Festive Food: Boxing Day butter chicken

Butter chicken ready to be served

Butter chicken ready to be served

There were lots of things I wanted to write about over Christmas – including a lot of bloody good meals and some even better random piles of leftovers, which always make me unaccountably happy. But, somehow, I was far too busy doing/eating/cooking to find time to write anything down. Which I suppose is a good thing really, but I’ve been grappling with my first bout of blog-induced guilt as a result.

The other problem when it comes to traditional festive food is that my family – well, my father, really – is devoutly anti-traditional, so the festive recipes that seem to be the most popular at this time of year are shunned in our house. Christmas dinners of years gone by have stretched from barbecued kebabs (yep, in the garden, in December; nope, we do not live in a hot country) to chicken curry (something my grandmothers have never quite forgiven us for). In recent years, we’ve had a few more traditional dishes, like beef wellington or pork belly with barley, but these just make me yearn for the year of the barbecue.

My personal festive highlight this year was the butter chicken my dad cooked up on Boxing Day. As Vivek Singh explains, butter chicken is a national favourite in India. Easy to cook in large quantities for guests, it’s perfect for a wintry special occasion. It even, thank the festive gods, suits those with fussy Turkish tastes, who aren’t used to Christmas and balk at the concept of roast dinner.

After much consternation about the fact that most recipes for butter chicken don’t actually contain butter – something my cholesterol-conscious father was both relieved at but also thrown by – he finally settled on one that was an amalgam of Singh’s old Delhi-style butter chicken recipe, one someone else had told him and a few of his own unique touches thrown in. And yes, it contains a little butter!

We ate this with rice, mattar paneer and chopped salad.


What you need

Gratuitous festive family dinner time snap - sorry!

Gratuitous festive family dinner time snap – sorry!

750g chicken, chopped into rough chunks (use thighs or breasts as you like, but I prefer on the bone)


For the marinade

150g natural yoghurt

1 tbsp garlic paste

1 tbsp finely grated ginger

1 tbsp oil

2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp garam masala

2 tsp red chilli powder

Dash of vinegar


For the rest

1 kg tomatoes OR 2x 400g tins chopped tomatoes (fresh are best, but only in tomato season)

100ml water (IF using fresh tomatoes)

½ tbsp ginger paste

½ tbsp finely grated ginger

6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

4 cardamom pods (green)

4 cloves

1 bay leaf

½ tsp garam masala

40g butter at room temperature, chopped

2 fresh green chillies

Salt to taste

1 tbsp sugar

A handful of fresh coriander


How to make it

  1. Preheat the oven to 220˚C.
  2. In a non-reactive bowl, mix the marinade ingredients together well then add the chicken. Cover and set aside. You can do this the night before if you want – making sure to keep the chicken in the fridge – but 30 minutes is usually long enough.
  3. Once the chicken is marinated, place in an oven proof dish just big enough to hold both it and the marinade. Cover, and bake for 10-15 minutes, turning half way through. The chicken doesn’t need to be completely cooked at this point, as it will cook further once added to the sauce.
  4. Meanwhile, make the sauce. If using fresh tomatoes, cut into rough chunks before placing in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan with the water, garlic paste, grated ginger and whole spices (except the green chillies). If using chopped tomatoes, add straight to the pan and leave out the water. Turn up the heat and simmer until the tomatoes are on the verge of disintegration. Then use a hand held blender (or a potato masher, if you don’t have a blender) to crush the mix into a rough paste.
  5. Next, add the chilli powder and allow the mixture to bubble away for a few minutes.
  6. By this time, your chicken should be baked and ready to go. Add it to the bubbling sauce, along with all the cooking juices, and simmer for 5 minutes or so, until cooked completely. You may need to add a cup of water to keep the sauce liquid enough.
  7. Now add the butter, a piece at a time, stirring through until melted before adding the next piece. Simmer for another 5 or so minutes, until the sauce begins to look thick and glossy.
  8. Finally, take your green chillies and slit them carefully from top to bottom (not completely in half ideally, although if you prefer a less spicy dish, you can remove the seeds before adding them to the pan). Add to the pan, along with the salt and half the fresh coriander.
  9. Give it a minute before checking the seasoning. Add the sugar if necessary, and allow to bubble for another minute or so until dissolved.
  10. Serve sprinkled with the remainder of the coriander.


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