Tag: ways to can tomatoes

How to Make Butter Chicken Sauce (with Canning Instructions!)

Tomatoes are always a problem in our garden because we always have too many.

In summer of 2022 we somehow ended up with 49 tomato plants. This year, we swore not to do that again…and ended up with 60. It’s partly a “too many cooks in the kitchen” kind of thing—we buy tomato plants and then our neighbour who we share garden space with will surprise us with tomato seedlings he grew at the end of winter. We gave away a handful of plants, but still had an over-abundance this year.

But after making lots of salsa, pasta sauce, and tomato juice—and given that we still have leftover ketchup, green tomato chutney, and tomato soup from last year—I needed more recipes.

The Idea…

One way we like to think about gardening and food processing is to look at what we buy in the grocery store and ask ourselves if we can do that ourselves at home. We landed on butter chicken and curries.

I tried looking for butter chicken canning recipes and came up with nothing. Absolutely nothing. There appear to be no lab-tested recipes. Further, people who cook butter chicken and curries from scratch often write about how the freshness of the ingredients is what makes it really good, and canning would dampen that freshness.

If I were to make it from scratch, though, I’d be using dried spices since I’m not going to find a lot of fresh Indian spices in Winnipeg unless I perhaps go to very specific grocery stores.

So… my determination to do this project in hand, I set off in new directions.

In the strictest of senses, this would be considered “rebel canning”, which are canning recipes that are not lab-tested and thus can’t be guaranteed for safety. However, I decided to work within the canning rules and I’ve come up with something that works. You are allowed to swap out dried spices in a recipe or adjust the dried spices, provided you’re not putting in huge gobs of dried spices and turning a sauce into a thick paste.

With that in mind, I looked at my super easy canned pasta sauce recipe. Really…butter chicken is a tomato-based sauce with Indian spices. There’s a bit more to it—like adding butter, which is a no-no for canning—but a good sauce base would give me what I need to make a super convenient dinner.

Finding a standard butter chicken spice mix was my next challenge. There does not seem to be a standard.

I eventually settled on this:

  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

This make more than you need—which is just two or three tablespoons—but if you’re like me and you’re swimming in tomatoes at the end of the season, you’ll likely be making multiple batches.

This year when I was looking for something in the spice aisle at Safeway, I discovered they carried a premixed butter chicken spice. After quickly checking there was no cornstarch in it (which is sometimes added to prevent caking, but is a strict no-no for canning), I bought a couple bottles and used this rather than the homemade spice mix.

(If you don’t have a lot of spices at home already, buying a premixed spice mix is way cheaper than buying half a dozen individual spices.)

(I fully recognize that as a person who does not share this heritage, I am basing my tastes on Western ideas of what butter chicken should taste like. If you have a more authentic spice blend, I would love to hear about it!)

Making Butter Chicken Sauce

Maybe “sauce base” is more accurate, since during the dinner-cooking stage, you can add coconut cream and/or butter.

Anyway, it’s fairly straight forward, so I won’t write out the whole thing in this post. (It’s identical to the pasta sauce recipe, just with different spices.)

In a nutshell, you put the tomatoes in your slow cooker. If you’ve got oodles of cherry tomatoes, just wash and de-stem them and load them into the slow cooker. If you’ve got bigger tomatoes, chop them up a bit and perhaps de-core them if they’ve got dense cores.

Throw on some of your seasoning—I used about two tablespoons for a 12-cup slow cooker’s worth of tomatoes—and let it simmer on high for about two and a half hours or on low for about five hours.

Once everything is cooked, blend it all up with a handheld / stick blender. Give it a taste and add more seasoning if you feel it needs more.

From here you can either use it fresh if you’re using it in the next day or so. You can freeze it in dinner-size portions. Or you can can it in a water bath canner.

I find one-cup / half-pint jars make enough sauce for two people, so I do them all up in this size. You’ll want to add half a tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar (or a tablespoon to a pint jar, or two tablespoons to a quart jar) and add in sauce, leaving a half-inch headspace. Wipe the rims, put on the lids to fingertip tightness, and process for 35 minutes (adjusting for altitude if necessary).

Using Your Butter Chicken Sauce

When it’s dinner time, I fry up some chicken and veggies in a pan and then dump in a jar of butter chicken sauce. If I feel it needs a little more “sauciness”, I might add in a small can of coconut cream. And since it’s butter chicken, I add a dollop of butter and stir it until it melts and fully incorporates. Serve over rice and with a side of naan.


Butter Chicken Sauce

A tasty and highly customizable sauce that makes for easy weeknight dinners. Plus, it can be canned so it's shelf-stable until you're ready to use it. This recipe is more of a template without exact quantities, but safe canning instructions are included.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Canning Time (if canning) 35 minutes
Course dinner
Cuisine Indian


  • Slow cooker (See notes for alternatives)
  • Hand blender, blender, or food processor


  • Cherry tomatoes (Can use regular tomatoes. See notes for more details.)
  • Butter chicken spice mix (See notes)
  • Olive oil (Or a neutral oil like canola oil)
  • Lemon juice (If canning the sauce)


  • Wash and de-stem tomatoes. If using tomatoes larger than cherry-sized, chop them into halves or quarters, depending on their size.
  • Fill the slow cooker with tomatoes. Add a drizzle of olive oil, no more than a few tablespoons. Add in seasonings (see notes for details). Stir.
  • Cover and set slow cooker to high and let cook two and a half hours, or until everything looks fully cooked (the juice has released from the tomatoes, cherry tomatoes have popped, etc.). If you prefer to use the low setting, let it cook for five hours.
  • Using a hand blender / stick blender, blend everything until a smooth consistency. If using a regular blender or a food processor, process in batches until everything is a smooth consistency.
  • Sauce can be used immediately or refrigerated for next-day use.
    If freezing, put sauce in meal-size portions in ziplock bags or jars. If using jars, be sure to use jars that do not have "shoulders", and leave some headspace in case the sauce expands while freezing.
    If canning, add a tablespoon of lemon juice per pint jar or two tablespoons per quart jar. (Do not use a larger size. If using half-pints, add half a tablespoon of lemon juice.) Leave a half-inch of headspace. Wipe rims clean and put on two-part lids, fingertip tight. Process in a boiling water canner for 35 minutes (adjusting for altitude if necessary, see notes for a link). After processing, let sit in canner for 5-10 minutes, then remove jars from canner and place on a towel on a level surface and let sit for 12-24 hours. After this time, check that jars have sealed—unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used within a few days, sealed jars can be stored for up to a year and a half (after which point the flavour quality may degrade, but the safety remains indefinitely). See notes for more information on canning. I find one cup / half pint jars the ideal size for two servings.
  • See notes for suggestions on how to use this sauce.


Alternative Methods to Cook the Tomatoes:
This can be made in a slow cooker or in the oven. If using the oven, lay out an even layer of cherry tomatoes in a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes at 450 F, until the cherry tomatoes are wrinkly and bursting. You may want to line the baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup. This can create a nice roasted flavour. I’ve also done a large batch of pasta sauce (which is the same as this, just different seasonings) in my dutch oven—all the steps were the same as the oven directions, but in a dutch oven rather than a rimmed baking sheet.
Butter Chicken Spice Mix:
The first year I made this, I whipped up my own butter chicken spice mixed based on some recipes I found online.
To make your own butter chicken spice mix:
  • In a bowl, combine:
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 2 tsp smoked paprika
    • 3 tsp garam masala
    • 2 tsp ground coriander
    • 1 tsp ground cardamom
    • 2 tsp ground cumin
    • 1 tsp ground ginger
    • 2 tsp ground turmeric
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
If you’re buying a pre-mixed package of spice, read the ingredients to ensure there is no cornstarch in the spice mix.
Whether using pre-mixed spice or home-mixed spice, add one to two tablespoons to the tomatoes. After blending the fully-cooked tomatoes, take a taste—add more spice and blend, if necessary.
General Tips:
While the recipe works great for cherry tomatoes, this works equally well with larger tomatoes, cut into either halves or quarters, depending on the size. If the larger tomatoes have a thick/firm core, you may want to core the tomatoes as well.
This sauce tastes super good fresh, and just as good frozen or canned. The first year I did this, I froze all the sauce, but for the second year I did this, I canned the sauce. There’s really no difference in quality or taste either way. I prefer canning because freezer space is limited, but if you have freezer space and/or canning intimidates you, freezing is an excellent option.
If you are new to canning, click here for a Canning 101 to understand some of these terms and steps. If you have to adjust for altitude because your elevation is greater than 1,000 feet, click here for more information.
Please note that this recipe has not been lab tested and in the strictest sense would thus be considered rebel canning. However, when canning it is acceptable to swap out dry spices without affecting food safety. This recipe is based on safe pasta sauce recipes, just with different seasonings.
How to Use the Sauce:
When cooking your protein and vegetables together in a large pan, simply pour the sauce on top and let simmer until fully cooked, hot, and fragrant. Butter chicken usually has butter mixed in, so feel free to add a good dollop of butter to the pan and stir as it melts and mixes with the sauce.
If you prefer the sauce to be a little creamier, feel free to add a small can of coconut cream to thicken it up. Alternatively, you could create a slurry of one tablespoon of cornstarch and one tablespoon of water and then add this to the sauce in the pan.
Do not add coconut cream or cornstarch to the jars before canning as this is unsafe for canning. These ingredients can only be added in the final cooking stage.
Serve the protein, veggies, and sauce over a bed of rice and a side of naan.
Keyword butter chicken sauce, canning meals, curry sauce, easy dinner ideas