No-Butter Butter Chicken


03 Mar No-Butter Butter Chicken

No-Butter Chicken

I’ve been saving this recipe to share with you during my upcoming and long-promised Indian Week. But it’s been so cold lately, I thought something from a warm and sunny land would help. And you can’t go wrong with curry.

While I adore Indian food, butter chicken especially, I don’t make it that often. It can take a long time to simmer and the traditional dish calls for lots and lots of fat — butter and cream to be precise. Many low-fat versions either rely on salt-laden pastes or end up tasting as authentic as McCurry.

But this modern variation? It can be on the table in less than half an hour, bursts with genuine Indian flair and is absolutely delicious. Even my lipid-loving husband not only asked for seconds but asked me to make it again within days. High praise indeed from a man who would live on steak if I let him.

Along with the curry recipe, I’m including Bal Arneson’s recipe for homemade Garam Masala. You can use a store bought version if pressed for time, but I do urge you to try making your own spice mix. You’ll notice a real difference. Also, don’t panic if you don’t have grapeseed oil. Substitute canola.

No Butter Chicken

No-Butter Butter Chicken
Recipe type: Chicken & Poultry
Cuisine: Indian
Prep / inactive time: 
Cook / active time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
This quick-cook chicken recipe doesn't taste like a low-fat version. It's bursting with flavour and can be on the table by the time the rice is cooked. If you're feeling indulgent, add a splash of cream. But it doesn't need it.
Chicken Curry
  • ¼ cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
  • 2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon Garam Masala (see below for recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ¾ cup low-fat plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup water
Garam Masala
  • ½ cup coriander seeds
  • ½ cup cumin seeds
  • ¼ cup dried curry leaves
  • ¼ cup black peppercorns
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches long
  • 2 bay leaves
Chicken Curry
  1. Place the oil in a non-stick skillet over high heat, add the onions, and sauté until dark golden brown. Add the garlic and ginger, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cumin seeds and cook for 30 seconds.
  2. Reduce the heat to low, add the garam masala, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, turmeric, and salt, and cook for 2 minutes. Mix in the chicken and cook until the chicken is almost done, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the yogurt and water, and cook until the chicken is fully cooked, about 5 minutes. Serve it with brown rice or plain rotis.
Garam Masala
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Combine all the ingredients, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 15 minutes. Let cool and process to a fine powder in a grinder, such as a coffee grinder reserved for this purpose. Store in an airtight container in a cool place, for up to 3 months.
We sprinkled the finished dish with fresh cilantro and it was to die for!

Published with permission from Everyday Indian: 100 Fast, Fresh and Healthy Recipes by Bal Arneson. (Whitecap Books 2009)

Related Post

  • Dana McCauley
    Posted at 14:13h, 03 March Reply

    Sounds delish! I’m trying to be a bit less of a fatty four eyes and think that this recipe might be just what I need to keep my curry cravings at bay!

  • Tom
    Posted at 15:45h, 03 March Reply

    Thanks for posting an Indian recipe without curry powder. Store-bought curry powder all tastes the same, and it’s a pet peeve of mine that any dish that someone just adds curry powder to becomes a “curry”. I will be making that garam masala!

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 16:37h, 03 March Reply

    Dana, you are hardly a fatty four eyes! But I’ll give you this much; this recipe is a healthy way to deal with curry cravings.

    Tom, I loathe that ubiquitous pre-mixed curry powder for the very reason you cited — it makes everything taste the same. Let me know how your garam masala turns out.

  • cheryl
    Posted at 17:54h, 03 March Reply

    “lipid-loving husband.” Heh, heh.

    I have all the ingredients, AND you used grapeseed oil which you *know* I have, too. Sending gratitude over the border for this terrific-sounding recipe.

  • Divawrites
    Posted at 18:55h, 03 March Reply

    I love butter chicken…but the garlic will kill me.
    any suggestions for substituting?

  • Brilynn
    Posted at 20:18h, 03 March Reply

    I definitely need to give this a try, I don’t cook nearly enough Indian food but I do love it.

  • Jennifer
    Posted at 21:57h, 03 March Reply


  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 22:02h, 03 March Reply

    Cheryl, I thought of you when I wrote up this post. Glad to give you an excuse to crack open that bottle.

    Diva, nothing is a perfect substitute, but you can just omit the garlic or try substituting an equal quantity of minced shallots. Shallots will be less pungent.

    Brilynn, if you try it, let me know how it turns out. I love Indian food too!

  • Lauren
    Posted at 03:56h, 04 March Reply

    What do you have against butter? 😉

    Looks so good with all those spices! Garam marsala makes everything better.

  • Muneeba
    Posted at 11:58h, 04 March Reply

    Oh man … I JUST made butter chicken last night. Now I wish I had waited a day till I found your recipe on Tastespotting! Oh well – maybe next time, because it does sound really scrumptious.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 17:27h, 04 March Reply

    Jennifer, that’s exactly what I said, too!

    Lauren, I have nothing against butter. But it has something against my hips.

    Muneeba, too bad about the timing, but it shows we’re on the same wavelength. If you do try it, let me know how it turns out.

  • Kevin
    Posted at 23:24h, 04 March Reply

    That butterless butter chicken looks tasty!

  • amyproulx
    Posted at 16:05h, 05 March Reply

    Hardcore Indian food fans would use asafoetida powder as a substitute for onions and garlic. Certain Hindu sects won’t eat Allium species. Fry asafoetida with some oil at the beginning. Smells awful until it’s cooked.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 23:10h, 05 March Reply

    Kevin, thanks. If you make the chicken, let me know how you like it.

    Amy, you know, I nearly suggested asafetida but didn’t know how “hard core” Diva is. Great suggestion! And thanks for the warning about the smell. They don’t call it “devil’s dung” or “stinking gum” for nothing.

  • Jaime
    Posted at 12:00h, 06 March Reply

    I just made this recipe last night and it turned out just like your pics…Absolutely yummy !!!

  • Amy
    Posted at 17:01h, 15 March Reply

    Made this last night and it was wonderful! Thanks for the recipe-we’ll use it again and again I’m sure.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 21:29h, 15 March Reply

    Jaime and Amy, thanks so much for letting me know you tried the recipe and liked it. I really appreciate the feedback!

    Who knew a low-fat version could be so tasty?

  • LOlfitness
    Posted at 04:59h, 23 March Reply

    Made this yesterday. I didn’t have any pepper flakes or ginger, so it lacked some oomph, but it was still very nice!

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 09:45h, 23 March Reply

    LOIfitness, my sister might enjoy your ginger and pepper free version since she can’t take any heat. Thanks so much for getting back to me. Glad it turned out okay, even though you didn’t have all the ingredients.

  • mremmers
    Posted at 08:26h, 21 April Reply

    Delicious – simply delicious. I made this for dinner last night, as written, and it was a hit served with basmati brown rice and steamed broccoli. Thanks for the post.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 10:02h, 21 April Reply

    Mremmers, I’m so glad you liked the recipe. Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know how it turned out. This is a favourite of mine now, too.

  • Darlins
    Posted at 21:48h, 30 August Reply

    I came across this on foodgawker and I just wanted to say thanks for this recipe! I made it tonight, and it was FANTASTIC!

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 12:50h, 31 August Reply

    Darlins, I'm so glad you like the recipe. I used to be a die-hard butter-butter-butter fan but recipes like this are convincing me I can cut back without losing out on flavour. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  • Lorraine
    Posted at 07:07h, 03 October Reply

    Wow, Charmian. Not only does this look divine, but I also happen to have a large bottle of grape seed oil–just bought it on a whim two weeks ago!

    Guess what we’re having for dinner tonight?

    I’m also featuring this recipe on my blog’s weekly dinner menu that posts Mondays–will link back to you.


    P.S. Do you take the photos? They are gorgeous.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 08:05h, 03 October Reply

      Thanks, Lorraine. My only complaint with this recipe is that I didn’t develop it myself.

      And yes, I do take the food photos for my blog. I’m so glad you like them. A year ago they were quite embarrassing.

      Thanks also for the link. I can’t wait to see what’s on the rest of the menu.

  • Lorraine
    Posted at 22:46h, 08 October Reply

    Just wanted to report back that your No-Butter Butter Chicken was a huge hit.

    Thought you might want to know the spicy No-Butter Butter sauce is also heaven on tofu–we have several vegetarians in the family and they didn’t want to be left out of a new recipe.

    Bookmarking this.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:18h, 09 October Reply

      Thanks Lorraine. I really appreciate hearing back. I’m so glad your family liked it. Weren’t you serving it to a dozen people?

      Tofu works? Good to know. I wonder if paneer would too? I’m trying some vegetarian dishes soon and it’s great to hear Bal Arneson’s recipe is so flexible!

  • Hilary
    Posted at 11:19h, 06 October Reply

    I made this for my family for dinner last night and it was an absolute hit. So incredibly tasty and my fussy teens loved it too. Thank you for posting this recipe.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 11:55h, 07 October Reply

      @Hilary, wow, even the teens liked it? I’m thrilled.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know how the recipe worked out. It’s always nice to get feedback (especially when it’s so positive).

  • Judy @Savoring Today
    Posted at 14:22h, 26 June Reply

    Saw your recipe on Monica’s post today, saving it in my ‘must try’ folder and look forward to visiting again for more inspiration. :)

Post A Reply to Dana McCauley Cancel Reply

Subscribe to my newsletter.

It’s easy. It’s free. It’s informative.


Receive weekly tips, recipes and advanced notice of upcoming events.

Yes, please!