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This winter, give in to this Old Delhi-style butter chicken recipe

Chef Vivek Singh, who runs one of London's best modern Indian restaurants, demystifies a classic dish for home cooking

This recipe of butter chicken tastes better on the bone (Image courtesy: iStockphoto)
This recipe of butter chicken tastes better on the bone (Image courtesy: iStockphoto)

Chef Vivek Singh helped to revolutionize Indian restaurants in London when he opened Cinnamon Club in 2001.

The restaurant, with fine ingredients beautifully presented, elevated the cuisine to the level of fine dining. Singh wasn’t alone in this movement — Atul Kochhar and Vineet Bhatia both won Michelin stars that very year — but he’s a respected chef whose influence is still felt two decades later. He now also owns more-casual establishments such as Cinnamon Kitchen and Cinnamon Bazaar. 

He supplied a simple recipe for Old Delhi-Style Butter Chicken. I’ve eaten the dish in Delhi at Moti Mahal restaurant, where many say that it originated. I have loved it for years and couldn’t wait to try cooking it at home.

Except that I took a lot of liberties with Vivek’s recipe. I substituted turkey breast for chicken to see if the recipe would work for Christmas. It does, but you need to be ready to adjust cooking times. My turkey was almost fully cooked after 13 minutes in the oven.

My way of preparing this dish, which contains an astonishing amount of tomatoes, was to cook the sauce at a very low heat for more than an hour while I read a book and drank wine. It reduced right down to the point where it was thick and very intensely flavored before I re-introduced the turkey. I’m not sure that Vivek would approve but I enjoyed it as much as any butter chicken I have eaten.

Chef Vivek Singh of The Cinnamon Club in London. (Photo courtesy:
Chef Vivek Singh of The Cinnamon Club in London. (Photo courtesy:

Vivek recommends two 750 gram (26.5 ounce) free-range young chickens, skinned and each cut in half along the backbone; alternatively use 800g boned chicken thighs cut into two. The dish serves four to six. I skipped any accompaniments and downsized it to 600g of turkey. Reader, I ate it all.


For the marinade:

80 grams full-fat Greek yoghurt (can be substituted with curd)

1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 ½ teaspoons salt

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp red chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp garam masala

For the sauce:

1 kilogram tomatoes (or 600g purée of tinned tomatoes)

5 centimeter (2-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp red chili powder

80g butter, diced

2 green chilis, slit lengthways

75 milliliters cream

1 tsp salt

2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves, crushed between your fingertips

½ tsp garam masala

1 tsp sugar


First, prepare the chicken. Make small cuts all over the chicken pieces with a sharp knife to help the marinade penetrate. The dish tastes better on the bone, but if using boned thighs, no need to make cuts on the surface. Just cut each thigh into two pieces each. To prepare the marinade, mix all the ingredients together in a deep ovenproof dish. Smear the cut chicken with the marinade, cover and set aside in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius (428 Fahrenheit), gas mark 7.

Cook the chicken in the preheated oven for 13-15 minutes. You may need to turn the pieces after 8-10 minutes to ensure they color evenly on both sides. Cut the cooked chicken into smaller pieces as per your preference. The chicken does not need to be completely cooked at this point as it will continue to cook in the sauce. Cut the chicken halves into smaller pieces. Strain off the juices through a fine sieve and set aside.

For the sauce, place the chopped tomatoes ( or purée if using ) in a pan with 125ml of water, the ginger-garlic paste, bay leaf and simmer for about 15-20 minutes over medium heat until the tomatoes have completely disintegrated. Pick out the bay leaf, then blend the tomato broth with a hand-held blender and pass it through a sieve to obtain a smooth purée. Return the purée to a clean pan, add the chili powder and simmer for 8-10 minutes. It should slowly begin to thicken.

When the sauce turns glossy, add the chicken pieces and the reserved roasting juices. Then add about 200ml water and simmer for 3-5 minutes until the sauce turns glossy again and the water is absorbed. For a thicker sauce, either add slightly less water or simmer for longer.

Simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is beginning to acquire a glaze. Add the chopped ginger, green chilies and cream and simmer for a minute or two longer, taking care that the sauce does not split. Stir in the salt, crushed fenugreek leaves and garam masala, then check the seasoning and add the sugar. Slowly whisk in the butter, a couple of pieces at a time, allow the butter to melt while stirring to create an emulsion. Remove from the heat and serve with naan or rice.

This story first appeared on and has been lightly edited for style. Richard Vines is Chief Food Critic at Bloomberg.

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