Secret Ingredient Chicken Curry

I wrote about this butter chicken recipe  a few months ago and my email box was flooded. I got a ton of messages from readers who tried and loved the recipe. I was so pleased. But the messages that stuck with me were the ones from readers who did NOT try the recipe. They wrote and wondered if they could indeed make this dish. Was it hard? What was the real secret behind the success of this dish?

The real secret?

Hmm… I found the question intriguing. How many times have you (and I) looked at something and decided we could not do it/make it/ try it because it is too hard/not for us/has to have a secret technique?

Well, it is time to be honest. This recipe does have a secret ingredient.

If you want to know what it is, see Kung Fu Panda. If you don’t want to see the movie, find a kid who has and ask them what the secret ingredient is.  If you don’t want to do that, then Google to see if you can find the movie online.

Once you find the secret ingredient, come back. Read this recipe, make it for your family and then come back and tell me how hard it was and how much easier the secret ingredient made it.

(photo by the lovely Sala Kannan (

Butter Chicken

This is my adaptation of my father’s fabulous dish. Serve this with hot steamed rice, or rice and peas (recipe below), or Indian breads such as naan. A beet salad with yogurt would be a nice side dish, then a light granita for dessert.

I added this to the SPICECAPADES section because this is, hands down, our family favorite recipes. My kids love it, their friends love it and friends of their friends love it.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

For The Chicken

1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger

1 tablespoon peeled, minced garlic

2 tablespoons Indian tandoori masala (I recommend Shan brand)

1/4 cup canned tomato puree

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee*

8 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (make slits in the chicken to allow the marinade to penetrate)

Salt, to taste

For The Sauce

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger

1 tablespoon peeled, minced garlic

2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

Salt, to taste

1 serrano chile, finely minced

1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves*

1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, ginger, garlic, Indian tandoori masala, tomato puree, salt, lemon juice and butter. Add the chicken and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan. Pour all remaining marinade over the chicken. Roast 20 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the juices run clear.

Remove the chicken from the oven and place all the pieces on a platter. Reserve the cooked marinade in a bowl.

To make the sauce, in a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic. Saute for about 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring constantly. Use the back of a spatula to mash the tomatoes as you go. Continue until the tomatoes are completely mashed and soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the reserved marinade.

Add the salt, chili pepper, fenugreek leaves and chicken and mix well. Simmer covered for about 10 minutes.

Add the cream and simmer for another minute. Serve hot.

*Available at Indian markets.

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  1. Wow what a fabulous recipe and I haven’t even checked out Kung Fu Panda! This one I will definitely try!

  2. This is too funny! I have not seen Kung Fu Panda, and yesterday I had to Google it for a different reason. I’ll have to wait for the girls to come home from school:)
    The recipe sounds great, and I have everything on hand except for fenugreek leaves.

    1. Lana – You HAVE to post here after talking to your kids. I cannot wait to hear your reaction 🙂

  3. OK. My younger could not remember. The older immediately said “noodles!”. This sounded suspicious, so I Googled it and watched several excerpts.
    The message: there is NO secret ingredient – you have to believe in yourself and trust your abilities:)
    So I trusted my abilities and made your butter chicken. I have had it only once, while visiting my daughter at Berkeley, but this was pretty tasty and easy to make. The kids loved the little sour kick from the lemon and tomatoes. The only problem I have encountered is that my husband came home with a huge bag of fenugreek leaves (6oz is a lot!), and I have no idea what else to do with them:)

    1. With lots of fenugreek leaves, you can make Saag Alu (dry version). Very easy to make. Though it is a dry dish, it goes well with Naan and Jeera Pilau.

  4. I believe this is the first time Kung Fu panda and butter chicken have entered tha same blog post. 🙂 this does sound delicious, Monica!

  5. Do you think this would work in a crock pot? My concern is the yogurt in the marinade and it potentially spoiling with so much extended heat. Thoughts?

    1. I dont think that this will work in a crockpot.

  6. Thank you for posting this! My hubby and I love butter chicken but I’ve yet to try making it!

    Great blog; happy I found you!

    Mary xx
    Delightful Bitefuls

  7. Oh my goodness. My first attempt at making Indian food. I love to eat it, and smell the fragrant dishes. Now my house is filled with the aroma of such a lovely dish. Everyone in the house could not wait to sit at the dinner table. Thank you for such a lovely recipe. It was delicious! For dessert I made the Pistachio Cardamom Cake. What a culinary night of for my family. Sitting here happy that I follow your blog. Thank you again. We bought some fresh fenugreek leaves. Can you suggest any recipes as I have a bunch left. Thank You. Anna

    1. I am so happy that you liked the chicken! Usually this dish requires only dry fenugreek leaves.

      For the fresh leaves: wash and dry them. Then saute along with peeled diced potatoes, thinly sliced ginger, turmeric, salt and cayenne. Cover and cook till potatoes are done.

  8. hi monica,

    I am intrigued by your recipe! since I am a animated movie lover, I have seen kunfu pada several times over with my kids. So, to believe in oneself is the secret ingredient. I would like to ask you, if there is really no need for all those onions for a good butter chicken? This recipe is really wonderful i will def try it out.

  9. Butter Chicken is one of my fav dish. Looks yum and colorful.

  10. Mr. Ping: The secret ingredient is… nothing!
    Po: Huh?
    Mr. Ping: You heard me. Nothing! There is no secret ingredient.
    Po: Wait, wait… it’s just plain old noodle soup? You don’t add some kind of special sauce or something?
    Mr. Ping: Don’t have to. To make something special you just have to believe it’s special.
    [Po looks at the scroll again, and sees his reflection in it]
    Po: There is no secret ingredient…

  11. Hi Monica! Just thought I’d let you know that this recipe allowed me to break into the world of cooking Indian food, and I make this butter chicken recipe at LEAST once a month! Thank you! 🙂

    1. Yay! I am so happy to read this! Keep on cooking!

  12. Actually…………the kasuri methi is considered a secret ingredient in this recipe. Some Indian chefs call it the ‘magic’ ingredient.

  13. I have made butter chicken from Bombay Palace cookbook recipe and it is good but your recipe looks even better/ Next time I buy chicken I will try this recipe.
    Thank You for posting it.

  14. Monica,
    As a number of previous posts have stated, your Butter Chicken has turned into my breakout recipe for “Restaurant Flavor” Indian cooking. I’ve been dabbling with various recipes that always ended tasting ‘ok’ but not fantastic…lacking in some way that I couldn’t put my finger on. This dish came out AMAZING! My wife and I reveled in the rich goodness of the sauce and tender chicken. You also motivated me to venture into an Indian market for the first time. I look forward to making your Butter Chicken at least once a month!

  15. Monica, This recipe was awesome!
    Thanks!!! My husband was just back from Dallas and I thought i’d surprise him by making Butter Chicken for him, and he just loved it!!! 🙂
    I am wondering if you have a ‘Chicken Masala’ recipe too??

  16. This dish is divine. I’m so thrilled to have discovered you and your wonderful artistry! 🙂

  17. Hi Monica!

    I want to make a vegetarian version of this dish. Any tips? I’m thinking of using chickpeas instead of tofu. Chickpeas are my go to meat substitute when I want texture as well as protein.

  18. Hi this looks wonderful! I was wondering if i could subtitute fenugreek leaves for powder? I wont find it here in saudi

  19. we used your recipe for one of the catered dishes for our son’s wedding last fall. Our “secret” ingredient as we couldn’t find fengreek leaves was to use curry leaves. It was a huge hit and we’ve used the recipe repeatedly for various clients.

  20. That is such a beautiful way to put it…big fan of the King Fu Panda movies !!

  21. hi monica…i liked this butter chicken recipe…but we don’t get any canned tomato puree in my place…can u pls tell me how much fresh tomato puree can i use to make this dish…thank u…

  22. I am all over this, Monica. I have access to Indian markets. And chicken. Yes!!

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