Murgh Makhani and Cumin Feta Naan
Credit: Lenore Edman on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

If you've ever had butter chicken (aka murgh makhani) you'll never forget how rich, creamy and aromatic the sauce is.

It's such a popular dish that you'll see it on every Indian buffet in downtown Toronto.

For years I didn't bother trying to make it. I thought it was too much work, had ingredients I'd never find, and too heavy on the cream and butter. 

Apparently, chicken tikka masala (which calls for curry and boneless chicken) is purportedly the UK offshoot of the more traditional Indian butter chicken.[1]

Indian recipes vary, but turmeric is listed in most versions and just happens to be a spice my daughter doesn't like. Another ingredient that I couldn't use was cashew paste because of a tree nut allergy. And I rarely find (or can afford) good quality kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves), chaat masala, or saffron.

I found healthier substitutes for heavy cream and was able to keep the butter amount reasonable, but I had a hard time finding a simple recipe that didn't require a commercial spice mix, sauce, or paste of some kind. So, I came up with my own version.

al haaj bundoo khan's butter chicken
Credit: Krista on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

My Inspiration and Tweaks

I found the easiest slow cooker recipe[2] on a CBC program called Best Recipes Ever. I had all of the spices on hand and I found it easy to make gluten-free. (If you aren't on a gluten-free diet, just use regular chicken stock).

My tweaks included substituting curry for turmeric, WowButter[3] instead of cashew butter, chicken breasts instead of thighs, and yogurt instead of sour cream. I also used evaporated milk instead of heavy cream whenever I needed to thin out the sauce.

If you've never heard of WowButter, it's a peanut-free, gluten-free, healthy alternative to peanut butter. And, it tastes exactly like (or even better than) peanut butter. My daughter loves the stuff. I also make giant WowButter cookies with it.

As you might have guessed, my butter chicken isn't traditional. The curry and mild peanut flavour is reminiscent of Thai sauces. I suppose you could use coconut milk instead of yogurt too. I didn't though - I find it hard to use up coconut milk (and once opened, it should be consumed within a few days).[4]

Slow Cooker G-F Butter Chicken

Serves: 4 - 6 | Prep: 12 mins | Total: 9 hrs

I love that the sauce is cooked without the chicken for the first 5 to 8 hours. Overcooked chicken can ruin these types of dishes. 

What's more, there's no need to have a tandoor (earthen oven) or grill and - get this - there's no need to prepare a rub and no marinade either. The result: no oven, no stove to turn on and no extra fry pans to clean (it's all made in your slow cooker).

butter chickenCredit: Gail on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericIngredients:

1.5 to 2 lbs. (0.68 to 0.90 kg) boneless, skinless chicken (about 3 - 4 chicken breasts)
2 onions (diced)
3 - 4  garlic cloves (minced)
3 tbsp. salted or unsalted butter*
2 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
2 - 3 tbsp. brown sugar (packed)
1/2 - 1 tsp. chili powder
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
3/4 - 1 tsp. ground curry
1/2 - 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. salt *use 1/2 tsp. salt if using unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 (28 oz / 796 mL) can diced tomatoes
1 cup sodium-reduced gluten-free chicken broth (I use Vogue brand)
1/4 cup WowButter (Creamy) or almond butter or cashew butter
1 cup plain natural Balkan style yogurt or Greek yogurt or sour cream or coconut milk
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
Optional: unsweetened evaporated milk to thin out sauce, if desired


Add butter to your slow cooker to let it reach room temperature. Then dice onions, mince garlic, and grate ginger and add directly to the slow cooker. Give them all a good stir with a wooden spoon (mash up butter with back of spoon to grease the sides of slow cooker liner). It might not matter much but I find the onions, garlic, and ginger are tastier with a little butter coating on them.

Next, add the diced tomatoes, brown sugar, chili powder, ground coriander, curry, cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper. Give it all a big stir.

In a small bowl, whisk broth with WowButter and add to slow cooker. Cover and cook sauce on low for 5 to 8 hours.

Using an immersion blender (or in a regular blender, in small batches), puree the butter sauce until smooth. If you wish, save out a cup of sauce for vegetarian dishes - just add a little yogurt to it. Be sure to cover and store it in the fridge.

On a cutting board for poultry, cut boneless, skinless chicken into bite-size pieces. Small (1/2-inch cubes) will need 30 - 40 minutes to cook; larger pieces (1-inch cubes) will need 40 - 5o minutes to cook through.

Add chicken to butter sauce in slow cooker, cover and cook on high for 30 - 50 minutes (or until chicken flakes easily and juices run clear).

Stir in yogurt and serve on a bed of rice. Top with fresh cilantro. A side of naan is great for dipping the sauce in (it's hard to find gluten-free naan, so you may need to make it).

Note: If you prefer your sauce thinner, use carnation evaporated milk to keep it rich tasting yet low fat.

Cuisinart Smart Stick Immersion Hand Blender

Cuisinart CSB-75BC Smart Stick 2-Speed Immersion Hand Blender RoseWrites 2014-12-22 5.0 0 5

Cuisinart Smart Stick Immersion Hand Blender

A must-have for every kitchen

Conair Cuisinart Smart Stick CSB-75BC 200 Watt 2 Speed Hand Blender (Brushed Chrome)
Amazon Price: $65.00 $33.00 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 21, 2015)
By now you've probably heard about immersion blenders. The only one with enough power to puree my sauces, soups, and stews is the Cuisinart. It has a 200-watt motor and I recommend holding onto it securely because this bad boy really flies. Available in all kinds of colors and backed by a limited 3-year warranty. Amazon also shows a 3-min video demonstration of it by Mary Rogers.

WowButter Toasted Soy Spread Creamy

WowButter Tastes Just Like Peanut Butter toasted Soy Spread RoseWrites 2014-12-22 5.0 0 5

WowButter Toasted Soy Spread Creamy

Tastes Just Like Peanut Butter

WOWBUTTER Peanut Free Soy Butter Spread - Creamy - 17.6 oz
Amazon Price: $6.19 $5.99 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 21, 2015)
My American friends tell me WowButter is hard to find in the US. I suppose it depends on where you live, though. I only use the creamy (smooth) type but crunchy is also available. Other quantities and sizes are also available on Amazon when you click and scroll down.