This Butter Chicken Meatballs recipe is an amazing way to introduce Indian food at home. The sauce is so creamy and has such a depth of flavour without being too strong! It’s also healthy – the spices in it have so many benefits. The swap of chicken bites with meatballs is a twist on the classic that everybody will love! Serve them with rice and naan bread and voila, a perfect lunch or dinner in 30 minutes. Definitely better than any takeout butter chicken!
I made this recipe for the first time when I lived in England, adapted from Halfbaked Harvest, one of my homecook idols. In the UK, as there is so much immigration from India, one of the advantages is that they have beyond incredible Indian restaurants and thanks to this I got to know and love this cuisine (before going to Oxford I had only tried rice curry at a friend’s house).
One of my favourite dishes was butter chicken, and when I saw Thiegan’s recipe with meatballs I was like: “this is the perfect excuse to try to make at home” (imagine an equally delicious sauce, if not better, but with the original idea of using meatballs, something you won’t get in restaurants but that everybody loves). And OMG, spectacular!
The version I’m sharing with you today is how I’ve been making it since day 1, and you will see that there are some differences with respect to HBH’s recipe, one of the essential ones, besides some ingredients, is the fact that I blend the sauce, which I find is key. It’s one of the critical factors for it to be as creamy as possible.
What Is Butter Chicken?
Butter Chicken (murgh makhana) is a typical Indian cuisine dish where chicken is cut into pieces, marinated, sealed in a pan and then cooked in a creamy tomato-based sauce.
It is often confused with Chicken Tikka Masala, because the sauce has a similar colour although it is less creamy and the chicken is usually cooked in the tandoor. Also, a fan fact is that, tikka masala doesn’t originate from India, but from the United Kingdom back in the 60s! I learned it when I lived in Oxford since in the UK Indian food is so popular.
Better than Takeout Butter Chicken Meatballs Ingredients
The only thing that may surprise you from the ingredients list are the spices, but don’t worry, they can be found in supermarkets and online nowadays.
- Chicken Meatballs: homemade or store-bought (if this is the case, preferably from a trusted place. When I buy them it’s always from my poulterer). The latter is what makes the recipe so quick! They’re chicken meatballs to honour the original recipe and we’re going to bake them to make the process faster and cleaner and the final dish lighter.
- Onion: a classic ingredient of Indian (and Spanish) cuisine, it adds such a good flavour.
- Garlic: another ingredient widely used both in Indian and Spanish cuisines.
- Ginger: I use fresh ginger and even if it can be controversial, I don’t peel it. I don’t find that it makes any difference and it saves you a bit of a cumbersome step. If you don’t find fresh but you have powder, use half a teaspoon, the powder is more concentrated.
- Curry: for this recipe I have used a mild curry.
- Garam masala: did you know that in English it would be translated as “hot ingredients”? It tastes sort of sweeter than curry since it contains spices such as cloves and cinnamon, and it is brown in colour thanks to them and because it does not contain turmeric.
- Turmeric: a very typical spice of Indian cuisine, which is always used in butter chicken. It has such great properties too!
- Cayenne: it provides a spicy touch. Add more or less depending on how spicy you like it.
- Passata: tomato is a key ingredient in butter chicken. You can also use a can of whole peeled tomatoes or crushed tomatoes, since we are going to blend the sauce in the endt.
- Tomato paste: a bit of concentrated tomato helps to intensify the tomato flavour without the need to use a lot of passata (which would force us to leave the sauce simmering for much longer so that the water evaporates).
- Coconut milk: it provides creaminess and that aromatic-fruity touch that goes so well with Indian spices. It can be substituted with single cream.
- Greek Yogurt: another classic creamy element of butter chicken.
- Butter: it’s called “Butter Chicken” for a reason, isn’t it? 😛
- Oil: we need it to sautée the veggies.. I use olive oil.
- Salt: to enhance the flavours.
Optional for serving:
- Rice: I love basmati or jasmine rice for this dish because they are more aromatic than other rice varieties, but whichever one you have at home will work. The point is to have something to leave no trace of the curry sauce at the end ;).
- Bread: naan, bazlama, even pita… not only is it used to dip into the sauce, but also, as Indians do, it’s like a spoon, and that’s because a meatball+sauce+bread bite is a next-level thing!
- Parsley or coriander: a touch of colour is always a good idea.
Can I substitute the meatballs?
Yes! Traditional butter chicken is usually made with diced chicken breasts or thighs. To substitute the meatballs you can use one chicken breast or thigh per person (5 or 6 for the amounts of the sauce in the recipe), dice them and marinate overnight with 3 tablespoons of yoghurt, salt, a teaspoon of grated ginger and 2 grated garlic cloves. When you are going to finish the butter chicken recipe, remove the chicken from the marinade, seal it first on the pan where you will make the sauce, remove it from the pan and set it aside. From here continue with step 3 of the recipe. Add the chicken back into the pan in step 6 instead of the meatballs.
Can I fry the meatballs instead of baking them?
Sure thing! If you prefer to fry them in a pan, go ahead. I cook them in the oven to speed up the process, keep things tidier and cleaner and in the end lighten the recipe a bit, but I will not deny that fried meatballs are not pure delight.
Why do you sautée the spices?
Sautéing the spices with oil first activates all of their aromas. Moreover, the aromatic chemicals of each of the spices used in the curry powder react with each other creating a more unified aroma. You only need 30s-1min since ground spices can burn very quickly, which would ruin all their flavour and the dish.
Can it be made ahead?
Yes Yes Yes! It’s one of those dishes that is even more flavourful on the next day, so you can easily make it a day or two in advance. You’ll see how all the flavours settle and the sauce tastes even better if possible. So if you don’t have time to prepare it during the week, you can make it during the weekend in batch cooking mode :). Plus, you can double or triple the quantities and freeze portions for later – from 30 minutes, we’re down to a 5-minute meal next time!
How to store these butter chicken meatballs?
To Store: Place the cooled meatballs in an airtight container and store for up to 5 days in the fridge.
To Freeze: Place the cooled meatballs in an airtight container and store for up to 2-3 months in the freezer.
More Indian Cuisine Recipes
If you make this Better than Takeout Butter Chicken Meatballs recipe, be sure to leave a comment and rate it. Hearing from you is everything! Oh, and don’t forget to tag me on Instagram, I absolutely love seeing your creations. Happy cooking!
Better than Takeout Butter Chicken Meatballs
- 24 chicken meatballs - see notes to make them homemade
- 1 onion - chopped
- 2 cloves garlic - peeled and minced
- 2 cm fresh ginger - grated
- 1 1/2 tbsp garam masala
- 2 tsp mild curry powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper - more or less depending on how spicy you like it
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 can 400 g passata - you can use canned whole peeled tomatoes or chopped tomatoes
- 1 can 400 ml full fat coconut milk
- 125 g greek yoghurt
- 50 g butter
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Rice - Basmati or Jazmin are my preference here, to serve
- Naan - or bazlama or pita, to serve
- Parsley - or cilantro, chopped, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 230C (fan assisted, 250C no fan) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place the meatballs on the backing sheet with a gap between them (see notes to make them homemade), drizzle a bit of olive oil over then and bake for 5 minutes. Flip the and bake for another 5 minutes (they don’t need to be cooked through, we will cook them in the sauce later).
- While the meatballs are baking, heat some olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, cook it for a couple of minutes and season it with salt. When it’s translucent, add the garlic and ginger, mix well and cook for 5 more minutes (probably at this point the meatballs are already done, don’t forget about them!).
- Add the spices and cook for about 1 minute so as to enhance their flavour.
- Add the tomato paste, passata and coconut milk. Rinse the cans with water (about half can full of water) and add this to the sauce. Mix it all well and let it simmer for 5 minutes at medium heat.
- Blend the sauce and return it into the pan. Stir in the yoghurt and butter and once the butter has melted add the meatballs. Coat them well with the sauce and let it cook all together for 10 minutes so the sauce thickens and the meatballs absorve the flavours.
- Serve with rice, naan and a bit of chopped parsley or cilantro. Enjoy!
Homemade Chicken MeatballsIngredients
- 500 g ground chicken
- 1 L egg
- 3 tbsp breadcrumbs
- Salt and black pepper
- Flour or breadcrumbs to coat (optionally)
- In a bowl mix the chicken, egg and bread crumbs with salt and pepper. Shape the meatballs by roughly using 1,5 tbsp of meat mix each time (I use an ice-cream scoop), coat them in flour or breadcrumbs optionally and place them onto the baking sheet as you form them. Continue from step 2.