How we make a healthy butter chicken
A bit of history
Butter chicken is a well-loved dish by many people of all cultures. This dish originated in the 1950s in Delhi, the capital territory of India. Like many other recipes, it was created by chance. Kundan Lal Gujral, known as the original creator of the dish, mixed leftovers from tandoori chicken into a tomato gravy with some butter. The outcome was a stunning dish that has since been enjoyed all around the world!
Few words from Chef Nigel
Ahhh Butter Chicken… I first came across this dish while working late one night, as is the custom in a professional kitchen, my Sous Chef asked if I would like to escape and try out a local restaurant nearby for some food. It was a place that he often took his family to, so I was intrigued, as well as honoured that he would ask me to go with him.
So off we trudged, an adventure of discovery awaited. A few moments later we pulled into a jam packed parking lot and a neon glazed, glass and metal building stood before my eyes. You have to understand the awe, as my mouth fell agape! It was just after midnight, on a weekday, not the weekend yet, and here was an establishment stuck in the middle of nowhere, filled to capacity with people of all ages, eating. I couldn’t wait to go inside.
Upon entering we were greeted with the essence of varies spices, charred meats, vegetables and curries, not in any way unpleasant, but inviting almost as if temptation itself grew wings. My Sous Chef, Shan (he has a name lol) and I were ushered to a nearby table in view of the kitchen. I liked it that way because I like to see movement wherever I dine. Shan took the liberty to order and I trusted his judgment with no regret. Plain rice, warm naan, chana dal, eggplant curry and butter chicken came to the table. Not on separate plates for two people as is the practice of most restaurants, but on one platter. It was a night of firsts as that was the first time I “shared” my plate with someone. We became brothers after this, it was like a right of passage.
Of all the items presented it was the butter chicken that stole my soul. Shan explained that chicken thighs are used because they are tastier and not as ‘dry’ as chicken breasts. He said that yogurt helps tenderize the meat as it marinates, and that care is taken to develop the flavours of each spice to be harmonious when eaten. The marinated chicken is seared in a skillet, and oven-baked to finish. The sauce is made separately, and then the baked chicken is added to it. Before serving, the dish is finished with a bit of honey for sweetness, methi or dried fenugreek leaves, butter and a spoonful of heavy cream.
My mind was blown! I needed to learn how to make this. Years later I got the chance, when a Dishwasher at one of the many places I honed my craft shared her family’s recipe with me. It is this recipe that helped shape the one we serve at Athletes Kitchen.
How we make this dish a healthy choice
At Athletes Kitchen, we love traditional recipes and we truly enjoy cooking them in a healthy way. At times it is challenging to capture the same flavours when you are not able to use all the original ingredients in a recipe, but I can say with confidence that we are the masters of this process and continue to make improvements along the way!
The original recipe for butter chicken consists of chicken, curry, lemon juice, red chili, salt, pepper, garam masala, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, butter, cardamom, cumin, clove, coriander, and fenugreek. Milk or cashew cream is often used to thicken the sauce. As you can see, most of these ingredients are healthy as is.
Here at AK, we try to keep the fat content on the lower side, in addition to being gluten and lactose-free. We substitute the butter with ghee and coconut milk instead, keeping it nut free as well! We have mastered the recipe to provide you with the same flavors you are used to having in a traditional Indian restaurant.
Here are the 3 different variations of Athlete’s Kitchen’s Coconut Butter Chicken:
Athlete: Basmati Rice and Sautéed Spinach
Nu-Paleo: Yucca Mash and Blanched Broccolini
Shredding: Roasted Okra and Roasted Cauliflower
Did you know that we have 2 portions sizes? Yes, each of the variations can be purchased large or small, and they offer different macros, making it super simple when you are trying to achieve your specific needs.
Butter chicken pairs really well with naan bread or some basmati rice. Since we are gluten-free, we decided to use basmati rice as the main source of carbs for the Athlete side, accompanied with sautéed spinach. Did you know that white rice is an excellent source of carbs after a workout or any activity? White rice is easy to digest and quickly converts into energy in our body. It’s a great way to replenish your glycogen stores and assist with protein synthesis. Spinach is our choice for greens; we could not pick a better leafy green than spinach for this dish! It is full of antioxidants which decrease oxidative stress, improve eye health, and prevent heart disease and cancer. The vitamin E and magnesium found in spinach actually increase nutrient value once it has been cooked, which is another reason why we cook all our vegetables at Athletes Kitchen.
For our Nu-Paleo program, we wanted to offer a grain-free alternative. The search was for a carbohydrate that is low to mid GI (glycemic index) level, so it does not spike your blood sugar too high. We decided to use yucca root, a starchy plant that offers large amounts of vitamin C and antioxidants, both of which benefit the immune system and our overall health. Did you know that indigenous people used yucca for relief of arthritis symptoms given its anti-inflammatory properties? Yucca also provides skin benefits such as improvement with dandruff, balding, sores and cuts, sprains and skin infections. We blanch our yucca and create a smooth mash with the help of our good friend coconut milk! For the greens, we use the almighty powerhouse green aka broccolini! It is a great source of vitamin K and calcium, two vital nutrients for maintaining strong and healthy bones. Broccolini also contains phosphorus, zinc and vitamins A and C, which are necessary for healthy bones as well.
Lastly for our Shredding program, we keep the carbs at a very low level, but packed with fiber. Some enjoy it as the last meal of the night, and some use this plan of ours to form a ketogenic meal plan. A quick tip if you do decide to try a keto plan is to add more fats to the dish, but we leave that totally up to you as everyone has varying fat requirements. We simply cover the baseline and leave the rest to you! The shredding program sides consist of okra and cauliflower. These vegetables are on the lower side of the GI, making it a perfect choice for shredding! Okra is a traditional Middle Eastern vegetable that comes packed with vitamin C and vitamin K. Cauliflower will provide you with minerals like calcium and magnesium that help with daily body functions.
We believe in the lifestyle-changing effects of our program; with the right balance of nutrients and portion control we can stand by our product to help you achieve the best in health!
If you have any questions, please feel free to drop us a line. We love to know what you’d like us to talk about next time!
Here is a simple recipe, but one that will become a treasure.
85 ml mustard oil
1 medium cooking onion, sliced
1/2 tablespoon red chili flakes (use less if you don’t like heat)
1 pc fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves fresh garlic, miced
2 teaspoons dry fenugreek leaves
500 ml crushed tomatoes
500 ml 35% cream (or coconut milk if lactose intolerant)
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander seed
2 teaspoons paprika
salt and pepper to taste
Sweat off onion, chili flakes, ginger and garlic together. Add the spices and continue to cook on low heat for a few minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and allow to slowly reduce volume until desired thickness is met, approximately 10 – 20 minutes.
1 lb chicken thighs
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon paprika
2 cups plain yogurt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 ounces oil
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
1 teaspoon coriander
5 cardamom pods, crushed
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon kashmiri chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (or less if desired)
After letting the chicken marinate in this mixture overnight or for a minimum of four hours, sear in a hot skillet.
Place into an oven, and bake until done. an internal meat temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit should be met.
Mix cooked chicken with sauce.