Is Butter Chicken Spicy? (For American Taste Buds)

Traditional butter chicken is a mildly spicy but sweet, rich, creamy, and savoury flavour. The buttery base and the addition of cream on top cut the intensity of curry spices used in the process. 

Traditionally, the aromatic golden spice, also known as garam masala, takes the dish to another level. The overwhelming taste of cinnamon compliments the curry sauce well.

But is there only one way to cook this Indian delicacy? Or do some people make it spicier or sweeter based on their spice tolerance?

In this article, we will understand how butter chicken is cooked traditionally and what ingredients can you swap with others based on your spice tolerance.

Let’s talk about the spice levels of this Indian delicacy and what to do if it is too hot in great detail below.

What does butter chicken taste like?

Butter Chicken

Butter chicken has a mildly sweet savoury taste which cuts right through the intense curry flavour of the sauce, making it creamier and flavorful.

If you have never tasted the dish, this question might come to your mind. And it is a very valid question since the vibrant colour sets this kind of image to it.

However, you’re in for a surprise as this dish tastes sweeter than it tastes spicy.

It is no secret that butter chicken, which first originated in Delhi, India has lots of added spice to it. The dish is so popular that every household or restaurant has its own, and often spicy, version of it. 

However, this is not the case outside of India. 

People generally avoid adding chillis or extra hot spices to the mix or sometimes even try to add less of the quantity mentioned for the recipe. 

Adding some caramelized onions to the spicy tomato sauce brings the whole recipe together even better and more savoury.

Yet, one thing that is common in every variation is adding unsalted butter and cream or coconut milk to the dish after the sauce has been cooked down.

This adds extra savouriness to the dish and is responsible for cutting down the spice as well as the overwhelming taste and smell of the curry flavour.

Is butter chicken traditionally hot?

Butter chicken, popularly known as Murgh Makhani in the oldest restaurants of Old Delhi is not spicy. 

Traditionally, a lot of Indian cuisines are spicy so many people prefer to have their food adjusted to their palate. However, butter chicken, due to its list of ingredients tends to be more flavorful and savoury than spicy.

Garam masala and Kashmiri red chillis add a beautiful flavour and texture to the dish but the heat is cut down by onions carmelized at a very slow flame till they are golden and soggy.

Other than that, it is quite known that various households and restaurants have their ways of making this dish.

Some choose to keep it authentic and add unsalted butter to it while others choose to add “ghee”, or clarified butter, to it. This only makes a slight difference in taste however, unsalted butter adds some extra richness and a glossy texture.

Coconut milk is also added to the sauce after it is cooked down. These days, the cream is popularly used to not only cut down the spiciness and the curry flavour but also to thicken the sauce.

All these ingredients cut down the heat in the dish, making it sweet and savoury.

While some people may prefer to have it hot and spicy, you can also add some extra chillis to the mix, as per your taste preferences.

How do you reduce spice in butter chicken?

Butter chicken is a savoury delicacy, however, if you feel the spice is too hot to handle, you can start by either adding some dairy products or adding something bland and starchy to the dish.

Maybe you accidentally put too much pepper or red chillis in your dish, or your garam masala was spicier than the one you were meant to buy.

Do not worry as the following is a list of ways to tone down the spice levels without letting all your efforts go to waste.

  1. Add more ingredients to tone down the spices. You can start by adding caramelized onions to the dish to act as a sweetener.
  2. Add dairy, like coconut milk or cream. This not only thickens your sauce but also goes well with a lot of Asian flavours.
  3. Add almond or peanut butter. The taste will not be too overwhelming and it will tone down the spice levels.
  4. Bulk up on the main ingredient. You can add more chicken to your dish to neutralize and redistribute the spices.

What goes well with butter chicken to reduce the spice level?

There are several items you can serve spicy butter chicken with.

1. Basmati Rice

Butter chicken can be served with any kind of long-grained rice, especially basmati rice. You can also add cumin and a pinch of salt to the rice.

2. Naan or Roti

Naan or roti with butter chicken is another way to serve this dish.

3. Chicken Biryani

You can also make chicken biryani with butter chicken if it is too spicy. Make sure to pour enough water to dilute the spice accordingly.

If you have any leftover butter chicken, you can also make traditional American favourites with an Indian twist, like butter chicken tacos or pizza. They taste amazing and keep the spice levels in check too.

Final Remarks

In this article, we tried to understand that a sweet, savoury, and flavourful dish like butter chicken is dampened using unsalted butter and dairy products like cream or coconut milk.

Here is a summary of what we discussed so far:

Is butter chicken spicy? Butter chicken has a mildly spicy but sweet and creamy flavour that balances all the spices put in together. You can add dairy products like coconut milk or cream, or serve it with some rice or naan to dilute the spice level.