Recipe: Palak butter chicken

Published March 9, 2013 by Monty


Back up in Madison, I was spoiled blessed to live in a metro area with nearly a dozen various Indian food buffets. Muncie only has one Indian buffet, and it kind of sucks (sorry but it does). To satisfy my addiction to Eastern cuisine, I needed to learn how to make my own Indian food–and I needed to do it on the cheap, so that my fiance & I could have lots of leftovers.

This recipe uses garam masala. Muncie thankfully has an awesome Indian grocery. Search for an Indian/Eastern/ethnic grocery in your area, or find an online vendor that can ship you some. Garam masala can also be somewhat expensive; I’ll return to the subject of buying spices at a later date, because saving $30-50 every so often and buying spices is a great way to make your food stamps last without having to eat slop-flavored slop. This recipe also calls for a food processor, which is another awesome $30-50 investment that can save you a bunch of time and clean-up, but a good ol’-fashioned knife works fine too.

Palak butter chicken is a spinach-based spicier dish best served with basmati rice, which goes for $4 a pound at your local Wal-Mart. By using store-brand canned ingredients, and bulk frozen chicken, this recipe can feed six people for a total of $10-15.

For palak butter chicken, you’re going to need…


  • 2 regular-sized cans of spinach, drained
  • 1 regular-sized can of diced tomatoes, preferably with garlic & onions, drained
  • 1 tiny-sized can of green chilies
  • 1 large red or yellow onion, not pictured
  • 1 lemon or 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 8 cloves garlic or 2 tablespoons (I buy the stuff in a jar ’cause it’s cheaper)
  • Enough chicken breasts to comfortably feed six–so, like, six medium-sized breasts or three or four large
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder or a few shakes of hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala (or more, if you want shit to get real!)
  • Salt to taste

Um… I don’t know why there’s cumin in that picture. A pinch of cumin goes good with everything, but it’s not required. Whatever.

ChickenFirst, begin by defrosting your chicken. If your chicken’s already defrosted, that’s cool, but I’m irresponsible and don’t do prep work; I just kind of work as I go. Set your stove to High until the water is warm enough to defrost the chicken over a fifteen-to-twenty minute period, then set it to low-medium.

Garlic and chiliesCrack open your chilies, then measure out your garlic & ginger. If you’ve got a food processor, throw the three ingredients in there and blend until they’re well-mixed. If you don’t, go ahead and chop up your garlic, throw it into a bowl with your chilies & ginger, and mash the mix as best as you can with a fork.

SauteeingGrab a medium-large-sized pot–big enough to serve six, smaller than a pasta pot–and set your stove to medium. Melt your butter and throw your garlic-ginger mix in there, sauteing it.

TomatoesWhile that’s sauteing, crack open your can of tomatoes and chop up your onion. If you have a food processor, just chop the onion well enough so that it can fit in the processor, and mix the two. If you don’t have a food processor, dice them really finely and mix them with the tomatoes. Once those are mixed, throw this red goop in the pot with the garlic & ginger mix.

SpinachIf you thought you were gonna open up the spinach next, you must be some kind of fucking soothsayer because you’re right. Open up your two cans of spinach and either process them or mash ’em up real good. You’re gonna want the spinach at paste consistency. Toss the spinach right in with your red mixture and stir it in. At this point, turn the heat down to a lower setting, more useful for simmering.

More chickensLet’s return to the chicken, which should be soft enough to take apart and cut. Grab half of your chicken and cut it into bite-sized pieces, perhaps the size of one-inch cubes. Put them aside for later.

StuffAfter cutting the first half of your chicken, return to the spinach paste and see if it’s accumulated liquid on the top. It might have, because canned food is gross. If it has, take a small cup and try to gather as much of the water to dump out. Once you’ve made sure your food isn’t stewing in a puddle of its own liquid, throw in your turmeric and chili powder or hot sauce. Then, finish cutting the chicken.

ChickenOnce you’ve got your chicken chopped, throw it in the mix with your coriander and your lemon. Yes, throw it in raw. I was a little surprised at first, but the idea is that it gets cooked as the spinach mixture simmers. Leave that uncovered on the stove for maybe ten or fifteen minutes. Take that time to clean up your kitchen, get plates ready, whatever. I don’t care.

GaramMake sure that your chicken is cooked before doing anything else. Otherwise, your family’s gonna get food poisoning and it’ll be all your fault. Assuming your chicken is thoroughly cooked, add your garam masala. Give it a taste: if it’s not spicy enough, add a little more garam masala–and if it’s too spicy, you probably shouldn’t eat Indian food. Make sure your spices are to your liking, and add a little salt to taste.

YummmmServe on some steaming hot basmati with a delicious India Pale Ale and enjoy. The best thing to do with Indian food is to get your skeptical friends to eat it. Another cool thing to do is to make it in bulk, freeze it, and reheat it as you go. Amy’s white people TV dinners (or whatever that brand is) sells frozen Indian food meals for $4 a pop. Wow, what the hell? Make your own for a third of the cost.


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