Floyd Cardoz's Butter Chicken (Chicken Tikka Makhani) Recipe

This luxurious Indian dish is easily within your grasp.

A bowl of homemade chicken tikka makhani, also known as butter chicken

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

Why It Works

  • If you don't have a grill, the chicken tikka can just as easily be cooked under the broiler in the oven.
  • A flavorful yogurt marinade creates a charred, smoky crust on the chicken as it cooks and ensures a juicy and tender interior.
  • Without being excessively rich, both butter and cream give the tomato gravy a silky, full-bodied texture.
  • A final addition of toasted and ground fenugreek imparts a complex, floral sweetness to the finished dish.

Floyd Cardoz wasn't just an Indian chef—he was one of New York's best Indian chefs. So, back in 2012, we were pretty excited for a chance to watch him make his version of chicken tikka makhani, the "butter chicken" that's the sweeter, creamier version of chicken tikka masala, at the New York Culinary Experience.

Chef Floyd Cardoz demonstrating at the New York Culinary Experience

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

Long ingredient lists and some unfamiliar techniques can make cooking Indian food at home daunting, but Chef Cardoz showed just how easy this kind of home cooking can be. He gave boneless, skinless chicken thighs an overnight marinade in a purée of yogurt, chile, ginger, garlic, and some basic spices, then cooked them simply on the grill. Stop there and you have some damn good chicken tikka for summer. But it doesn't take much to make the buttery tomato gravy—an easy mix of tomatoes, onions, butter, cream, and a couple spices and aromatics—for a ridiculously luxurious Indian meal.

Making the Marinade

The chicken got marinated in yogurt with spices and aromatics. Here, Chef Cardoz blended chiles, garlic, ginger, lime juice, and neutral oil to make a smooth paste. He salted his chicken for 15 minutes before adding the marinade, but you can also add salt during this step.

Chef Floyd Cardoz preparing the marinade for chicken tikka makhani

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

He whisked the paste into yogurt and added three spices: paprika, garam masala (a warm, punchy blend of black pepper, green cardamom, mace, cloves, and cinnamon), and cayenne pepper.

Chef Floyd Cardoz whisking a marinade together for butter chicken

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

The chicken got mixed in and refrigerated for four to six hours, or overnight. Chef Cardoz insisted on using chicken thighs in this recipe: "They just have more flavor."

On the Grill

Marinated chicken thighs on the grill for chicken tikka makhani

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

Although chicken tikka is traditionally cooked in a tandoor oven, it does pretty well on the grill. You can also cook it under a broiler, as our recipe instructs.

Marinated chicken thighs grilling for chicken tikka makhani. The chicken has charred marks all over.

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

The chicken should be cooked until just done. The yogurt develops a charred, smoky crust but the interior stays plenty juicy.

Homemade chicken tikka on a plate with slices of fresh lime

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

And there you have it: chicken tikka. Add a squirt of lime juice and a salad for an easy summer grill session. But it doesn't take much work to make the buttery tomato gravy.

Making the Gravy

A pot of whole tomatoes, onions, and butter for homemade butter chicken sauce

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

Whole tomatoes (Chef Cardoz was insistent on Muir Glen roasted tomatoes for their superior flavor; "No, I don't get paid to say that"), onion, butter, chile, garlic, ginger, and cinnamon stew together in a pot. The mixture bubbles away for about half an hour at a hard simmer to concentrate the flavors.

Butter chicken wouldn't be butter chicken without a big lump of butter and a slurp of cream. It's rich, but not overkill. You can also add the cream after the sauce reduces to preserve its fresh dairy flavor.

Adding cream to a pot of homemade butter chicken sauce

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

After the gravy has reduced and everything is tender, the sauce gets puréed until velvety smooth.

Pureeing the sauce for homemade butter chicken in a blender

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

Finishing the Gravy

Adding honey, pepper, and salt to homemade butter chicken sauce

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

Black pepper, some honey, and more salt add complexity and punch to the sauce.

The secret to this dish, if there is one, is the fenugreek. It's a maple sweet, slightly bitter herb that's common in the Indian pantry. It gives the sauce a floral, deep flavor and a complex sweetness. Head to your Indian grocery and pick up some dried leaves (not the seeds; those are used for other applications). Your sauce won't be the same without it.

The fenugreek leaves are toasted in a dry pan until aromatic and darker in color.

Toasting dried fenugreek for homemade butter chicken sauce

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

They're then crushed into a powder and added to the sauce.

Chicken, Meet Sauce

When the sauce is ready, add the chicken whole or in bite-sized pieces.

Adding grilled chicken tikka to butter chicken sauce

Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

And there you have it: slightly sweet, gorgeously spiced, luxurious butter chicken, only slightly more involved than pasta with red sauce.

May 2012

Recipe Facts



Active: 60 mins
Total: 6 hrs
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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For the Chicken Tikka:

  • 4 medium cloves garlic, peeled

  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

  • 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped

  • 3 tablespoons juice from 3 limes

  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil (such as vegetable or canola)

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 3 tablespoons paprika

  • 1 tablespoon garam masala

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 2 cups yogurt

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs

For the Sauce:

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans roasted tomatoes

  • 2 cups water

  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 3 medium cloves garlic, peeled

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh minced ginger

  • 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • Kosher salt

  • 3 tablespoons honey

  • 3 tablespoons fenugreek leaves, toasted until darker in color and crushed

  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream, to taste


  1. For the Chicken Tikka: In a food processor, combine garlic, ginger, chile, lime juice, oil, salt, and spices. Process until a rough paste forms, then add yogurt and process until smooth. Transfer to a large zip top bag or leakproof container and add chicken. Marinate 4 to 6 hours, or overnight.

  2. Set broiler rack 4 inches from heat source and preheat broiler to high. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Remove chicken from zipper lock bag and wipe off excess marinade with hands. Lay out in a single layer on baking sheet and broil until color darkens and some dark blisters form, about 5 minutes. Flip chicken, rotate sheet pan, and broil until color darkens on other side, about 5 minutes. Repeat once or twice until chicken registers 170°F (77°C) on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part, and one side has significant charring on edges. Set aside to rest. Alternatively, cook chicken thighs on a barbecue or grill pan until chicken registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part.

  3. For the Sauce: In a large, heavy pot, combine tomatoes, water, onion, garlic, ginger, chile, butter, cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered at a hard simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens to about 2 1/2 quarts, about 30 minutes.

    Whole tomatoes, onion, butter, chiles, garlic, ginger, and spices simmering for butter chicken sauce

    Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

  4. Transfer 1/3 of sauce to the jar of a blender. Starting with low speed, gradually increase to high. Blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean large saucepan. Repeat with remaining two batches. Keep sauce warm over low heat and stir in fenugreek, black pepper, honey, and cream to taste. Season with salt to taste, then chop chicken tikka into bite-sized pieces and add to sauce. Serve with rice and a garnish of julienned ginger.

    Adding fenugreek to a pot of homemade butter chicken sauce

    Serious Eats / Max Falkowitz

Special Equipment

Rimmed sheet pan, food processor, blender, fine-mesh strainer

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
558 Calories
39g Fat
34g Carbs
26g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 558
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 39g 50%
Saturated Fat 18g 91%
Cholesterol 162mg 54%
Sodium 873mg 38%
Total Carbohydrate 34g 13%
Dietary Fiber 7g 26%
Total Sugars 21g
Protein 26g
Vitamin C 46mg 232%
Calcium 175mg 13%
Iron 5mg 27%
Potassium 1190mg 25%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)