Butter chicken spice substitution?
June 29, 2016 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm a lazy cook so instead of going out and buying all of the suggested spices for this butter chicken recipe, would it still taste good to use Penzey's chili powder and smoked paprika?
posted by TorontoSandy to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. It won't taste like butter chicken, but it will taste good.
posted by something something at 1:15 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Sounds pretty freaking good. Is going to be more of a chicken paprikash, maybe.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:18 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

It would still taste like yummy chicken in sauce, but it wouldn't taste Indian.

Of your suggestions, the chili powder does have cumin and pepper in it, which are on-target; but also oregano, which isn't. And paprika is good, but the smokiness doesn't match the original flavor profile, but is probably fine.

If you were attempting to replicate the garam masala flavor, the main spices you'd want would be cumin (which is already in your chili powder) coriander (which is honestly a lot like cumin), and cinnamon (or any "pie spice" type blend you have handy).
posted by aimedwander at 1:18 PM on June 29, 2016

Agreed on 'different but good'. Taking notes on what you changed (including 'nothing') and how the recipe turned out is useful -- later you'll know whether to do it again, or that you don't think it's worth it without turmeric, or how you did that thing when you only had frozen green beans and black pepper, or whatever.
posted by clew at 1:23 PM on June 29, 2016

You'll probably be fine, but yeah, its not going to be as complex or awesome as butter chicken. One time I ran out of garam masala, and replaced it with old bay, chili powder, smoked paprika and turmeric. Turned out alright, but it wasn't really the same at all.

You should totally try to get your hands on some garam masala, especially if you're a lazy cook. That stuff tastes awesome on just about everything, and in our house we use it for a wide variety of applications from a pulled pork rub to home-fries. It does fish wonders too.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:28 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

It won't taste like butter chicken. It's not going to poison you, though, so if that's what you want to do, OK.

It's 100% not in any way going to resemble Indian food if you skip the turmeric and garam masala. It will be... saucy vaguely Hungarian chicken? Imitation paprikash?

You're sort of asking "if I make key lime pie but don't want to buy limes, is it OK to substitute with oranges?" I mean... sure?
posted by Sara C. at 1:28 PM on June 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

Garam Masala is a spice blend so if you can at least get some of that it will go a long way to making it taste more Indian then Southern.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:50 PM on June 29, 2016

Oh and tumeric mostly adds color as opposed to flavor, so don't be suprised if it doesn't look the same.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:51 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it depends on your culinary goal:

* If you want to be "I am eating authentic butter chicken like they actually eat in Butter-Chicken-Land", then no, you should get the spices it calls for.

* If you want to be "I just want dinner and this sounds moderately easy enough and I'm not fussy about whether the spices are 100% exact", then go with what you got. You can call it your own new recipe in that case, too, because it kind of will be all your own.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:51 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

The spices in butter chicken are typically overwhelmed by the tomatoes and the fatty creaminess of it anyway. That is why when you take your parents to their first Indian restaurant it's the curry you point them at. They will probably still complain it is too spicy but they won't match the sweat you get starting at the crown of your head or your morning after ring of fire that you get from the extra spicy vindaloo that you order to prove you're not your parents.

Also - add some toasted slivered or sliced almonds to this once cooked. Another pro tip is that you can get frozen parathas from asian groceries stores for cheap and they really level up a curry in exhange for about 1 minute of time with a frying pan.
posted by srboisvert at 1:53 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you buy the spices from the local indian grocery you get a big bag of each spice for the cost of a tiny jar in Safeway. I re-seal the bags with clips and they last me for dozens of curries.
posted by w0mbat at 2:24 PM on June 29, 2016

I find the taste and aroma of fenugreek very distinctive and impossible to replace. Indian food is all about the spice. You will be making food but it won't be butter chicken. Sorry.
posted by Foam Pants at 4:16 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

In addition to what everyone else said, if you ever want to cook Indian food in the future, you should be clear that curry powder (which is a spice mix) or cumin and coriander (the building blocks of curry) are distinctive and overpowering flavors, and cannot be substituted. These are things you must have if you want to cook food with Indian flavors. Garam masala and other classic spices and blends are the next step. So to directly answer the question, can you probably make a decent dish with the spices mentioned? Yes. But butter chicken, or even vaguely Indian food, no.
posted by catatethebird at 6:55 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

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