Amandeep Sharma was 18 years old when he left India and moved to Australia. Despite having no cooking experience, he promptly landed a job as kitchen hand at Melbourne’s Attica, the best restaurant in the country. He stayed on for six years, including almost four working as a chef de partie.
“Every year we used to have so many chefs coming from all over the world to learn about the food,” Sharma says. “One day I was thinking, ‘I’m a kitchen hand, why can’t I be a chef?’ I talked to Ben [Shewry, Attica’s owner and chef] and Ben said, ‘If you want to be a chef, you need to start making the staff meal.’”
Sharma is vegetarian, but decided to cook murgh makhani (butter chicken). The rich, mild curry was invented some time after 1947 at Moti Mahal, a famous Punjabi/Peshawari restaurant in Delhi favoured by the likes of Richard Nixon, John F Kennedy, Indira Gandhi and Nikita Khrushchev.
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Moti Mahal, which now has more than 100 locations around India, is widely credited with bringing subcontinental cuisine to the world – tandoor-cooked meats in particular. It’s from there that this recipe springs, though Sharma has made some adjustments, such as adding sugar to enhance the savouriness of the tomatoes.
During Sharma’s tenure at Attica, this dish was one of the most popular staff meals. After cooking it for ourselves, we can see why. The yoghurt’s gentle lactic tang and the lemon juice’s sharper acidity are the perfect foils to the richness of the cream and tomatoes. This lovely balance makes the dish lighter than you might expect.
If you prefer the convenience of boneless chicken thighs you can use those, but we wholeheartedly recommend keeping the bones for extra flavour. Just don’t be tempted to use chicken breasts.
Amandeep Sharma’s Butter Chicken
Preparation time: 20 minutes (plus an overnight marination)
Cooking time: 1½ hours
1½ cups of full-fat Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
1½ tbsp ground turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp ground cumin
1.5kg chicken thighs, skin off, bone in
100g unsalted butter
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp fresh ginger, finely diced
½ bunch coriander stems, washed and finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 long red chillies, seeded and chopped
1½ tsp tomato paste
1 tbsp sugar
⅔ cup chicken stock
1½ cups cream
3 tbsp ground almonds (almond meal)
½ bunch coriander leaves, for garnishing
Salt to taste
For marinade, whisk together the yoghurt, lemon juice, turmeric, garam masala, cumin and some salt in a large bowl. Add the chicken and mix thoroughly until the chicken is covered all over. Wrap the chicken in clingfilm (or transfer to a snug, airtight container) and leave in the fridge overnight.
The next day place a large pot over medium heat and melt the butter in the oil. Add the cumin seeds and cinnamon stick and cook until slightly coloured. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and coriander stems and cook until browned. Add tomatoes, chillies and salt to taste and cook for 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and sugar and cook for 3–4 minutes.
Add the chicken and marinade to the pot and cook for 5–7 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the cream and simmer for 10–15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Add the almonds and cook for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat, garnish with coriander leaves and serve with basmati rice and pappadums.