Butter chicken: possibly the most commonly ordered Indian dish in the western world. And with a name like that, I'm not surprised.
There is a common misconception, which I almost bought into until I went to the library to do some reading, that ghee, also known as 'clarified butter', is used widely in cooking throughout India. It is not.
Clarified butter is known as usli ghee. It is made by gently heating unsalted butter until it liquifies. The whitish bits also known as 'milk solids' are carefully strained with cheesecloth leaving behind the golden liquid which is the usli ghee. This "real ghee", is considered a luxury and is most commonly used in cooking in the Punjab region where dairy products feature more prominently in diet.
Usli ghee is also used as a digestion aid, used to relieve rashes and burns and also as used a moisturizer.
The second type of ghee, which is more frequently used, can be likened to vegetable shortening. It is usually purchased in bulk and contains various vegetable oils which makes it more economical than usli ghee.
Types of cooking oils vary from region to region with the use of coconut oil in the south, mustard oil in the north east and peanut or sesame oil in the north.
Back to the butter chicken. Since I didn't have any usli ghee handy, I simply used a tablespoon of unsalted butter.
I have to say that it was one delicious meal. So delicious in fact that I considered making it two nights in a row and have been having daydreaming about it ever since. Next week I'm going to try the same recipe with prawns.