With less than 30 minutes of hands-on time, this delicious Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken is elegant enough for a dinner party; and easy enough for weeknight dinners!
Need a delicious and impressive dinner party entree recipe that pretty much makes itself? How about an everyday-easy, sure-to-please weeknight dinner recipe that family/friends will look forward to all day? This Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken checks all the boxes. Oh, and with the wonderful aromas that will be wafting from your kitchen, you won’t have to call anyone twice for dinner!
What is Butter Chicken?
It sounds like it might be chicken cooked or baked in butter, right? Nope, not even close.
If you’re not familiar with Indian cuisine, you might not be aware of this delicious dish that originated back in the 50’s at a famous restaurant in Delhi, India. The New York Times describes it as “the General Tso’s of Indian food, a great, ever-evolving, cross-continental dish found in Delhi, London, New York, Perth and most points in between.” Butter chicken is also known as Chicken Makhani and is basically just chicken cooked until tender in a velvety, mildly spicy sauce made with butter, onions, garlic, ginger, garam masala and tomatoes.
There are lots of recipes out there for Butter Chicken, each one just a little different. I looked at several of them and, in the end, came up with my own version. My rendition is made in the slow cooker and includes coconut milk.
I use a slow cooker technique for this Slow Cooker Indian Chicken that I discovered a while back when I was creating my Black Bean and Chicken Sausage Tortilla Soup. My one complaint about slow cooker entrees is that many of them lack deep, rich flavor. Most stovetop recipes for soups, stews, chilies, curries, etc. call for the aromatics to be sauteed in a bit of oil, butter, bacon fat, etc. before the other ingredient are added. Aromatics include onions, garlic, shallots, ginger and some spices. The reason this is done is to allow the aromatics to “bloom” and meld, bringing out their delicious, unique flavors.
This “blooming” of aromatics is lost with most slow cooker recipes because everything is just thrown into the pot and “cooked on low for 4-6 hours or high for 3-5 hours”. Hence the lack of flavor and depth in many slow cooker recipes.
However, the same effect can be achieved in slow cooker recipes if the aromatics are blended together and cooked in a bit of oil or other fat before being added to other ingredients. I find the easiest way to do this is in the microwave. For this recipe, I simply combine butter, chopped onion, garlic, ginger and spices in a microwave-safe bowl and allow them to cook for a few minutes on high power. Then I add the aromatics to the other ingredients and allow the mixture to simmer away until fragrant and delicious.
Chicken breasts vs chicken thighs
I really wanted this Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken recipe to work with chicken breasts. Breasts are super easy to work, are lean and have minimal waste. I actually tried the recipe twice with breasts. Although the flavor of the sauce was great the first time around, I wasn’t happy with the texture of the chicken. It was dry and not as tender as I’d hoped for. The second time tried a marinade of yogurt and spices in hopes of keeping the chicken tender, but the results were similar.
A huge difference!
On the third round, I used chicken thighs. Oh my goodness! The results were delicious and the meat was moist and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Because breasts are so lean, you have to be careful with the amount of time they’re cooked. Not true with thighs, which don’t dry out, even after a lengthy tour of duty in the slow cooker.
It’s true that thighs are a bit more work. Unlike chicken breasts that you simply cut into bite-size pieces, thighs have to be trimmed as there’s more fat attached. They also aren’t perfectly-shaped, uniform pieces like the breasts are. But take my word, the extra 10 minutes it takes to trim the thighs is so… worth it! The flavor is mild and similar to breasts, but in tenderness, there’s no comparison.
I love to sneak extra veggies into my meals anywhere I can. It not only boosts the nutritional value but adds lots of great flavor. There’s a half pound of diced carrots in this Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken in addition to this recipe’s traditional onions and garlic. With the long slow cooking, the carrots seem to “melt” into the delicious sauce and you almost don’t even realize they’re there.
Looking for a company-worthy, easy and super delicious dinner? Take 30 minutes and put together a pot of this Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken early in the day. All you’ll have to do before guests arrive is to make rice – then just enjoy the party!
Café Tips for making this Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken
- Don’t skip cooking the aromatics separately (step ). If you don’t have a microwave, just saute the aromatics on the stovetop before adding them to the slow cooker.
- Some slow cookers actually have a sauté and/or sear function built right in. I love my KitchenAid Multi-Cooker. It’s a little dream machine that goes from “keep warm” all the way up to “sear”. The settings include risotto, rice, sear, sauté, simmer, soup, yogurt, boil/steam, slow cook high and low, keep warm, making it super versatile. It’s also a beautiful machine that looks as at home on a fancy buffet as it does on your countertop. Know someone who loves to cook but leads a busy life? This KitchenAid Multi Cooker would be a wonderful gift!
- Every slow cooker cooks at a little different temperature, even if the setting says “low”. Your dish may be finished at 4 1/2 hours or it may be closer to 6. The carrots will tell you when this Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken is done. They should be super tender and almost “melt” into the sauce. And that’s why you want to use chicken thighs instead of breasts in this dish. If the dish needs to cook a little longer to get the carrots just right, the chicken won’t dry out!
- Garam masala is a spice you’ll find at most larger groceries, at Indian and Mediterranean specialty stores and online. It’s a blend of ground spices used extensively in Indian cuisine and varies from region to region.
- Garam masala is a delicious blend of warm spices, but it can also have a bit of heat. Different brands will vary regarding the amount of heat. Therefore, I like to start conservatively (with 1 teaspoon) and add more, to taste. Taste a little of the sauce near the end of cooking time and add more garam masala if you want it spicier.
- There are lots of ways you can finish off this Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken. Traditionally it’s just sprinkled with a scatter of fresh cilantro. I like to add chopped cilantro and cashews along with a pretty fan of sliced avocado.
- Serve this Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken with either jasmine or basmati rice. It’s also delicious with naan or Indian flatbread.
- This recipe calls for 1 can of coconut milk and either light or regular coconut milk can be used. I tested the recipe with the light variety which saves a significant amount of calories. If you’re not concerned with calories (lucky dog!), by all means, feel free to use the full-fat variety.
- 3 1/2 pounds of chicken might sound like a lot, but with thighs you do have to consider trimming off the extra fat, which will leave you with right around 3 pounds of trimmed meat.
With less than 30 minutes of hands-on time, this delicious Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken is elegant enough for a dinner party and easy enough for weeknight dinners!
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large sweet onion finely chopped
- 8 ounces carrots finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic finely minced
- 1 ½ tablespoons red curry paste
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 ½-2 teaspoons garam masala
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 1/2 pounds chicken thighs boneless, skinless
- 1 14- ounce can light coconut milk
- ½ cup low sodium chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- basmati rice
- 2 medium avocados cored, peeled and sliced, lengthwise
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves finely chopped
- ½ cup cashew halves and pieces coarsely chopped
- lime wedges for garnish
Combine butter, onion, carrots, garlic, curry paste, ginger, garam masala, brown sugar, cumin, tomato paste and salt in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Cover with a paper towel and microwave on high power for 3 minutes. Stir well and cook for another 3 minutes, again covered with a paper towel.
While the onion mixture is cooking, trim as much of the fat off of the chicken thighs as possible and cut into slightly larger than bite size pieces (chicken will shrink as it cooks).
Combine onion mixture, coconut milk and broth in a slow cooker with temperature set to low.
Add chicken thighs and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 4/1/2 to 6 hours or until carrots are super tender.
Increase slow cooker temperature to high. Combine water and cornstarch and stir well until smooth. Add corn starch mixture to slow cooker and cook for another 10-15 minutes on high or until sauce thickens a bit.
Taste and add more salt and/or garam masala, if desired.
Combine chopped cilantro and chopped cashews. Garnish with cilantro/cashew mixture and sliced avocados. Serve with basmati or jasmine rice and/or warm naan or flatbread.