt (or coconut milk)
- 4 tsp arrowroot flour
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp red chilli powder
- ½ tsp garam masala powder (see my version linked below)
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- Pinch cinnamon powder
- Pinch of saffron, crushed
- 1 tsp Salt
For Butter Chicken Sauce
- 1 ½ tbsp oil or ghee
- 3 green cardamom pods lightly crushed
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 2 cloves (laung)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger peeled & grated
- 2 green chillies, cut in half lengthwise
- 1 tsp red chilli powder (or paprika for less spicy)
- ½ tsp garam masala powder (see my version linked below)
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 can full fat coconut milk (about 14oz)
- 1 can roasted diced tomatoes optional
- 2 tbsp unsweetened apple juice (or honey)
- 1 tbsp Kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves) (in a pinch dried oregano can work)
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- Chopped feresh coriander for garnish
Marinate the Chicken
- In a blender, blend together 4 cloves garlic, 1 inch fresh ginger and 1-2 green chillies till smooth.
- In a large bowl mix the blended garlic ginger chilli mixture with the remaining tandoori chicken ingredients. Cover and refrigerate to marinate. Allow this to marinate for as long as you can. Ideally 3 hours, up to overnight. But if you don't have the time, you can go on to cook this right away too.
- To BBQ the chicken, place the marinated chicken cubes onto a skewer and BBQ till they reach an internal temperature of 165F (73C). Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 425F (218C).
- Place the marinated chicken in a single layer on a nonstick baking pan. Make sure the individual pieces are not touching each other.
- Bake for 25 minutes, till they reach an internal temperature of 165F(73C). Set aside. If you want them to have a BBQ look, place them under the broiler for the last 5 minutes of cooking time to give them an extra golden brown char on top.
- If cooking this in the instant pot, add a splash of oil to the bottom of the instant pot and saute the chicken until almost cooked through. About 5-7 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside to make the sauce.
Make the Butter Chicken Sauce
- While the chicken is cooking, you can make the butter chicken sauce.
- In a large saucepan (or in the instant pot on saute mode), heat 1 1/2 tbsp oil or ghee. Add 3 cardamom pods (slightly crushed), 1 cinnamon stick, and 2 cloves.
- After about 1 minute the spices will start bubbling and get fragrant. Add 1 diced onion. Allow to cook for 5-8 minutes tills softened and starting to turn golden.
- Add grated fresh ginger, and 2 green chillies sliced in half lengthwise.
- Cook for 1-2 minutes then add 1 tsp red chilli powder, 1/2 tsp garam masala, and 3 tbsp tomato paste.
- Cook for 2-3 minutes till the spices get fragrant and then add 1 can full fat coconut milk. Mix well and allow to come to a boil.
- Add 2 tbsp apple juice (or honey) and 1 tbsp kasori methi. Allow to boil for at least 5 minutes. If you need more curry, you can add more water or coconut milk at this time. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
- Once the chicken is done, add the cooked chicken into the curry. If in the instant pot, cook on high pressure for 5 minutes, quick release the pressure and it is ready to serve. If on the stove top, allow to come to a boil and serve immediately with a garnish of fresh coriander.