Everyday Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry
A while ago I posted a recipe for a “hybrid” chicken curry that I more or less improvised. Today I have a recipe for the basic chicken curry that is eaten in homes all across north India. I don’t mean to suggest that there is (only) one identical chicken curry eaten in homes all across north India, only that these curries (and this one) are members of the same closely related family, with a bit of ingredient variation in different regions, and proportions of spices (or even the exact ones used) varying in homes. But basically this is a familiar template for most north Indian home cooks: you heat up oil, add some whole garam masala to give it fragrance; saute onions and then ginger-garlic paste; then add ground spices; then add the meat; then a souring agent (tomatoes, usually); then water; cover and cook till done; serve with rice or parathasa/chapatis. And that is what I am doing here.

Ingredients

  • One whole chicken cut up or equivalent in thighs and drumsticks; about 3.5-4 lbs
  • Whole spices: 1-2 dried bay or cassia leaves, 4-5 green cardamom pods; cinnamon; 4-5 cloves
  • 1 large onion, sliced.
  • 2 large cloves garlic and equivalent amount of ginger, crushed or made into a paste
  • 1/2 tspn turmeric powder
  • 1/2-1 tspn hot red chilli powder
  • 1 tblspn curry powder, or grind the following into a powder: 1 tspn cumin seeds, 1 tspn coriander seeds, 1/4 tspn fenugreek seeds, 1/4 tspn mustard seeds, 1/4 tspn fennel seeds, 1/4 tspn black peppercorns
  • 1 cup chopped tomato
  • 2-3 large potatoes cut into large chunks
  • 1 pinch sugar (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • Vegetable oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro/dhania for garnish

Preparation (see illustrated guide below)

  1. Heat oil and add the whole spices.
  2. As the spices begin to become fragrant (about a minute; don’t let them burn) add the onions and saute till they just begin to brown around the edges.
  3. Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for another minute or so.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium and add the curry powder/ground spices and salt. Saute for another minute or so.
  5. Add the chicken, mix well, return the heat to high and saute, stirring constantly, till the chicken begins to brown and oil begins to separate.
  6. Add the tomatoes and cook down till oil separates.
  7. Add the potatoes and mix well.
  8. Add 1-2 cups water and the sugar, mix well, bring to a near boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook till done.
  9. Garnish with the dhania/cilantro and serve with rice or chapatis/parathas.

Illustrated Guide

Notes

  1. Whatever chicken you use, do use bone-in chicken. Homestyle chicken curries are basically spice-enhanced broths and you need bones for flavour.
  2. You can chop the onions instead of slicing them. If you have the patience to peel a lot of pearl onions you can use the equivalent amount whole.
  3. You can lightly fry the potatoes separately before adding them, but I prefer not to increase the amount of oil in the dish. I do use Yukon gold potatoes, as they tend not to fall apart as they cook.
  4. You can add 1-2 large carrots cut into big chunks along with the potatoes.
  5. You can use less of the ginger and/or garlic but I wouldn’t recommend using more.
  6. Similarly feel free to adjust the proportions of ground spices up or down. If you’re using a commercial curry powder (as most Indian home cooks do) you should feel no shame but you should get yours from an Indian grocery with good turnover: Shan, Everest and Badshah are some good brands.
  7. You can leave the tomatoes out entirely if you like, or use a bit of vinegar instead for sourness (maybe a tablespoon).
  8. The sugar is entirely optional (it’s a Bengali sickness to use it) unless you’ve scorched your spices in which case you should add it.
  9. Make sure you cook the tomatoes down: you don’t want big chunks of tomatoes floating in the finished curry.
  10. I like making this soupy—especially when using potatoes and carrots. You can use less water for a thicker final product (but watch the salt if you do). And you want it thicker if you’re serving it with parathas or chapatis.
  11. As you can see from the above, this recipe is really a take on a template—by adjusting various parts of it you can in fact produce a number of different iterations without really having to learn anything new. (And the last two pictures in the slideshow are of a slightly altered version of the dish.)

If you make this let me know how it turns out. Enjoy!

17 thoughts on “Everyday Chicken Curry

  1. Really appreciate the pictures, they always tell still more of a story: you use red onions instead of Spanish or cooking, and you don’t peel your potatoes. Also notice that you skin your chicken; doctors orders? Lastly do you have an easy trick for turning ginger into a paste? Love ginger but find it so annoying to grate!

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    • Red onions are the default in India—but I actually use brown (not sweet) onions too; just a coincidence that the photos on the blog have tended to involve red onions. Not peeling potatoes is not an Indian thing, it’s a me thing (partly for nutrients, largely from laziness). And on the skin front, mainstream Indian cuisine is very bone-friendly but not into the eating of animal skin. I’m not really sure why but would hazard that it emerges from some deeply-seated Hindu fastidiousness about what is “clean” and what is not. And re ginger: I use a granite mortar and pestle and just pound away. When dealing with very large amounts (when cooking for large groups) I’ll sometimes do it in a mini-blender with some water but I don’t really like the result (it gets a little metallic in my view).

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  2. For those who’re interested in this recipe, I recently made a variation on it for a party, and I’ve added two pictures to the gallery above—one showing the ingredients other than the chicken and the other showing how different it turns out with just a slight adjustment to the proportions of spices and tomatoes.

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  3. Glad to hear the recipe worked out for you. Re cooking and whisky, do you mean drinking whisky with (Indian) food or cooking with whisky? If the former, I tend to think whisky doesn’t go well with most food (though I do enjoy it with cheese and raw/smoked fish/seafood). If the latter, no, I haven’t cooked with whisky yet but this reminds me of something I ate in London in 2009: tikka masala made with Laphroaig. I couldn’t resist what seemed like an obvious gimmick but it actually worked very well, with the smoke of the Laphroaig partially approximating the char/smoke of tikkas if they’d been made properly in a tandoor.

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  4. Recipe for Everyday Chicken Curry…

    This dish was prepared to make up for the wife eating into our leftovers from Malabari Kitchen (delicious! More on that later). I needed to add to the leftover larder.

    Added one star anise to the oil, along with the rest of the whole spices, since I just finally got some and wanted to try it. Also, added black mustard seeds when I did the powdered spices, because I like those little black beady things in there. Used Swad madras curry powder that needed to be used up. Added two legs and a thigh. Also, I bet using a good ghee instead of oil would work nicely? I was all out. ( I hear there is a local woman now offering it by the jar, this was mentioned in the Strib recently)

    I had a can of chana so I threw them in because I love them, included can juice – sacrilege! I have some in a bag but didn’t want to bother soaking. Left out the other veggies.

    Otherwise, followed MAO’s recipe. Cracked open a bottle of pickled lime, wife’s favorite (I am sure there is a better way, right?).

    Stewed for 45 minutes. Excuse my substitutions please, but wife said this was best curry ever. I had to agree. Great recipe, especially the forward which breaks down the basic steps, that can be used over and over again.

    Hindsight: should have done my own chickpeas, instead of canned.

    Thanks for the help!

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  5. Well, there’s no good reason not to add them, I suppose. There are certainly Mediterranean dishes which combine chickpeas and chicken. And for all I know there may be Indian recipes for the combination too—though the first few pages of Google results for “chickpeas and chicken curry” all seem to be from non-Indian sources.

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  6. Put this together last weekend after realizing that the chicken we picked up from Costco was boneless, skinless, dark meat. I prefer Indian chicken recipes with dark meat anyway, so this worked out well. In general, this was all very simple to put together as described. Since tomatoes taste a little blah this time of year in southeastern Wisconsin, I used organic canned tomatoes and it worked just fine.

    I’ve had some form of this dish in my travels to India and East Africa and agree that this recipe is a member of that same family. There’s nothing to dislike here and most importantly, since I made the mild version of this dish, my 1.5 yr old also really enjoyed it.

    This will be a staple at home going forward. Thanks.

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