This post was approved by Kiwi. I wouldn’t dare share an Indian recipe without his buy-in.
When I first mentioned “butter chicken,” he hesitated. And at “sliders,” he raised his eyebrows, as if to say—“could you be any whiter, my love?”
But who can resist a pile of slow-cooked shredded chicken piled high on a soft slider bun? Not Kiwi, certainly. And once he got over the whiteness of it all, he was on board and full of ideas: “oh, it would be great with a little mango chutney and some sliced red onions….oh and cilantro…definitely cilantro”.
I’ve always considered butter chicken to be essentially the California roll of Indian food: culturally influenced perhaps—but hardly authentic—and engineered for sensitive (read: white) palates. But if you trust what Wikipedia has to say about it, butter chicken is actually “Murgh Makani” a popular dish of Punjabi origin that is served in India. You hear that Kiwi? Served in India.
Granted the authentic Indian version isn’t typically whipped up in a crock pot, I expect. More likely slow-cooked in a tandoor and then lovingly bathed in a complexly-spiced curry.
Neither would it be piled onto soft rolls and called a “slider,” though it would be scooped up with warm fresh naan bread, which in my mind is pretty close.
Many recipes for butter chicken call for a mixture of garam masala and curry powder, but the combination of garam masala (which you can buy at just about any decent grocery store these days), cumin, turmeric, and fresh garlic and ginger in this recipe is almost as simple, and makes for a more layered and complex flavour, which is everything in Indian cuisine. (Incidentally, and much to Kiwi’s dismay, I do use curry powder liberally in my kitchen, a practice which I will defend in a different post!)
The slow cooker makes this recipe really easy to pull off. Saute the onions, garlic, ginger and spices, add the liquids, and then pour everything over the chicken and let it cook slowly while you sleep or work.
Someone will inevitably ask if the onion-browning step can be skipped (everyone loves a dump and go slow cooker recipe), and while I’m sure it would be fine that way, I’m also sure it won’t be even half as good as the version that starts in a skillet. If you can’t imagine browning onions and garlic early in the morning (I’m not a fan), consider doing it the night before, then refrigerating the mixture and dumping it into the slow cooker in the morning.
If you don’t like the idea of butter chicken in a bun, it’s also delicious over rice or quinoa. And the Bean had the great idea to stuff the leftovers into corn tortillas with a dollop of sour cream and a handful of avocado. Butter chicken tacos, anyone?
Which brings me to my final point, this is a kid-pleaser if ever there was one: soft, flavourful but mild (if you skip the cayenne), rich and creamy. My little guy shovels it in with both his hands, and the Bean doesn’t ask me to wash off the sauce! Win.
- 2½ tablespoons of butter (or oil, to make this recipe dairy free)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 thumb-size pieces of ginger root, peeled and finely grated
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne (optional; leave out if you have spice-averse kids)
- 1 398 ml / 15 oz can full fat coconut milk
- 1 small (156 ml / 5 oz) can tomato paste
- 3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- ¼ cup whipping cream (optional)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- For serving: small slider-sized buns or cooked rice, cilantro, shredded cabbage, mango chutney, sliced cucumber
- Heat the oil or butter in a medium-sized skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it is soft and starting to brown. Add garlic and ginger and continue to cook until the onion is brown and caramelized. Stir regularly so that the garlic and ginger do not burn.
- Add the garam masala, cumin and turmeric, and cook, stirring constantly until they become fragrant.
- Stir in the coconut milk and tomato paste. Bring to a boil and then take the mixture off the heat.
- At this point you can either transfer the mixture to the fridge or freezer and use it later, or dump it into the slow cooker and use it now.
- Combine the chicken thighs and coconut milk mixture in the bowl of the slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until chicken thighs are very tender.
- Remove the chicken thighs to a plate and shred them. Whisk the cornstarch into the sauce and turn the slow cooker to high. Stir in the whipping cream, if using. (To prevent the cream from curdling, add a little of the butter chicken sauce into the whipping cream to bring it to room temperature, and then dump the mixture into the crock pot). Add salt and pepper to taste. (You will need quite a bit of salt; I added about 2 teaspoons.)
- Dump the shredded chicken back into the sauce and serve on slider buns or rice with your favourite condiments and garnishes. Alternatively you can pile the shredded chicken onto the buns, and drizzle the sauce overtop.
- Leftovers can be cooled in the fridge and then frozen in Ziploc bags or containers.