How to Make Authentic Chicken Curry

Updated on August 3, 2017
Carb Diva profile image

Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.

— Mark Twain, from Following the Equator

There is a magical place where the setting sun is crimson red and the beaches are paved with glistening golden sand. Lush rainforests team with life; the air is so dense, a deep breath feels like drowning. Rich fertile plains stretch for miles, yet towns and cities are crowded with millions of human souls. The highest reaches of our planet cradle the north, and to the south three seas join as one.

This is a glimpse of India.

Where the Story Begins

Thirty years ago my husband worked in India as part of a team of scientists selected by the USAID (United States Agency for International Development); their assignment was to provide instruction and support in the construction of sanitary water supplies. Bill's assigned areas were not the usual tourist gathering places, but rather were the poorer, undeveloped areas in the south and west.

He and his team landed in New Delhi, then travelled by train to Narnaul where they met personnel of India’s Central Ground-Water Board. From Narnaul they travelled to and worked in the States of Maharashtra and Kerala.

Maharashtra – a state that stretches from the Western Ghats to secluded beaches on the west coast; historically significant, rich with forts and temples.

Kerala – a state in Southern India, is known as a tropical paradise of waving palms and wide, sandy beaches. It is a narrow strip of coastal territory that slopes down the Western Ghats in a cascade of lush, green vegetation and reaches the Arabian Sea.

Gateway of India Monument, Mumbai
Gateway of India Monument, Mumbai

Bill has said that this was one of the most personally and professionally satisfying assignments of his career; an opportunity to meet and work with people with experiences much different from our own. He will never forget the people, the sights, or the sounds. And then, there is the food.

The cuisine of India offers an explosion of tastes and aromas, all centered on a myriad of spices and herbs.

I have done my best to try to recreate that experience for him--it has taken a very long time, with much trial and error. Here is the result that he says is a winner.

First, Let's Talk About the Spices

If you have been reading my articles for a while you are familiar with the stories of Dutch and English explorers who went in search of the spice route. You have read of their success in finding a rich supply of those precious seasonings—black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. And you also know about the horrific enslavement and slaughter of native peoples for control of that precious commodity.

The Malabar Coast in Southwest India is famous for the spices used in chicken curry.They are abundant in Kerala and, along with fish and coconut milk are a significant part of the daily cuisine.

The Spices We Will Use Today

There are ten spices in this chicken curry. Three of them--fennel,cumin, and coriander--are the dried seeds of plants in the parsley family and provide a warm earthy flavor. Fresh coriander (cilantro) gives a bright herbal note. Black mustard seeds resemble poppy seeds and are used whole. Cinnamon bark, cardamom pods and dried whole cloves provide an almost sweet taste. Black peppercorns and cayenne pepper contribute heat. Finally, turmeric, the root of a plant similar to ginger, supplies a bright yellow-orange saffron-like color.

All of these are commonly available except for the black mustard seeds which are native to India. For those, you might have to visit an Indian market or natural-food store.

How to Prepare the Spices

Turmeric and cayenne are sold already ground. The rest you will purchase whole and grind at home. Although many cooks in India use a mortar and pestle, I prefer to use a small coffee grinder.

To bring out the full flavor of the spices, roast them briefly before grinding them.

Place a small sauté pan over medium heat; add about one teaspoon of oil. Once the oil is hot add the coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, whole cloves, cardamom pods, stick of cinnamon, and peppercorns. Stir frequently, roasting them until they become aromatic. They burn quickly, so watch carefully and remove them from the pan as soon as you begin to notice a slight browning and smell their aroma.

Next, grind the spices using either a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder. Please don't use a blender or food processor. You will end up with a sticky paste rather than finely ground toasted spices.

Recipe for the Curry Spice Mix

(makes about 1/4 cup)

  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds (2 tsp ground)
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds (2 tsp ground)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed (1 tsp ground)
  • 4 whole cloves (the spice, not garlic cloves) (1/4 tsp ground0
  • 2 cardamom pods (1/4 tsp ground)
  • ½-inch stick of cinnamon (1/2 tsp ground)
  • ½ teaspoon peppercorns (1/2 tsp ground)
  • ½ tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

You will use 2 tablespoons of this mix to make the Chicken Curry.

Recipe for the Chicken Curry

This is the part you have been waiting for--the actual recipe for the Chicken Curry!

ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 one-inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 3 medium yellow onions, sliced thin
  • 3 fresh cilantro stems
  • 2 tablespoons Curry Spice mix (see above)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diagonally cut into thin slices
  • 2 pound chicken thighs, skinned (bone in)
  • 2 cups light coconut milk, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped (I leave mine in fairly large chunks)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • yogurt for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the black mustard seeds heat, stirring constantly, about one minute.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, sliced onion, coriander stems and carrots; cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add the spice mixture and continue to cook until the onions and carrots are soft.
  4. Place the chicken in the pan, stirring and turning the pieces so that they are evenly coated with the vegetable/spice mixture.
  5. Add one cup of the coconut milk and the potatoes. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.
  6. When the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are tender, remove the cover and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil and let boil for about 3 to 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the remaining coconut milk and the cilantro leaves.
  7. Serve with cooked rice.
  8. I recommend a spoonful of plain yogurt on top of each serving; the creamy dairy tang will provide a nice cooling contrast to the bold spiciness of the dish.

Variations

  • Coconut has a slightly sweet flavor. If you would prefer a tangier dish, you can use yogurt in place of the coconut milk. Simply add broth or water in place of the first cup of milk, and yogurt in place of the second cup of milk.
  • A vegetarian version of this dish can be prepared by substituting large florets of cauliflower in place of the chicken. The addition of a cup of fresh or frozen (and defrosted) green peas at the very end of cooking will add a nice bit of color to the finished dish.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Lum

    Comments

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      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        We have a "gramma" Tam who is in charge of cooking anything close to Asian. But I think I will sneak around and try this on her -- It should be fun!

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 years ago from Washington State, USA

        Eric - I'm so glad you stopped by. Do you like curry? If you use the recipe please let me know,

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Excellent story behind the recipe. And a great recipe to boot.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 years ago from Washington State, USA

        Jasmeetk - I see that you are in India. I am interested in knowing where. I hope that you enjoy this recipe. After you have tried it please write again.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 years ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, this might be the nicest words I will hear today. You have made this old gal very happy. Thank you for your kindness. I do wish however that the powers-that-be at HP would be more supportive of recipe hubs. They have not provided enough tools to make hubs like this presentable and something that others outside of Hubs would want to spend time with. At the very least there needs to be a "print this recipe" capsule. Being able to search the home page by ingredient/topic would also be great.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        2 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I wish it was mandatory that new writers on HP read your food articles before being allowed to write their own. This is proof positive that a good writer can make curry sound interesting. Adding in personal experiences and history makes chicken curry come alive....this really is very well written, Linda!

      • Jasmeetk profile image

        Jasmeet Kaur 

        2 years ago from India

        what a recipe.. will try it..

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