Recipe: Makhani Chicken

mysterious makhani no more

Makhani anything is my daughters’ absolute favorite way to eat a protein. I learned to make it from scratch in the early years of my marriage and have never once ordered it in a restaurant since.

I remember a client once asked me to make Makhani Chicken for a special dinner. I told him that he should not waste both our times with it. I was not shy.. because the dish is insanely simple.

Makhani Chicken is immensely popular because its sauce is like a mysterious marinara and its grilled chicken - the familiar grilled chicken nuggets. No one seems to be able to replicate the flavors of the Indian sauce and that is why the mystery continues.

But, no more, I say.

I have adapted this recipe from a few books, and it has been so long ago since I first started making it, I don’t remember who said what anymore. I know chefs will add a special ingredient here or there to bump up the popularity of their creation – that is what ‘dining out’ is for.

But for your weeknights, lust no more, because this Makhani recipe is adaptable to practically any protein. I promise you, you will be making this by the barrel full. If you didn’t love it enough here is one more reason: the sauce and the meat protein can be prepared separately a few days prior and assembled the day of your feast.

Diets and Substitution notes:

  • Diet: The ‘mother-dish’ is gluten-free but not vegan. But there are plenty of ways to work around it. For lactose intolerant or vegan folks, I would suggest trying coconut milk. It contradicts the ‘makhani’ nomenclature, because ‘makhani’ means buttery, aka, using butter derived from milk. Unlike that article from WaPo a few weeks ago, I’d be cautious on calling a vegan dish ‘Makhani’ anything. Just call it what it is, anything but ‘makhani’.

  • Vegetarian protein alternates: Traditionally, one uses marinated and chicken for this dish. However, if you are so inclined, cooked red beans (rinsed), cooked whole black urad daal (rinsed), slightly roasted Crimini mushrooms, grilled or fried paneer work beautifully as well. I don’t particularly like Tofu in this dish, but if you’ve got to use Tofu, grill it before you use it in this recipe.

  • Meat-me? Grilled lamb is a gamble because lamb needs to cook for a long time in the sauce to tenderize well. But feel free to try it. Seafood and dairy is an unsuitable combination – I would not make it, but if you are adventurous, use coconut milk in place of dairy when using seafood. That will make it taste very different but if you are lactose intolerant, it may be the solution. I can’t attest to the suitability of beef, pork, veal or duck to this recipe.

Makhani Chicken

Makes: Eight servings; 290 calories ea. Diet: Vegetarian adaptable, Gluten-free, Non vegetarian Prep Time: 20 minutes, plus overnight marinating Cook Time, Ease: 45 minutes, Moderately easy


Chicken Kebabs

1 tbsp oil 2 tbsp ginger paste 2 tbsp garlic paste 2 tbsp cayenne pepper powder 1 cup unflavored Greek yogurt 1 tbsp garam masala powder 1½ tsp salt 2 lbs chicken breast meat, boneless, skinless 2 tbsp unsalted butter (for basting) 8 metal or wooden/bamboo skewers


2 tbsp ghee 3 green cardamom pods 3 cloves 3-8 black peppercorns as per spice preference 1" cinnamon, broken into smaller pieces 1 tsp cayenne pepper powder 2 lbs tomatoes, fresh or canned 1 pinch kasuri methi powder (dried fenugreek leaves) ½ tsp salt 1 tsp honey ½ cup fresh cream

Note: Although canned tomatoes work best for this recipe, fresh tomatoes will work just as well if you blanch and skin them first.


Make a marinade of oil, ginger paste, garlic paste, cayenne pepper powder, yogurt, garam masala powder and salt. Transfer it into a tight seal-able zip-top bag. Trim and cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Gently transfer the chicken pieces into the marinade, ensure that each piece is well coated, and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight for best results.

Method: Chicken Kebabs

Thread the marinated chicken pieces on a skewer and bake in a preheated 450°F oven 20-30 minutes. Threading distributes the heat, and allows the juices to drip away to gives each piece the signature kebab look. Placing the meat directly in a greased baking dish also works well. In the final few minutes, baste the chicken with butter and bake for another 2 minutes. Separate the meat from the liquid. Discard the liquid or reserve it for a chicken soup stock.

Method: Sauce & Entrée

Heat the ghee in a deep saucepan. Add green cardamom pods, cloves, pepper and cinnamon. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until the ghee is fragrant. Reduce the heat and add cayenne pepper powder and tomatoes. Stir in and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. When the mixture is not steaming, use an immersion blender to puree into a smooth paste. Watch for cinnamon pieces that may choose to fly out of the sauce. Return the sauce to the stove. Season with powdered kasuri methi powder, salt and honey, and then add the fresh cream. Stir in and set aside.

When ready to serve, combine the sauce and the baked chicken pieces (in a large saucepan if each is precooked beforehand), and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve hot with Paratha or Jeera Pulao.

If using vegetarian proteins, cook the beans completely until tender and discard the water. Combine the beans with the sauce and allow this to cook on low for 10-20 minutes, adding 1/2 cup water at a time to ensure the sauce remains thick and bubbly.

This recipe first appeared in 'A Dozen Ways to Celebrate: Twelve Decadent Indian Feasts for the Culinary Indulgent', 2014. The book contains this recipe, along with many recipes for other popular restaurant favorites.


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Nandita Godbole

Once a botanist & landscape architect.

Now a personal chef & author, an artist, graphic designer, blogger & poet. 


Loves freshly brewed chai, the crisp salty ocean breeze, watching monsoon rains & walking barefoot through cold mountain streams. 


Believes in the strength, positivity of the human spirit. Is spiritual but not a fanatic. 


Mom of one. Two, if she counts her husband.