Archive for March, 2011

Butter Chicken (River Cottage Murgh Makhani)

Indian Spices

This is the best chicken curry I’ve ever tasted and I’ve cooked it quite a few times now.  It’s the curry you make when you want to impress people who won’t eat lamb. Murgh Makhani is the authentic version of the more familiar “chicken tikka masala”. By all accounts, the dish was created at the “Moti Mahal” restaurant in New Delhi as a way to use up the marinade left over in the trays used to prepare chicken tikka. I can’t promise that this recipe is as good as you’d get in the Moti Mahal, but it’s definitely worth trying.

The recipe is adapted slightly from the River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I’ve changed how the chicken tikka is prepared and altered the spicing a little. The result is creamy, rich and spicy. Some plain basmati rice is the only accompaniment you’ll need for this.

Main Ingredients

  • 6 large, free-range chicken breasts
  • 125g butter
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek leaves
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

Tikka Marinade Ingredients

  • 1 tsp salt
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 tsp of the following: chilli powder, sweet paprika
  • 2 tbsp plain yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp of the following: ground coriander, ground fenugreek
  • 2 tsp mixed spice (or 1 tsp each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger)
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp groundnut/sunflower oil

Tomato Gravy Ingredients

  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 175ml water


  1. The first step is to marinade the chicken. Mix the salt, chilli powder and paprika with the lemon juice in a large bowl and add the chicken breasts. cover and leave to marinade for 30 minutes. (If using “bone-in” chicken, make some slashes before adding to the marinade.)
  2. Mix the remaining marinade ingredients and coat the chicken breasts. Cover tightly with cling film and leave overnight.
  3. Put all of the ingredients for the tomato sauce in a saucepan and bring up to a gentle simmer. Leave to simmer for 20 minutes before straining to remove the whole spices. Cover and set aside.
  4. Transfer the chicken pieces, along with it’s marinade, to a roasting tray. Cover the tray with foil and roast in the oven at 220°C for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 200°C and leave for a further 20 minutes.
  5. Now it’s time to complete the dish by making the makhani sauce. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the ground cumin. Sizzle gently for a minute before adding the tomato sauce and simmering for 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients. simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cooked chicken along with it’s sauce/marinade. Simmer until the chicken is warmed through and.

Serves 6.


  • Difference between this version and that contained in the River Cottage Meat Book – Hugh does his marinade in one single step. I prefer to do a two-step (with chilli and lime juice first) because it’s always worked for me and makes the chicken really succulent, even chicken breast fillets. I also use fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) instead of ground fenugreek as it looks good in the finished dish. Hugh also strains his tomato sauce to give a smoother result but I like a bit more texture in the sauce.

Sambhar Powder

Indian Spices

This is what you need to make the spice mix for sambhar, a South Indian lentil soup. It is supposed to be quite fiery, but reduce the number of chillies if you wish. The ground lentils in the powder will help to thicken the soup slightly.


  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 12 dried red chillies, de-seeded
  • 12 dried curry leaves
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp asafeotida
  • 3 tsp sunflower oil
  • 3 tsp split black lentils (urad dal)
  • 3 tsp split yellow lentils (toor dal)


  1. Heat a dry frying pan and dry-roast the black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, chillies, peppercorns, coriander seeds and lentils over a gentle heat until lightly toasted. Keep the seeds and lentils moving constantly so that they do nor burn!
  2. Transfer the seeds to a spice grind or mortar and pestle and grind to a fine powder. Add the turmeric, asafeotida and sunflower oil and mix well to combine. This keeps well in a sealed jar for four weeks.

Sambhar Lentil Soup


Occasionally, when I have leftover tadka dal I will convert it into a tasty soup using some vegetable stock and a handful or two of chopped vegetables. This is a cheat’s version of sambhar and as delicious as it is, it doesn’t compare to the real deal. This is my version.

Sambhar is prepared every day in South Indian homes and is eaten at all times of the day. Sambhar makes a tasty and filling lunch but can also be served as a more substantial main meal if served with some rice and homemade onion bhajis. I’d imagine it would make a great hangover “cure”, though of course I have no first-hand experience of this…

You can use any combination of vegetables you like – I used green beans, celery, courgette etc. because they’re easily available here in Ireland. You could also use aubergines, cauliflower, peas, broad beans or broccoli. You can use more authentic vegetables like okra and drumstick if you have an available supply. (Having tasted drumstick in restaurants, I am happy to leave out this most strange of vegetables!)


  • 225g toor dal
  • 750ml water
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • thumb-sized piece of root ginger
  • a selection of mixed vegetables, chopped into small pieces (I used 1 red onion, 2 green chillies, 3 tomatoes, 2 carrots, 200g green beans, 1 stick of celery, 1 small courgette and a few pre-cooked baby potatoes)
  • 1 tbsp sunflower/groundnut oil
  • pinch of asafoetida (optional)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 15 curry leaves (fresh, if possible)
  • 1 tsp red chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp sambhar powder (see below)
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp tamarind puree (or lemon juice)


  1. First make the dal. Rinse the lentils and check for little stones. Rinse well using a sieve, then place in a large saucepan along with the water, turmeric and salt. Slice the root ginger into fine matchsticks.
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. Stir occasionally and skim off any scum that rises to the top of the cooking water. Reduce the heat and add the sliced root ginger. Simmer for 25-30 minutes. Stir occasionally as the lentils will stick to the bottom of the pan as the liquid starts to evaporate. While the dal is cooking you can prepare the vegetables and spices.
  3. When the dal is cooked, heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the asafoetida, cumin and mustard seeds. Stir-fry until the seeds have started to pop, then add the curry leaves and chilli flakes. Fry for another few seconds before adding the vegetables.
  4. Stir-fry the raw vegetables for a few minutes then add the sambhar masala, stock and tamarind. Now add the cooked dal and stir to combine. Season with a little extra salt and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
  5. Taste for seasoning, then mix through a handful of chopped fresh coriander and serve.

Serves 6.


  • I use a commercial sambhar powder, available in any good Asian store. But you can make you own if you wish.
  • This is great recipe for using up any vegetables a little past their prime. You can also add leftover cooked vegetables. This is one of the first things I think of cooking when I have some leftover baby potatoes. Just add the cooked vegetables at the end to warm through.
  • You can add a little cooked basmati rice to make it more substantial or my favourite: a tin of cooked (and rinsed) chickpeas.
  • Needless to say, make sure you chop your vegetables according to cooking time. Carrots will take longer to cook than green beans, for example, so chop them smaller.

A note for PR companies…

Roasted Anjou pigeon, 70% chocolate ganache, blueberries, red wine and celeriac

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