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Pompollo

The Real Bukhara Makhani Chicken--

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Hi. I'm new here and I've discovered that I've come to the right place for help on Indian food & cooking. Great advice.

I'm a foodie living in Japan who loves Indian food and who also loves to cook, but never attempted to make Indian food, as it seemed so exoctic that I figured I could never replicate those flavors and taste sensations myself. Luckily there are some great Indian restaurants in Tokyo.

I recently went to India for 10 days, and for good or bad (as I don't like hype), I figured for the experience I had to have dinner in Delhi at least once in my life at Bukhara, renowned for its tandoori cooking and dal. Besides these two dishes, we wanted something with "gravy", a word which always made me laugh on my trip since it's what westerners refer to as a "curry" in India, but which Indians refer to as a dish with some liquid or sauce.

Not expecting much, we settled for the Murg Makhani (Butter Chicken) on their menu since it was one of the few "gravy" offerings, and besides it's sometimes fun to compare the same dishes from one place to another, as we had eaten it once or maybe twice during the trip and liked it.

I remember the tandoori as being o.k., but after a while the huge portions got to taste too smokey. The dal very good (no offense to Indian cooks/cooking, but it tasted like the great cuban beans my friends make at home. It's definitely the smokey flavor common to both.) Anyway, when I took my first bite of the Makhani Chicken, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven while sitting on my Bukhara stool. Now, ever since then I cannot get that taste out of my mind. I have since hunted the Internet (one reason I ended up here.) to look for a recipe.

I settled on three and ended up combining what I thought was the best of them. One had a supurb combination of spices for the tandoori marinade. Another added cashew nut paste and cilantro, and the 3rd called for a pinch of mace and nutmeg. If I do say so myself, it came out better than I had expected. I am now also into trying other dishes (potato cauliflower) was another favorite discovered during my trip. I am also having fun trying to decide on Indian cookbooks too, as I am getting into "doing it myself".

Anyway, I know that on this forum many members have given ricipes for butter chicken. Suvir has offered some, one from Bukhara, in fact. But what was noticeable/remorable about the Bukhara's was the richness of flavors, the thick texture of the sauce, and hints of various spices. Topped with a good helping of cilnatro cooked in as well as garnished fresh on top. The dish just wasn't butter, cream and tomatoes, as there were definitely other tastes in there. The finishing touch of this ambrosia at the Bukhara was a slice of lime to squeeze in and mix up. I know they have the dal in cans, but if their makhani sauce were to be next, I'd be first in line to stock up on some.

I know butter chicken has been hashed around by many and often here, as the dish is popular for good reason: it's an unforgetable taste sensation that's addicting. Sorry to bring it up again, but is there really one recipe that creates the taste I'll never forget?

And with all your good help I feel more confident already in "polishing up my elbow" (as the Japanese say) when it comes to cooking Indian food.

Thanks.

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Pompollo - welcome to the India forum. It was really nice to read your mouth watering post. I have a few chef friends who trained at the Bukhara.. let me see if they will part with the recipes

Welcome and looking forward to hearing more from you

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A few mistakes/compromises that many people including chefs make:

Not using Tandoori chicken. There is no real substitute for the smoke flavor.

Not sauteing the tomato puree with the rest of the spices.

Not using Ghee, Cream and Sugar apart from the Butter. No wonder people go to heaven albeit for a short stint.


Edited by Episure (log)

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Monica,

It's nice to receive your welcome. Thanks! :biggrin:

I'll look forward to hearing a reply if you can.

And thanks too for helping us out with great advice on how to cook delicious Indian food. (And I also mean: Indian food deliciously too)

Pompollo

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There's a recipe for Murgh Makhani in 50 Great Curries of India, by Camellia Panjabi.

The ingredient list for the sauce itself is tomatoes, dried fenugreek leaves, chilled butter (because the sauce is cooked briefly and the butter must not be allowed to turn into ghee, thus chilled to start with), paprika, a few drops of vinegar, garam masala, and single cream.

In doing other research today, I read another recipe that calls for the addition of honey, but I can't for the life of me remember where I saw it.

edited for typos

Pat


Edited by Sleepy_Dragon (log)

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I've been reading/analyzing every butter chicken recipe I can get my hands on (hundreds) and have spent the last 10 years trying to replicate the flavor from my favorite restaurant. I'm close to my goal.

As butter chicken recipes can vary greatly from restaurant to restaurant, the path to my butter chicken bliss is definitely a different route than yours. That being said, I have learned a few things in my quest that might help you.

As Episure stated, Tandoori chicken is essential. I'd even go a step further to say that superb Tandoori chicken is essential. Butter chicken may have grown out of a way of rewarming/adding moisture to dry leftover chicken, but nowadays, the chicken plays a far greater role. For quite some time I was under the misconception that a good gravy will cure any ill caused by mediocre mistreated chicken. I suffered from gravy on the brain syndrome - chicken was just an afterthought. I now give equal and careful attention to both the gravy and the chicken and am richly rewarded for doing so.

It wasn't until I stopped eating sweets for a while that I was able to detect the honey in my favorite restaurant's butter chicken. Did you see any pieces of onion in Bukhara's sauce? If there wasn't, it's possible they pureed it, but I'd put my money on honey. The acidity of the tomato needs some kind of sweetness to balance it. Some restaurants use sugar but my tastebuds are telling me that the majority use honey.

Cream has a tendency, when used in excess, to mask flavors. At least that's what I've noticed when adding it to this dish. Since the restaurant butter chicken I love is flavorful and creamy, I'm guessing that all or part of the creaminess comes from cashew paste. I have yet to experiment with cashew paste but I'm expecting it to be the last piece of the restaurant quality butter chicken puzzle.

I hope you are planning more trips back to India in the future. Replicating a dish from the memory of one meal can be very difficult. I try to eat my favorite restaurant's butter chicken at least once a week to keep the image of the dish fresh in my mind.

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As Episure stated, Tandoori chicken is essential. I'd even go a step further to say that superb Tandoori chicken is essential.  {snip}  I now give equal and careful attention to both the gravy and the chicken and am richly rewarded for doing so.

Scott123 - So have you discovered a way to make a "superb Tandoori chicken" from home without a tandoor? I have made some pretty good stuff in my broiler but I'm not sure I would call it superb Tandoori.

It wasn't until I stopped eating sweets for a while that I was able to detect the honey in my favorite restaurant's butter chicken.  Did you see any pieces of onion in Bukhara's sauce? If there wasn't, it's possible they pureed it, but I'd put my money on honey.  The acidity of the tomato needs some kind of sweetness to balance it. Some restaurants use sugar but my tastebuds are telling me that the majority use honey.

The jaggery I've tried has tasted to me like a cross between brown sugar, honey, and something else (almost like bamboo). Could it be jaggery and not honey you're tasting? I have tried making butter chicken with both and to be honest I couldn't really tell the difference, but maybe I should try to stop eating sweets for a while (yeah right :raz: ).

I'm guessing that all or part of the creaminess comes from cashew paste.

Hmmm. Cashew paste? How about almond paste? I've definitely seen reference to almonds or almond paste on menus at Indian restaurant under the description of butter chicken. I've also used it in small quantities in my butter chicken and thought I detected a subtle improvement. I'm thinking of using a little bit more next time and instead of sprinkling it in, I plan to incorporate it during the step I use a blender to insure it is thoroughly mixed in.

Just some thoughts.

Richie

PS. I found your thread where you describe Jyoti in NJ as having your favorite Butter Chicken, I think I'll head out there in the next couple weeks to check it out... :biggrin:

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Scott123 - So have you discovered a way to make a "superb Tandoori chicken" from home without a tandoor?  I have made some pretty good stuff in my broiler but I'm not sure I would call it superb Tandoori.

Richie111, although I have made strides in paying attention to factors such as the quality of my chicken, the marinade and the cooking time/doneness, I have a long way to go to recreate the "superb" chicken I've had in restaurants. I do think a lump charcoal grill might make a decent tandoori chicken, though. That is the next step in my experimentation

Could it be jaggery and not honey you're tasting?

Jaggery is an excellent idea. I will definitely have to give that a shot, thanks.

Hmmm.  Cashew paste?  How about almond paste?  I've definitely seen reference to almonds or almond paste on menus at Indian restaurant under the description of butter chicken.

Are you sure you've seen references to almonds/almond paste in butter chicken descriptions on menus? I have seen many a korma garnished with almonds but the butter chickens I've seen tend to be spared the almond garnish, instead usually receiving a light sprinkling of chopped cilantro. And from a recipe perspective, cashew paste is an ingredient about 30% of the time and almond paste has never been mentioned. Anything is possible, though. Maybe your favorite restaurant does it differently or I might be missing something.

PS. I found your thread where you describe Jyoti in NJ as having your favorite Butter Chicken, I think I'll head out there in the next couple weeks to check it out... :biggrin:

I have had some pretty amazing butter chickens since I wrote that review, so I'd have to place Jyoti as one of my favorites, rather than THE favorite. It is superb, though. And, if it's not part of the lunch buffet, you might want to get an order of gulab jamon for dessert. Please let me know what you think.

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Scott123 -

As to the almond paste, I think I am wrong on this. :wub: I dug up all of my old recipes for this dish (about 30) and of them there were 11 references to cashew nut paste and only 1 reference to almond paste (interesting that's around 30% as you mentioned in your post and even more interesting that I found even one - this one - that uses almonds). Also I checked some menus and the only reference I found to almond was, as you said, in korma. I am pretty sure I know of one place that includes almonds in the description but that would just seem to be an exception. I think I may have confused that ingredient early on in coming up with my own recipe and never questioned it after that. I look forward to trying it with cashew paste.

Also, I was going to PM you but I guess this would not be an entirely inappropriate place to ask you where are some of the other places you've found good butter chicken?

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i am someone who (as i've said elsewhere on egullet in the past) doesn't see too much movement on a continuum from great butter-chicken to crappy butter-chicken, as opposed to say from great naans to crappy naans. and i've eaten the butter chicken at bukhara as well. my suspicion is that a large part of the explanation for why the bukhara version tastes so different is that no one is better with a tandoor than the folks in the bukhara kitchen and, as episure has stated, good tandoori chicken makes all the difference--not just to the succulence of the meat but also to the flavor it imparts to the sauce. now, with that said when i want a butter-chicken in delhi i go to either pindi or gulati in pandara road. when i go to bukhara i focus on those of their offerings that have not been slathered in a rich tomato based gravy. but that's just me.

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Richie111, in the murky world of butter chicken I don't think there is a "wrong" or "right" in this regard. I wouldn't be too quick to cross almond paste off the list. Your favorite butter chicken might very well contain it. As I said earlier, there are many paths to butter chicken bliss. I'm definitely adding it to my list of things to experiment with.

Also, I was going to PM you but I guess this would not be an entirely inappropriate place to ask you where are some of the other places you've found good butter chicken?

I had a top notch butter chicken at Saffron in East Hanover the other day. I also had scorched saag at the same time, so my feelings on the restaurant continue to be mixed.

Begum Palace in Madison does an excellent butter chicken, although they serve it rarely.

It has been a while since I've been there, but Neelam in Berkley Heights has a butter chicken on par with Jyoti. Overall I found Neelam and Jyoti to be very similar in food and decor. I wouldn't be surprised if they had the same owner.

Of all the places I've mentioned, Jyoti is the only place where butter chicken is guaranteed to be on the buffet. With the other places, the likelihood is fairly slim, especially at Begum where I've only seen it a couple of times in more than 20 visits.

I should also probably tell you that my tastes are fairly common when compared to the more etherial palates of many in this forum. Words like heavy, smothered, rich and excessive are all music to my ears. No fresh tomatoes or creamless gravies for this peasant :) Just to give you a little better picture of where I stand, I can eat 20 white castles in one sitting and my penchant for ring dings is reknown.

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There are home tandoors that can be purchased. I recall seeing some web pages a year ago or so showint the installetion of one.

Looking....

This guy set up a tandoor in his back yard. There's a list of links to places that sell tandoors and tandoor liners on his Books and Contacts page.

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i am someone who (as i've said elsewhere on egullet in the past) doesn't see too much movement on a continuum from great butter-chicken to crappy butter-chicken, as opposed to say from great naans to crappy naans.

Mongo, are you saying that, unlike naan, which can run the gamut of quality, butter chicken is usually either great or crappy and seldom in between?

I'm curious, do you make butter chicken at home?

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i am someone who (as i've said elsewhere on egullet in the past) doesn't see too much movement on a continuum from great butter-chicken to crappy butter-chicken, as opposed to say from great naans to crappy naans.

Mongo, are you saying that, unlike naan, which can run the gamut of quality, butter chicken is usually either great or crappy and seldom in between?

I'm curious, do you make butter chicken at home?

no, i don't make butter chicken at home--in fact i know of very few indians who do (probably most of those who do are in the diaspora), but that is just from my own experience.

as for my comment about the continuum, my contentious claim is that there is less distance travelled from a great butter chicken to a crappy one than there is for many other famous indian dishes (like for example a dosa or a gulab jamun or a biryani). i'm trying to search for an american analog--if i come up with one i'll post again.

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I'm curious, do you make butter chicken at home?

Many people in India buy a cooked tandoori chicken and make the gravy at home.

You can make an ersatz version by oven baking the chicken using the right marinade, then insert a live coal with some butter in the cavity and cover the chicken with foil to infuse the smoke flavor.

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You can make an ersatz version by oven baking the chicken using the right marinade, then insert a live coal with some butter in the cavity and cover the chicken with foil to infuse the smoke flavor.

That is a fascinating workaround Episure, thank you for sharing it.

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