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.
- 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)
- Heat oil and add the whole spices.
- 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.
- Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for another minute or so.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the curry powder/ground spices and salt. Saute for another minute or so.
- 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.
- Add the tomatoes and cook down till oil separates.
- Add the potatoes and mix well.
- 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.
- Garnish with the dhania/cilantro and serve with rice or chapatis/parathas.
- Whatever chicken you use, do use bone-in chicken. Homestyle chicken curries are basically spice-enhanced broths and you need bones for flavour.
- 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.
- 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.
- You can add 1-2 large carrots cut into big chunks along with the potatoes.
- You can use less of the ginger and/or garlic but I wouldn’t recommend using more.
- 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.
- You can leave the tomatoes out entirely if you like, or use a bit of vinegar instead for sourness (maybe a tablespoon).
- 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.
- Make sure you cook the tomatoes down: you don’t want big chunks of tomatoes floating in the finished curry.
- 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.
- 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!