Make it Yourself: Kid-Friendly Butter Chicken

Saucy, savoury and aromatic, Butter Chicken has long been a crowd-pleaser and takeout favourite. I’m usually hit with a craving every few months; the sudden desire to swirl warm, fresh naan in the pungent, rich tomato sauce is enough to make me drool.

And while it’s a close second to Chicken Tikka Masala when it comes to worldwide popularity, Butter Chicken does have one distinct advantage: not only is it delicious, it’s kid-friendly too.

In fact, given the choice between chicken fingers or tender morsels of delicious Indian cuisine, my boys will choose the latter every single time. They love the creamy, flavourful sauce and the little bit of heat is well tolerated by kids of all ages (Reid first developed an affinity for the dish at 8 months old!). Additionally, all of the aromatic spices (garam masala, cumin and chili powder) are mild for young palettes; Butter Chicken contains no curry powder, fenugreek or cardamom – spices that tend to have an acquired taste.

The prep work is slightly longer than an old mac & cheese but the payoff is well worth it – a potful of delicious goodness that yields 4-6 servings (and tastes better the next day). This recipe (adapted from is slightly “Canadianized” for most palettes – believe it or not, you can find the spices anywhere, even Walmart! Enjoy!


1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 shallots, finely chopped (substitute: 1 small white onion)
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon garam masala (do NOT substitute curry powder)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup 1% or 2% plain yogurt, stirred until smooth
1 cup (250 ml) half-and-half (10% light cream)
1 cup (250 ml) tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 pinch salt
1 pinch black pepper

1 tablespoon vagetable oil
8-10 Maple Leaf Prime boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garam masala (do NOT substitute curry powder)
1 pinch cayenne pepper (omit for a milder dish)
handful of chopped cilantro, for garnish


Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté shallots until soft and translucent. Stir in butter, lemon juice, minced garlic, minced ginger, 1 teaspoon garam masala, chili powder, cumin, ground coriander and bay leaf. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and cook for and additional 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in yogurt and half-and-half. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper; stir. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken thigh pieces and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat, season with 1 teaspoon garam masala and a pinch of cayenne. Stir in a few spoonfuls of sauce, and simmer until liquid has reduced and chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add cooked chicken to pot of sauce. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes on medium-low heat, or until thickened. Garnish with cilantro and serve with fresh naan or over basmati rice.


– Be sure to stir the yogurt before adding it to the sauce, or it will separate and make the sauce grainy.
– You can adjust the heat by adding more/less cayenne pepper. 1/4 teaspoon will yield about a “6” on the heat scale; add slightly less or omit the pinch added to the chicken if you’d like to tone down the spice. And taste your sauce! Remember, you can always add more but can’t take it out.
– If you have an Indian or Indo-Pakistani market in your area, stop by and pick up some garam masala from them; it’ll have a more authentic flavour than the supermarket variety. A small bag is around $3.00 and will last up to a year.
Yes, using Maple Leaf Prime chicken thighs really does make a difference; plump, juicy and tender – I won’t make this dish with anything else.

What are some of your favourite kid-friendly chicken dishes? Do you regularly enjoy new and delicious ethnic cuisines with your family?