easy instant pot butter chicken - from frozen chicken breast

Juicy, tender and succulent chicken breast bathed in a thick flavorful sauce that’s easy to make in the pressure cooker?!?!  Believe it!

It’s not easy to get good results frozen (or even fresh) chicken breasts in the pressure cooker or Instant Pot.  Usually, because the chicken breast meat is so tender and lean, the meat cooks very quickly, too quickly -infamously turning chicken breast into stingy meat tassels.

But there’s another way.

In the meat episode of the Pressure Cooking School, I share two ways to save chicken breasts from their tasteless demise. And, today, I’ll show you a third: stewing.

Stewing is basically boiling meat and veggies in a flavorful sauce.  This keeps the meat from drying out and the sauce has a chance to add more flavor. It’s paradoxically faster, too, because when the meat is covered with cooking liquid – you get to use the Natural Pressure Release Exception!

See Also: Pressure Cooking School – free video series!

No liquid? No way!

Several popular versions of Instant Pot Butter Chicken do not require any cooking liquid.  It’s a fun idea, and it might work sometimes for some people – but these recipes do not work consistently.  I say this from experience and after getting many e-mails from desperate readers with half-charred half-raw dinner asking me what they did wrong.

While the thinking behind those recipes assumes that the chicken or tomatoes will release enough liquid for the cooker to reach pressure – the reality is that this will only work for chicken breasts that have been pre-processed in a particular way by the manufacturer. Frozen chicken meat and most natural chicken breast preparations do not release liquid quickly enough to prevent the other ingredients from burning before the cooker reaches pressure (if it reaches pressure at all).  Plus the tomato sauce, apparently the other source of cooking liquid, is actually too thick and viscous to boil and generate steam on its own.

See Also: Pressure Cook Tomato-based Recipes Like a Pro!

Besides the high probability of a failed dinner, consider the additional wear-and-tear on the silicone parts and electronics that are not designed to withstand the high temperatures of a lengthy “dry saute” with the lid closed.

Say “Yes” to liquid!

Adding liquid to a recipe does not necessarily mean that it will water down down the flavor.  It’s an opportunity to introduce more flavor if used wisely.  For example, the liquid in this recipe dissolves the tomato paste – which is really just a concentrate  – turning it back into a sauce (without the burn).

Also, the water can be replaced with the double-concentrate chicken stock (more on this on pg. 49 in the sidebar “Know Your Strength” in my cookbook Hip Pressure Cooking: Fast, Fresh, and Flavorful ; ) turning up the chicken flavor even more.


Just be aware that since the meat is frozen, and it will instantly cool down the water, or stock, in the recipe the pressure cooker will take a few extra minutes to reach pressure. And, just to be safe, don’t forget to take the meat’s internal temperature (in the thickest part of the thickest chop) before serving – details included in the recipe instructions, below.

See Also: How To Pressure Cook Frozen Meat

Ready? OK, let’s stew it!


Pressure Cooker Accessories Pr. Cook Time Pr. Level Open
3 L or larger none 5-7 min. High(2) Normal

4.6 from 7 reviews
Easy Butter Chicken - From Frozen Chicken Breast!
Nutritional Information
(per serving)
  • Serves: Serves 4
  • Serving size: ¼th
  • Calories: 300.9
  • TOTAL Fat: 17.1g
  • TOTAL Carbs: 5.1g
  • Sugar Carbs: 3.4g
  • Sodium: 657.2mg
  • Fiber Carbs: 1.2g
  • Protein: 30.3g
  • Cholesterol: 122.4mg
Recipe type: Main, Pressure Cooker
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
This recipe can be easily doubled in a 6qt pressure cooker or larger, just double all of the ingredients, except for the water/stock: keep that at 1 cup/250ml (which in addition to the chopped tomato juice works with every pressure cooker type and size). Replace the fresh garlic at the end of the recipe with 1 teaspoon of powdered garlic added with the onion at the beginning. If using un-frozen chicken breast decrease the pressure cooking time to 3 minutes.
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or your favorite oil), divided
  • 1 small red onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon powdered)
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala spice mix, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (250ml) chicken stock (or water)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste / concentrate
  • 2 pounds (1k) frozen chicken breasts (about 4)
  • 1½ cups (14.5 oz / 400ml) canned crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced (or see recipe note for powdered)
  • ⅓ cup (85ml) heavy cream
  • 3 sprigs coriander, finely chopped (for garnish)
  1. Pre-heat the pressure cooker by pressing the "Brown" or "Saute'" program.
  2. In the pre-heated pressure cooker on medium heat add one tablespoon of the butter and when it begins to sizzle mix-in the onion - saute' until softened stirring infrequently (about 4 minutes).
  3. Sprinkle in the ginger, 1 tablespoon of the masala mix, salt and stir well.
  4. Pour in the stock and arrange the chicken breasts in the base in a single layer - even putting them up vertically, if needed for smaller cookers.
  5. Plop the tomato paste on top of the chicken, and then pour the crushed tomatoes on top of the chicken breasts- do not stir.
  6. Sprinkle in the remaining Masala mix - continue to NOT stir.
  7. Close the lid and set the valve to pressure cooking position.
  8. Electric pressure cookers and stove top pressure cookers: Cook for 5-7 minutes at high pressure.
  9. When time is up, open the pressure cooker with the Slow Normal release - release the pressure very slowly using the valve on the lid. If the release speed cannot be regulated by your cooker's valve, simply release pressure in short bursts. If anything other than steam comes out of the valve, stop and wait 10 seconds before continuing to release pressure slowly (or in small bursts), again.
  10. Delicately mix-in the fresh garlic and then the cream and remaining tablespoon of butter. If there is limited room (such as when using a 3qt pressure cooker or smaller) mix the contents by delicately lifting and wiggling the meat (as shown in the video).
  11. Check that the internal temperature of the chicken has reached at least 165°F or 75°C before serving.
  12. Optionally, puree the liquid for a smoother sauce.
  13. Serve over steamed Basmati rice or Hip Quinoa Freckled rice (recipe on this website).

pressure cooker easy butter chicken recipe - frozen chicken breast

pressure cooker / instant pot easy butter chicken recipe - frozen chicken breast

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  1. What if I wish to make this with thawed chicken thighs instead? How do the instructions and liquids change?

    1. The recipe says to decrease the cooking time to 3 minutes. It is right underneath the photo within the recipe.

      1. Ah geez. . .if I’d read it slowly instead of skimming . . . LOL.
        Thanks Shannon.

        1. Sure. :)

        2. I had the same question – and the same somewhat embarrassed response. Thanks Shannon!

          1. LOL! No worries!

  2. FYI: Your US readers might be confused by the reference to sprigs of coriander. We call the seeds coriander and the stems and leafy parts cilantro.

  3. Tried this tonight. All of us enjoyed. Used store-bought individually frozen breasts from the bag—These are the kind with added broth/salt, which I usually avoid, but that seems to work in this stewing recipe.

  4. Hello Laura! I LOVE your website and information you share. I have 3 Fagor stovetop pc 4qt, 8qt, and 10qt (all are same diameter) due to you and America’s Test Kitchen’s pc reviews. I’m trying many of of your recipes to become a pc expert–haha. Your Confetti Rice is one of my husband’s favorite; so easy and so good! PS We are also Italian family and my daughter’s name is Laura :)

  5. Great recipe but I added only 1c. or crushed tomatoes substituting 1/2c of sour cream when everything was cooked to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, it also helps thicken. There was still plenty of liquid to cook the dish.
    Could you possibly make the recipes more efficient for print? Surely they could be fitted onto a single page, even with a slightly larger (readable) print. It would be much more environmentally correct to need less paper and ink.

    1. At the bottom of the page, under the heading of “Share & Print” click on the little printer. It will take you to a service that lets you click-away any part, text or image of the page you don’t want so that you can print only the recipe.



      1. Really? How many times I have so wanted to copy and print a page only to have all the ads, comments, rows of other recipes print out! Not on your page as tonight is the first time I’ve visited it. I will say that so far you guys are relieving me of my stress and anxiety. I think I can do this. I’m gun shy of pressure cookers because both my grandmother and I had the old Presto cooker blow up while using it. Hers were pinto beans and the white kitchen was covered. I had just moved from beside the stove and had walked to the door when it blew. Mine had chicken necks in it when it blew the safety plug out and welded the lid to the pot. We had both used the cooker many times. Anyway, thanks for the good tip about printing recipes.

        1. Texanita, you can do it. You will do it!



  6. Great sounding recipe and on my to cook list. However, the weight you have listed for the chicken is 2 lbs or 500 grams. 2 lbs is actually 900 grams, and I normally just go with 1 kilo as 2 lbs, 500 grams is what I call 1 lb. Just trying to be helpful for those using metric.

    1. To make the recipes easier for everyone to use, with full sizes, I round off 500 grams to one pound, and 8oz. measuring cups to 250ml. What is important in my recipes is the ratio of food to liquid. So the recipe will work out no matter which system you are using.

      For cakes, for example, where precise quantities are needed. I give the “whole” Imperial measurements (as the majority of the readers on this website are American) and then the precise grams measurement.

      I have lived and cooked in the U.S. for 25 years, in Austria for three years, and in Italy for over ten years so I’m aware of the differences between international measurements systems.



      1. Thank you for the reply, Laura. I am certainly not doubting your qualifications with measurements or as a cook, and quite frankly, I think you are the sharpest person on the planet when it comes to using a pressure cooker! (I was born and raised in the US, lived there 26 years, then Japan for 13 years, and now Thailand (current and last location) for 13 years so far, so I too use the basic measurements you do.)

        However, and I had to laugh, in your reply, you state: “…I round off 500 grams to one pound…” Now my post was to let you know, in your recipe, you state this for the chicken: “2 pounds (500g) frozen chicken breasts.”

        See the difference?

        1. Lee, you caught a type-o. I typically round-up 2 pounds to 1 kilo. This has been corrected in the recipe.



  7. What would you say the time should be for frozen thighs? I have about 1.25 lbs and it wasn’t cooked after 8 mins
    Also the previous poster pointed out that 500 grams is not 2 lbs. 500 grams is 1 lb (453 grams to be exact) so thats what she meant when she wrote that the above was incorrect :)

    1. Right, Laura has the chicken stated as 2 pounds or 500 grams, which is not correct, it should state 2 pounds of chicken or 1,000 grams or 1 kilo. The way it is stated now, depending if a person uses pounds or metric, it will be either 2 pounds or 1 pound ;)

    2. That would be a he, not a she. You are correct, with your words and Laura’s words, it is hard to know what is correct, 1 pound or 2 pounds ;)

  8. I’ve got the same question that someone asked above: if we use 2 lb of frozen chicken thighs, how much time should we add? As I recall, the time is a bit longer than for breasts.

  9. What veggies can be added and result in a dish with a similar flavor?

    Can low-fat sour cream be used?

    Thank you!

    1. I would add green beans or broccoli. Yes, you can add low-fat sour cream.



  10. I’ve just made this recipe, halving everything because I only have 2 chicken breasts (frozen). After 6 minutes under pressure, they are still so frozen I can only stick a knife partway into them. Does cutting the recipe in half make a difference? Maybe my chicken breasts are extra large?

    I was delighted to see this recipe because I had every single ingredient on hand!

    1. The cooking liquid should not have been cut in half. Since they are frozen they need to be covered in liquid to be fully cooked.



  11. Is there a way to cook the chicken and the rice in one go? Can I just add the raw rice and some extra liquid to the raw chicken?

    1. You could… but it depends on the kind of rice you use. That’s because the frozen chicken and basmati rice, for example, have different cooking times and you’d get mushy rice. If you’re OK with swapping the rice with parboiled (which is much more forgiving and usually does not overcook) you can make this recipe follow the technique given for the Burrito Bowl:



  12. Do you think using drained canned diced tomatoes instead of canned crushed tomatoes might be acceptable?

    1. Yes, don’t drain them. Use the whole can with the juice.



  13. So easy and perfect every time!

  14. Can I use already made sauce from a jar?

  15. Where do u buy the spice mix?

    1. Look for garam masala spice mix in the international section of your grocery store, online, or make your own following this recipe:



  16. this is for the mini? (3 quart)

    1. Yes, you can make this recipe in the mini. At the top of the recipe, there is a black bar and it says the minimum (and rarely maximum) size pressure cooker to be used for the recipe. Since quarts and liters are somewhat similar, they are interchangeable for the sake of pressure cooker capacity sizes. So if you see a recipe on this website as being ok for a 3L, then you can make it in your mini!!



  17. This recipe was my first attempt at using an Instant Pot. Had some struggles doubling the recipe for the 6qt pot. Ended up overcooking the chicken.

    First, I struggled with a discrepancy between two statements on this page. The recipe says not to double the liquid when doubling the ingredients, but in the comments, they state that frozen chicken must be fully submerged in order to be fully cooked. When I added the non-doubled amount of liquid, it wasn’t nearly enough to cover the chicken. To ensure the chicken was fully submerged, I ended up using a total of 2 cups of chicken stock plus 3 cups of water. This resulted in a lot of excess liquid. Hopefully I’ll find something useful to do with it all.

    Second, I struggled with the “burn” message. It appeared twice while the pot was heating up. Each time, I handled it by turning off the pot and scraping the bottom. I think the “burn” message appeared because of the sautee steps. The onion probably partially burned onto the bottom. Some online sources recommend that after you sautee, you should add some liquid and scrape the pan before proceeding.

    Finally, the chicken ended up overcooked. I generally veer on the conservative side of cooking times, so I picked 7 minutes from the “5-7 minute” range. In hindsight, after needing to restart the cooking process twice to handle the “burn” messages, I should have used the lower end of the time range (5 minutes), or perhaps even lower.

    I feel like this will be a good recipe once I get a handle on properly doubling it. The sauce was flavorful, and the procedure was simple enough. Just need to iron out these kinks.

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