RECIPE | Naqiyah Mayat's rich and smoky butter chicken

Naqiyah Mayat gives us a taste of the modern Indian recipes you'll find in her debut cookbook 'The Beginning'

11 March 2020 - 17:23 By STEVE STEINFELD
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Naqiyah Mayat's rich and smoky butter chicken.
Naqiyah Mayat's rich and smoky butter chicken.
Image: Supplied

"A rich cashew nut sauce with smoky notes gives this butter chicken recipe an authentic flavour profile reminiscent of your favourite North Indian/Pakistani restaurant," says Naqiyah Mayat of this dish. 

"It takes a little effort to introduce the smoking coal to the pot to achieve this effect. However, the end result of a satisfying dish with layers of complex deliciousness is well worth the effort!"

Serves: 6

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 45 minutes


½ cup unsalted (raw) cashew nuts

2 tbsp ghee

1 small cinnamon stick

2–4 cloves

2–4 cardamom pods

½ tsp whole cumin seeds

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp ground green chilli

½ cup reduced fat cream

1 cup fat-free or low-fat milk

½ cup water


For the chicken:

1 chicken, cut into small, bite-size pieces* 

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp fine black pepper

1 tsp turmeric

½ tsp ground cumin powder

½ tsp ground coriander powder

3 tbsp butter

3 pieces of charcoal

Fresh coriander, to garnish


  1. For the sauce, toast the cashew nuts in a pan to release a nutty aroma, then grind to a fine powder.
  2. Add the ghee to a pot and heat on a medium heat. Add the cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom pods, cumin seeds and onion. Sauté till the onion is golden and translucent.
  3. Incorporate the ground cashews into the ghee and onion mixture. Then add the ground green chilli (to taste) and mix well.
  4. Add the cream, milk and water. Add salt to taste and allow the sauce to thicken before pureeing it with a stick blender.
  5. Meanwhile cook the chicken. Add the lemon juice, fine black pepper, turmeric, ground cumin powder and ground coriander powder to the chicken.
  6. Add the butter to an oven-safe pan and heat. Seal the outside of the chicken.
  7. Remove the pan from the stove and add the liquid — but not the chicken — into the cashew nut sauce, mixing well. You should achieve a yellow-coloured sauce at this stage.
  8. Place the chicken under the grill in the oven. Once it's browned, add it to the sauce and stir well.
  9. Light three pieces of charcoal and empty into a small foil-lined dish. Place the dish in the middle of the pot containing the sauce and chicken. Add two tablespoons of sunflower oil to the charcoal and close the lid of the pot immediately. Switch the stove off and leave the coal in for 10 minutes.
  10. Discard the coal and garnish the curry with fresh coriander and crushed cashew nuts, if desired.

Cook's note: I prefer using the meatier pieces of a whole chicken and adding in two chicken fillets to make up a full kilogram. I omit the wings and drumsticks altogether.

• Recipe and image from Naqiyah Mayat's recipe book The Beginning: Indian Recipes From My Home (That Food Guy Publishing, R500). 

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