When you’re considering the differences between Chicken Korma vs. Butter Chicken, it comes down to a few key things. Both dishes are widely made with similar ingredients, namely the “garam masala” spices used for flavoring. However, Chicken Korma is cooked in oil before being marinated with a yogurt sauce, and seasoned in these spices. Butter Chicken is first grilled before being cooked with heavy cream, and other dairy products as a base for the curry-like sauce that also uses garam masala spices. Both dishes are popular in parts of Asia, and with the boom of Indian restaurants in North America, they have gained traction and become a common staple of many restaurant menus. 

In this post, we’ll talk about the history of these chicken-based dishes, how to make them, and popular variations. You’ll learn about the spices and ingredients that differentiate Chicken Korma vs. Butter Chicken. By the end of this, you’ll have some inspiration and understanding of what it takes to make these chicken dishes at home. Or you’ll know for sure which one to order the next time you’re out at an Indian restaurant! Keep on reading, and let’s learn all about Chicken Korma vs. Butter Chicken.

Chicken Korma vs. Butter Chicken: How Are They Different?

The differences between these two chicken-based dishes really come down to the ingredients. Chicken Korma is typically chicken breast simmered in oil with the “garam masala” mixture of spices and then cooked in a yogurt sauce with caramelized onions and other rich spices. Butter Chicken on the other hand is cooked in a sauce that uses dairy as a base instead of oil, along with added vegetables like tomatoes. They both use a “garam masala” mixture of spices, which is a blend of the following:

  • Cloves
  • Cumin
  • Nutmeg
  • Coriander
  • Black pepper
  • Cardamom

What Is Chicken Korma?

The term “korma” translates to the technique of braising meat or vegetables in an oil or cream-based sauce. Chicken Korma is a rich, flavorful dish that combines ingredients like yogurt, ginger garlic paste, cinnamon cloves, and turmeric, with caramelized onions and coconut! Served with rice, or buttery naan, this dish is full of heat, texture, and beautiful spices. Common garnishings are chopped almonds, which can also be used in the marinade as a paste, and fresh parsley.

History ad Origin of Chicken Korma

Chicken Korma stems from Indian and Pakistani styles of cooking. It has roots in the Mughal Empire of South Asia which was in power from the 16th through the 19th century. It was considered a royal dish due to the rich ingredients used to make it. Other historians believe Chicken Korma is a variation of a Persian stew called Koresh. While the Persians use ghee, a clarified butter, as their base, it seems Chicken Korma's spice profile was modified to fit the needs of the ruling empire's taste buds! Wherever you trace this dish, it has deep roots in all kinds of South and Central Asian cooking techniques (via Dawn).

How to Make Chicken Korma

Chicken Korma is relatively straightforward, it just involves a fair amount of preparatory steps. The Simply Recipes version calls for an almond-based marinade. This means that one of the first steps is to soak the almonds in water (for up to 2 hours,) before grinding them into a paste. Set that aside. Next, combine yogurt, turmeric, salt, cayenne pepper, and ginger garlic paste, salt, and cayenne pepper. This will be your chicken marinade and should sit on your chicken breasts for at least an hour. The next paste you'll make involves frying onions until they've properly caramelized. Set a few aside for a garnish and blend the rest along with a bit of water into an onion paste. Set this aside as well.

As for the properly marinated chicken, using the frying oil from the onions, add in garam masala spices along with your choice of cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, and peppercorn. Reduce the heat to medium before adding your chicken breasts. Simmer for 5-8 minutes until the chicken is opaque and cooking.

The final steps are to add the onion paste, and more spices if you so choose. Mix this into the chicken and simmer for another 5-8 minutes til the chicken is fully cooked. Lastly, add in the almond paste, yogurt (or coconut milk), and let the mixture continue to cook until the creams and oils separate. Serve over hot rice or a bed of greens with fresh naan bread, garlic, and butter!

What Is Butter Chicken?

Butter Chicken is a grilled chicken dish that is cooked in a heavy cream and butter sauce. With the addition of tomatoes, for sweetness, and other spices, it forms a gravy-like consistency. The creaminess of the sauce combined with the cooked, grilled chicken, provides an amazing contrast while eating.

Homemade Indian Butter Chicken with Rice and Naan Bread
The blend of the dairy base with “garam masala” spices in Butter Chicken, creates a creamy sauce.


History and Origin of Butter Chicken

Butter Chicken is attributed to three major Punjabi restauranteurs, Kundan Lal Gujral, Kundan Lal Jaggi, and Thakur Dass. All three of these men had restaurants in Delhi, India. The more folklore version of Butter Chicken is that a Bengali man once ordered a simple chicken curry, and in an effort to make the classic Tandoori Chicken dish a little less dry, the chef provided a tomato, and butter-based gravy to go along with it. Some people suggest the chef was just using up any leftovers. Either way, the delicious dish we know as Butter Chicken was born (via The Menu Magazine).

How to Make Butter Chicken

Traditionally, butter chicken is first cooked in a clay oven, also known as a tandoor. This is why the first iteration of butter chicken was known as Tandoori Chicken. Simply Recipes recommends tracking down the following spices to really give your butter chicken an authentic edge:

  • Kashmiri Lal Mirch, a red chile variety from Kashmir.
  • Ginger Garlic Paste, which you can choose to buy over grating ginger and garlic fresh.
  • Kasuri Methi is a blend of spices made from fenugreek leaves that provide an earthy flavoring. 

The first step is to marinate the chicken, for at least an hour, if not overnight. Combine yogurt, oil, coriander seed, Kashmiri Lal Mirch, ginger garlic paste, cumin, and salt, and be sure your chicken is covered. Next, soak cashews and almonds in water for as long as you're marinating your chicken. Once the marinating is done, grill your chicken pieces for 3-5 minutes on each side. Set these aside.

To make your buttery, gravy sauce, combine butter, ginger garlic paste, and sugar. Using canned tomatoes, or freshly cooked tomatoes, combine them with the butter and cook for 8-10 minutes until your sauce forms a paste. Add spices like coriander, more Kashmiri Lal Mirch, and garam masala, and leave to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Once done, blend this sauce in with the soaked cashews and almonds. Once combined into a creamy, gravy consistency, add to a pan with your grilled chicken, add heavy cream, and allow to simmer for at least 5 minutes before serving hot and creamy Butter Chicken!

The main substitutions for either of these dishes, Chicken Korma vs. Butter Chicken, are using coconut milk instead of yogurt, or another variety of spices. These dishes are easily modifiable, just depending on what you're looking for in terms of the flavor profile.

Nutritional Value

A lot of the nutritional value of these dishes is dependent on the way they are made. Making them at home increases the control you have over how much butter, cream, or other fattening ingredients. 100 grams of Chicken Korma equates to about 166 calories, 5.3 grams of carbohydrates, 10.3 grams of fat, and 13 grams of protein (via MyFitnesPal). 5 ounces of Butter Chicken on the other hand has about 438 calories, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28 grams of fat and 30 grams of protein. All that butter, heavy cream, and dairy have a huge impact on the caloric intake and fat content of Butter Chicken (via Live Strong). While it's good to know these numbers, all things with moderation can be fine for you. Just don't overdo it on the Butter Chicken, or pick a recipe that uses less butter/dairy products.

Are Chicken Korma and Butter Chicken Broth the Same Thing?

By now you understand that Chicken Korma vs. Butter Chicken, are not the same thing. They have similar preparations and spice profiles, but Chicken Korma is simmered in oil and a (typically) yogurt-based marinaded with caramelized onions. Butter Chicken, on the other hand, is first grilled before being cooked in a butter-heavy mixture of tomatoes, heavy cream, and spices.

Possible Alternatives to Chicken Korma or Butter Chicken

You can make “Korma” dishes that are vegetable based since the method simply calls for braising. Swapping out coconut milk or non-dairy products for some of the more fat-heavy content in these dishes is a way to raise their nutritional value. They are easily modifiable, just have some fun with it!

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