The Instant Pot was made to cook Indian butter chicken

Photo: Kevin Pang

I’m no Luddite, but I counted myself among the skeptics when the Instant Pot first saw rise. I’ve seen too many fad appliances arrive in a blaze of glory, only to fizzle out and end up in a box to the Goodwill. Even as fervent fans made the Instant Pot out to be wheel/sliced bread-level of great inventions, I held out. What could it do that my trusty 7-quart Le Creuset couldn’t?

But soon trusted friends endorsed the Instant Pot, and $70 was a reasonable price to take a flyer. Then I saw what all the fuss was about. Stroganoff, pork chile verde, yogurt, even cheesecake—there was nothing gimmicky about a plug-in pressure cooker. What ultimately turned me into a bonafide fan was when I discovered the Instant Pot cooked better rice than my fancy Japanese-imported rice cooker.

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Even forgetting its cooking functionalities, the Instant Pot is really a permission slip for home cooks to try a dish they’d otherwise never bother to make. Exhibit A: I’ve always loved butter chicken, the Northern Indian dish that The New York Times called “the General Tso’s of Indian food” and owning perhaps the cuisine’s most attractive branding. You’ve got the most comforting of the comfort food pairings: chicken and rice. You’ve got a luscious sauce of tomato, cream, and butter. The robust, aromatic garam masala spicing. That stewy combination seemed tailor-made to cook quickly in an Instant Pot.

Luck of lucks, a book recently came across my desk: The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook from fellow Chicago food writer Chandra Ram. Her recipe features the unorthodox inclusion of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce—more likely found in your grocer’s Mexican aisle than Indian—which she says contributes “a deeper, more complex, smokier flavor.” I tried this recipe over the weekend and it delivered on all counts.

I’ll attach her original recipe below, but let me offer a few notes while cooking the dish:

  • The recipe calls for three teaspoons of Kashmiri chili powder. Do not substitute standard Indian chili powder—the two are not the same. Kashmiri chili powder shares a similar profile with paprika but a touch on the spicier side. Ram told me you can substitute three parts paprika to one part cayenne.
  • After removing the lid, I found the sauce chunkier than I was used to in butter chicken. This was a simple fix: I removed the chicken chunks and whazzed up the sauce straight in the Instant Pot with an immersion stick blender. Only after did I stir in cream and cilantro.
  • I found myself with a lot more sauce than chicken. You might consider increasing the amount of boneless chicken thighs, or do as I did this afternoon: Grill whole chicken thighs over wood fire (seasoned with salt and garam masala), then spoon the butter chicken sauce on top. Ram also suggested this sauce was terrific over fried chicken wings (!!!).
  • Ram told me you can easily make this vegetarian by substituting chicken with paneer or firm tofu. To make this vegan, use full-fat coconut milk instead of heavy cream, and vegetable oil in place of ghee.
  • I’m not a cilantro fan, but this dish was excellent with its addition. Don’t skip it. (Our family has a cashew allergy, so the photo above is pictured without the spiced cashews.)
  • From start (cubing the chicken) to finish (ladling over leftover rice), this recipe took me about 35 minutes. Add 15 more if you’re making rice in the Instant Pot from scratch.
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Instant Pot Butter Chicken with Spiced Cashews

Serves six. Recipe by Chandra Ram.

Photo: Huge Galdones (The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook)
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  • 1 Tbsp. ghee or vegetable oil
  • 2 cups finely diced onions
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. minced ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 3 tsp. Kashmiri chili powder, divided (or 3-to-1 paprika-to-cayenne, see note above)
  • 1 tsp. Garam Masala
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp. chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, puréed or finely chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup raw cashew pieces
  • 3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

Using the sauté function on high, heat the ghee in the inner pot for about one minute, until shimmering. Add the onions and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, for about four minutes, until the onions are softened. Add the ginger, garlic, turmeric, two teaspoons chili powder, garam masala and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, for about one minute, until fragrant. Stir in the chipotles in adobo sauce, water, tomatoes (with juice) and chicken. Secure the lid and cook on high pressure for eight minutes.

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Meanwhile, toast the cashews in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, for three minutes, tossing the pan frequently, until lightly browned. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining one teaspoon chili powder and toss to coat. Set aside.

Once the chicken is cooked, let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then quick-release the remaining pressure.

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Remove the lid. If the sauce is watery, use the sauté function on high to simmer the mixture for five minutes, until the sauce is reduced to the desired consistency. Stir in the cream and 1/4 cup cilantro. Transfer the chicken and sauce to a serving dish, garnish with the remaining cilantro and cashews and serve.


Text and photo from The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook by Chandra Ram. Text copyright © 2018 Chandra Ram. Photographs by Galdones Photography. Published by Robert Rose, Inc. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved. 

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About the author

Kevin Pang

Kevin Pang was the founder and editor-in-chief of The Takeout, and director of the documentary For Grace on Netflix.