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Butter chicken (without butter)

Posted in Food & Entertaining

In Italy, we have autogrills. In the United States, when traveling on a long stretch of highway, we are forced to exit and look for trucker stops or fast food joints if hunger (or pee) strikes. In South Africa they have farm stalls.

It is at such a farm stall that Sue, Mark and I stopped on our way from Cape Town to McGregor. Dogs needed to pee, humans needed to eat. Farm stalls, built at the edge of farms, sell everything from overstock produce, more or less tasteful gift items, local products such as honey and rusks, and basic fare, mostly in the form of beef or chicken pies, sausages and the like. In the one we chanced upon we spotted a crock pot behind the counter and the lady manning the business recommended her butter chicken. On a chilly Winter day it sounded perfect. She gave us portions that kept us fed for two days straight and, sitting in the car, balancing the containers on our knees, we couldn’t have been happier: it tasted ridiculously delicious, the meat shredded in the rich curry sauce.

I have made butter chicken before but never in a crock pot, one of those kitchen utensils I forget I even own.

Butter chicken was invented in the 1950s in a Delhi restaurant as a way to use up leftover meat. Traditionally, the chicken is marinated in cream, yogurt and spices, then cooked in a tandoor oven and added to a tomato curry sauce that includes a lot of butter.

This cheat version I found in the New York Times is not my original recipe but, as I wanted to use the slow cooker, and I was looking for a lighter version that wouldn’t include butter or cream, I gave this a try and I must admit that the taste is very, very close to the butter chicken I enjoyed on the side of the road in S. Africa. And if you want to add a large knob of butter, it will certainly not hurt.

RECIPE – serves 4

3 T vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 T grated ginger
1 T garam masala
1 can tomato paste (6 oz or 170 g)
1 ts salt
3 # skinless and boneless chicken, cut into cubes (1.5 kg)
1 T lemon juice
1 ts lemon zest
1 C coconut milk (light is fine)
1/2 C chicken stock

  • Saute the onion until softened, then add ginger, garam masala, tomato paste, garlic and salt. Cook for a couple of minutes.
  • Put the chicken in the crock pot, add the tomato and onion mixture, the coconut milk and chicken stock. Set the cooker on low and let cook for about 5 hours, until the meat is really tender and the sauce has thickened.
  • Serve with rice and/or naan bread.

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  1. Ho una crock pot, proverò. Mi ispira molto

    August 7, 2017
    • Io mi dimentico di averla. Poi leggo una qualche ricetta che la utilizza e mi torna in mente

      August 8, 2017
  2. Thanks for this! My son and I are both allergic to dairy/lactose-intolerant so this is a great treat for us.

    July 31, 2017
    • Glad I could be of help. In hindsight, I would probably spice the dish up with some red pepper kick.

      August 2, 2017
  3. I don’t have a crock-pot or slow cooker. Do you think this would be ok cooked in a Le Creuset casserole in the oven, low heat for a longish time?

    July 22, 2017
    • Before trying the crockpot I always made butter chicken in a regular pot on the stove. I have never tried it in the oven but, on a low temp, I can’t see why it wouldn’t work. My original recipe includes butter, a few more spices and some heat in the form of red pepper or cayenne but this is a good start for someone who doesn’t cook much. Because you do, you might want to check out some more involved recipes.

      July 25, 2017
  4. If I was feeling adventurous I would definitely try this…but there’s a heat warning, and so many books to read, and strolling in the shade and perusing ankle boot options for Fall and a sketchbook and pencils next to me and… 🙂
    I’ve become passable in the kitchen which just might be the best I can hope for. But a mouth watering read all the same. You could come cook it for me..? 😉

    July 20, 2017
    • I don’t want to say it too loud but we are enjoying a fairly cool Summer after an initial heatwave…..and I will come cookit for you any time (and I will be in NY in October….)

      July 20, 2017

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