A bowl of butter chicken and rice.

Before I begin, I would like to note this is not an authentic recipe for butter chicken, a classic creamy Indian curry. I adapted this recipe from Urvashi Pitre’s recipe on Food52 and you can find many more authentic Indian recipes on Urvashi’s blog, Two Sleevers.

Let’s start from the top: My friend Michelle has been telling me about this Instant Pot butter chicken recipe for years. For reasons I will get to, I only just got around to making it last month and instantly understood her enthusiasm. The meal takes no time to throw together, and it is very, very tasty. Five-sixths of my family inhaled it.

Why is it so tasty? Well, there are spices and aromatics, tomatoes, flavorful chicken thighs (you could use breasts, of course), and, ahem, a stick of butter and a quarter cup of heavy cream. This — the quantity of butter and cream — is what deterred me all these years.

But upon making the recipe for the first time, I realized the sauce yields enough for double the amount of chicken. Urvashi calls the recipe “Now & Later” Butter Chicken because the recipe makes too much sauce, half of which she instructs you to save for your next meal.

When I did the math, the amount of butter and cream didn’t seem so bad. For eight chicken thighs or about 3.25 lbs. of meat, which yields ten servings, that’s less than a tablespoon of butter and less than a half tablespoon of cream per serving — that’s nothing! Phew. And besides, as Julia Child says: “Fat gives things flavor.”

Can I tell you what else astounds me about the recipe? Nearly all of the ingredients enter the pot and cook at the same time. You don’t need to sauté the garlic and the ginger first. You don’t need to toast the spices. You don’t need to marinate the chicken. You don’t need to methodically add the ingredients one after another. You simply place everything (with the exception of the butter and cream) into the Instant Pot at once; then set it.

Once the chicken is cooked, you remove it and chop it up; then you add the butter, heavy cream, and finally the chopped-up chicken. Start to finish the meal takes about 40 minutes to make — 20 minutes for the pot to come to pressure, 10 minutes of cooking time, 10 minutes of cooling — but the active time is very minimal. This meal has been a welcomed addition to the weeknight rotation. I hope it proves the same for you.

A Few Notes:

  • In place of all of the spices, I use 2 tablespoons of Madras curry powder. If you wish to use the spices called for in the original recipe, go for it, but I find this substitution works really well and simplies the process.
  • If you don’t have an Instant Pot, don’t despair! This method works equally well on the stovetop.
  • For a vegetarian version, simply swap in 4.5 cups of cooked chickpeas (or three drained 15-oz cans) and add 1/2 cup of water.
  • To make this more of a meal, I wilt in spinach at the end. My children prefer it without the spinach, so I don’t always do this, but I like the addition.
  • If cooking 8 chicken thighs feels like too much, know that you can freeze the finished dish or you can simply halve the recipe.
  • When I have time, I’ll make homemade naan, but often I buy those mini packs of Stonefire naan, the ones that say “perfect for the toaster.” My children love them.

How to Make Instant Butter Chicken, Step by Step

Gather your ingredients. Incidentally: these Colavita crushed tomatoes are a recent discovery for me, and I really really like them — they’re the perfect combination of puréed + chopped tomatoes for my liking. The box is 13.76 ounces but I use it anytime a recipe calls for a 15-oz can of tomatoes.

Ingredients to make butter chicken.

You’ll need about a tablespoon each of minced garlic and ginger. I’ve been doing this in the food processor. I find the food processor can get a finer mince on ginger than I can with my knife, and I hate mincing ginger, so it feels worth dirtying a machine. Also, I find if I remove the garlic and ginger immediately and give the food processor a quick rinse right away, dirtying the machine doesn’t feel like such a big deal.

A board topped with garlic and ginger.
A bowl of minced garlic and ginger.

Add the crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons curry powder, minced garlic and ginger, and 2 teaspoons kosher salt to the Instant Pot.

An Instant Pot filled with the sauce ingredients to make butter chicken.

Stir to combine.

An Instant Pot filled with tomatoes, ginger, garlic, salt, and curry powder.

Then add the chicken (or chickpeas, see below) and stir to combine. This is 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 3.25 lbs.

An Instant Pot filled with the ingredients to make butter chicken.

Cover the Instant Pot, set the valve to sealing, and cook on high pressure for 10 minutes.

An Instant Pot set to 10 minutes high pressure.

Let the valve release naturally for 10 minutes; then uncover and remove the chicken.

An Instant Pot filled with just-cooked butter chicken.

Add a stick of butter and 1/4 cup heavy cream to the pot.

A stick of butter added to an Instant Pot filled with butter chicken sauce.

While the butter melts, chop up the chicken.

Cooked butter chicken on a board.

Add it to the pot. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust as needed with more salt if necessary. You can stop right here or…

An Instant Pot filled with butter chicken.

… add a heap of spinach. You can cover the pot to speed along the wilting process.

An Instant Pot filled with butter chicken and a heap of spinach.
An Instant Pot filled with butter chicken and wilted spinach.

I’ve been serving this with basmati rice …

A bowl of butter chicken with spinach and rice.

… and sometimes naan, too.

A bowl of butter chicken with spinach, rice and naan.

This recipe will yield 2 quarts, which you can refrigerate or freeze for a later date.

Quart containers filled with butter chicken.

How to Make Stovetop Butter Chicken, Step by Step

The stovetop version comes together in the same manner. Start by stirring together the sauce ingredients: crushed tomatoes, minced garlic and ginger, curry powder, and salt.

A large braising pan filled with tomatoes, curry powder, ginger, garlic, and salt.

Add the chicken and stir to coat. This is 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 3.25 lbs. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once the mixture is simmering, lower the heat to medium-low. Cook covered for 40 minutes.

A braiser filled with the ingredients to make butter chicken on the stovetop.

Uncover. Remove the chicken.

A large braiser filled with cooked butter chicken.

Then add a stick of butter and 1/4 cup heavy cream to the pot.

A braiser filled with the sauce for butter chicken plus a stick of butter and 1/4 cup heavy cream.

Add the chopped chicken back to the pan.

A braiser on the stovetop filled with butter chicken.

Stir to combine. You can add spinach here if you like.

A large braiser filled with cooked butter chicken.

Serve with rice and/or naan.

A bowl of butter chicken and rice.

How to Make Butter Chickpeas, Instant Pot or Stovetop

To make butter chickpeas, simply swap in 4.5 cups cooked chickpeas — this slow cooker recipe has been my method of choice recently but I love this stovetop method as well — or 3 drained 15-oz cans. Follow either of the methods outlined in the recipe box adding 1/2 cup water. Urvashi notes you can use coconut oil and milk in place of the butter and cream if you’re looking to make the recipe dairy-free.

A bowl of Instant Pot butter chickpeas.
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A bowl of butter chicken with spinach and rice.

Instant Pot (or not) Butter Chicken (or Chickpeas)


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Description

I adapted this recipe from Urvashi Pitre’s recipe on Food52 and you can find many more authentic Indian recipes on Urvashi’s blog, Two Sleevers.

Notes: 

  • I love these Colavita crushed tomatoes.
  • I purée the garlic and ginger together in the food processor to get a very fine mince. 
  • If you wish to use boneless skinless breasts, go for it. I haven’t experimented, so I can’t advise on the exact timing, but I would imagine you should shorten the cooking time to ensure the breasts don’t dry out. 
  • To swap in chickpeas, use 4.5 cups cooked chickpeas or 3 drained 15-oz cans, rinsed. Add 1/2 cup water to the pot. 
  • I have not tried, but Urvashi says you can swap in coconut oil and milk for the butter and cream if you wish to make this dairy-free. 
  • This is the Instant Pot I am using here. And this is the braiser I am using stovetop. 

 


Ingredients

  • 14 to 15 oz. crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal brand) 
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, see notes above
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons | 4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup heavy cream 
  • 4 to 8 ounces baby spinach, optional, or chopped fresh cilantro
  • steamed basmati rice or naan, for serving

Instructions

For the Instant Pot Method:

  1. Place the tomatoes, curry powder, garlic, ginger, and salt in the Instant Pot. Stir to combine. Add the chicken and stir to coat.
  2. Cover the pot. Turn the valve to sealing. Set the pot: manual, high pressure, 10 minutes. Once the time is up, let the valve release for 10 minutes. 
  3. Uncover the pot and remove the chicken. Add the butter and heavy cream to the pot. Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces. Once the butter has melted, return the chicken to the pot and stir to combine. Taste. Add salt to taste if necessary. 
  4. If you are adding the spinach, add it to the pot. You can cover the pot for a few minutes to speed up the wilting process — it will take a few minutes for the leaves to wilt down. You can add the spinach in batches, too, if that’s easier for you. 

For the Stovetop Method: 

  1. Place the tomatoes, curry powder, garlic, ginger, and salt in a large, wide pot or braiser. Stir to combine. Add the chicken and stir to coat.
  2. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer over high heat. Once the mixture is simmering — open the lid to see — lower the heat to medium-low and cook covered for 40 minutes. 
  3. Uncover the pot and remove the chicken. Add the butter and heavy cream to the pot. Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces. Once the butter has melted, return the chicken to the pot and stir to combine. Taste. Add salt to taste if necessary. 
  4. If you are adding the spinach, add it to the pot. You can cover the pot for a few minutes to speed up the wilting process — it will take a few minutes for the leaves to wilt down. You can add the spinach in batches, too, if that’s easier for you. 

To Make Butter Chickpeas

  1. Use 4.5 cups cooked chickpeas or 3 drained 15-oz cans, rinsed. Add 1/2 cup water to the pot. 
  2. Follow either cooking method above. To finish, simply add the butter and cream right to the pot — no need to remove the chickpeas first. 
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Instant Pot, Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Indian, American

Keywords: Instant Pot, Butter, Chicken, Easy, Stovetop