The truth about shahi paneer vs paneer butter masala

Introduction: A Paneer-y Battle in Gravy

Paneer is one of the most versatile ingredients used in Indian dishes. This ingredient does everything from using in sandwiches to serving it dipped in creamy curries. Among the many dishes paneer is known for, today we will be talking about two of the most famous ones. 

The first is ‘Shahi paneer’, which was taken from Mughlai cuisine and later adapted by royalty in India, hence the name (Shahi means royal in Hindi). The second dish is ‘Paneer butter masala’ which goes back to the 1950s and is invented by Punjabi people in a restaurant named ‘Moti Mahal’. 

Both of these dishes have a gravy that is soaked in butter and inherent sweetness. Let us know more about them in this shahi paneer vs paneer butter masala showdown. 

Shahi Paneer vs Paneer Butter Masala: Are They The Same?

People often mix up when it comes to shahi paneer vs paneer butter masala due to the creamy texture of gravy, which is similar in nature. That said, both of these recipes are completely different and only use certain common ingredients. Furthermore, few cooking steps of these recipes are also identical. 

The main difference between shahi paneer and paneer butter masala is that the former is prepared with nuts, cream, and onion to make the gravy taste delicious. On the other hand, the paneer butter masala is prepared with the help of tomatoes, onions, cashews, and butter. 

Tomatoes are optional in the preparation of shahi paneer. If someone intends to add tomatoes to shahi paneer, then the number of tomatoes should be significantly less. 

Sweet food lovers would like shahi paneer more than paneer butter masala. Spicy food enthusiasts will find the taste of paneer butter masala to be better than shahi paneer (By the way, is paneer safe during pregnancy?).

Serving size : 198gShahi paneer Paneer butter masala 
Calories 278201
Cholesterol 48mg41mg
Sodium 497mg503mg
Protein 10g8.2g

What is the difference between Shahi Paneer and Paneer Butter Masala?

If you visit any Indian restaurant, you will notice a wide variety of paneer-based cuisines. They may look the same in the pictures, but the subtle differences come in the form of taste. Some of the most common differences between shahi paneer and paneer butter masala are the following:

  • When it comes to shahi paneer vs paneer butter masala, the appearance of both North Indian dishes is one of the most easily distinguishable differences. Shahi paneer looks rich with light golden-brown creamy color, whereas paneer butter masala bears a reddish color due to the presence of many Indian spices with it. 
  • When served, paneer butter masala typically comes with some butter or cream poured on top of the dish, whereas shahi paneer does not require any additional toppings. 
  • The next difference is in the types of spices these dishes use. Since we are looking for a spicier, more renounced taste in paneer butter masala, it is always prepared with whole spices. However, Shahi paneer is prepared using spices that are in their powdered form to achieve the sweet undertones. 
  • Another important difference is the type of oil that is used for their preparation. As hinted by the name, paneer butter masala, this dish is prepared with butter instead of cooking oil as a base. On the contrary, shahi paneer can be prepared in any type of oil (most commonly refined oil). 
  • Then, we have their gravies, which not only have different tastes but also slightly different textures. For paneer butter masala, we use lots of creams combined with spices to bring out the taste of ground spices, whereas shahi paneer requires cashew paste to be put into the gravy, which gives rise to its sweet taste. 
  • The most notable difference between shahi paneer and paneer butter masala is their flavors. The main intention behind making paneer butter masala should be to enhance the buttery flavors in the dish. The shahi paneer is all about giving the creamy flavors in the dish. The presence of different types of spices gives a sharp and strong flavor to paneer butter masala. 
  • The spices present in the shahi paneer are significantly less or limited as compared to the paneer butter masala. Due to the presence of less number of spices, the shahi paneer would be rich but simple at the same time. People that don’t prefer strong spices in their food should avoid paneer butter masala. Paneer butter masala is a good option for gravy lovers. 
  • In some restaurants, shahi paneer is served with the paneer slices sliced in a triangular shape, whereas paneer butter masala has paneer cut in the form of cubes/rectangles. 
  • Shahi paneer is also slightly costly as compared to paneer butter masala. The reasons for this are twofold. First, the use of cashews and nuts in shahi paneer puts it at a higher price point, and secondly, its ties with the royalty have caused this dish to be perceived as a luxurious delicacy. 
  • The next difference between paneer butter masala and shahi paneer comes when you see the method of preparation. When cooking paneer butter masala, it is essential to roast all the spices beforehand till they become aromatic. Aside from this, onion paste and tomatoes are also roasted properly and then blended together. 
  • In paneer butter masala, the smoothness of the gravy is highly imperative, whereas, in the case of shahi paneer, chefs look for a thick gravy so that the paneer can stay on top without sinking.
  • Some chefs also add yogurt as a sweetening agent in shahi paneer, but this is not used in paneer butter masala. The same thing is true for tomatoes as well. 

All in all, both of these delicacies of Indian cuisine have lots of differences and are fairly difficult to make too. But one thing we can assure you about is that the taste is totally worth it!

How to pronounce shahi paneer?

Shahi paneer is a Hindi word that was borrowed from ancient Mughal subtexts. You can pronounce it as ‘shaa-hee-puh-neer’. Here’s a video that tells more. 

What to serve with shahi paneer?

The real taste of shahi paneer comes with chapatis or parathas (Indian bread). You can also go for tortillas based on availability. Interestingly enough, jeera rice or basmati rice is not a good choice to be served with shahi paneer.

How to make onion puree for shahi paneer?

Preparing onion puree is pretty straightforward but requires the correct technique. Start by roasting the nuts and adding onions to them. Once the onion rings get soft and brown colored, take them out in a small container. Wait for it to cool, and then blend the mixture with some hot water to form a smooth paste. 

What can you do with shahi paneer gravy?

Given the fact that shahi paneer is suitable for freezing, you can store it in an air-tight vessel for up to a week. This gravy can be consumed with phulkas or naan bread and can also be re-used again if you add some paneer cubes to it followed by heating. 

Additionally, it can also be used as a pizza topping or base. Click here to know more about a wheat-based pizza made with shahi paneer topping. Spoiler alert: It’s delicious! 

Check out how to marinate paneer for barbeque

What cream is used for paneer butter masala?

The main component of paneer curry is not cream but butter. People can use some amount of fresh cream to increase the thickness of the gravy. You can also use cashew in the curry if you do not want to add cream at all. Furthermore, if you want to make a vegan version of this dish, you can substitute the paneer with tofu and cream with coconut milk. 

Check out the comparison of a few more creamy dishes: 

How to marinate paneer for paneer butter masala?

In order to marinate the paneer, simply take cubed paneer in a mixing bowl and add some salt, paneer tikka masala, coriander leaves/powder, red chili powder, and ginger-garlic paste to it. Gently whisk and mix all the spices with your hands and leave the paneer to dry in a refrigerator for about 15-30 minutes.

What can be used instead of cream in paneer butter masala? 

Since the heavy cream is composed of 35-40% fat, one often looks for other alternatives. Here are a few you can try:

  • Milk and butter: One part of melted butter combined with 3 parts of milk makes for an excellent alternative for cream. 
  • Silken tofu and soy milk: This mixture has a soft texture and can be whipped easily just like heavy cream 
  • Evaporated milk: This can be used in dishes that call for the use of cream in its liquidated form. 
  • Coconut cream: This is ideal for all the vegans out there. One thing to keep in mind is that it may slightly alter the taste of your dish. 

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