Roast Chicken with Cumin and Curry Leaf

This recipe is an adaptation of an adaptation. I came across a reference last month to a David Lebovitz recipe for roast chicken with shallots. Looking on his site I discovered that his recipe is adapted from a cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis. I don’t know the original and am not sure how much or what change the recipe went through in Lebovitz’ adaptation but you will be entirely unsurprised to hear that my adaptation of the adaptation was an answer to the question, “Hmmm looks interesting, now how can I Indianize this?” I started with the tediously obvious swap of ghee for olive oil. I considered thin tamarind paste in place of red wine vinegar but was too lazy to soak a ball of tamarind and extract the paste; and so I went with lime juice. To the pepper in the recipe I added a lot of ground cumin and some ground Kashmiri chilli for colour. And I tore up a bunch of curry leaves and added them to the mix. I fully expected this to get me a lot of side-eye from the family—who would be happy if I made no roast chicken other than Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe blast furnace classic for the rest of my days—but what do you know, it was a big hit and is now in the rotation.


  • A large chicken cut into 8-10 pieces with the skin on
  • The following lightly toasted, cooled and ground to a coarse powder: 2 tblspns cumin seeds, 3 Kashmiri chillies [affiliate link], 1 tblspn black peppercorn, a small piece of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 1 tspn freshly pounded garlic
  • 2-3 big pinches kosher salt
  • 3 tblspns ghee
  • Lime juice, as needed (see below)
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots
  • 1 tblspn chopped dhania/cilantro for garnish (optional)


  1. Mix the ground spices, the haldi, the garlic, the salt and the ghee and add enough lime juice to make a thick paste (it should not be runny). Rip up the curry leaves and mix them into the paste. Rub the paste all over the pieces of chicken and marinate for at least two hours in the refrigerator.
  2. Remove the chicken from the fridge one hour before cooking and heat your oven to 425f.
  3. Place the marinated chicken in whatever baking dish you’re using, add the chopped shallots and turn the pieces a few times to get the shallots all over, ending with the chicken pieces skin-side up.
  4. Place in the center of the oven and roast for about 20 minutes or till the skin begins to brown. Then turn the pieces over and roast for another 20 minutes or till the chicken is done to your liking.
  5. Remove the chicken to a platter, pour the drippings in the dish into a bowl, skim as much fat as you can off and pour the rest over the chicken.
  6. Garnish with the cilantro (if using).
  7. Serve with steamed rice or with bread with some greens on the side.


  1. I’ve been making this with the usual 6 lb+ monster birds we get from a farm here. I save the backs, necks and wings for stock and cut the rest into 10 pieces: drumsticks, thighs and the very large breasts cuts into six pieces. If using a smaller bird you could adjust the marinade down or leave it as is for a more robust flavour.
  2. Want to add some ground fresh ginger? Go right ahead.
  3. Ditto if you want to add more or less cumin or mix some hotter red chillies in there.


4 thoughts on “Roast Chicken with Cumin and Curry Leaf

  1. Your recipe and pic looks yummy; is the skin crisp? It looks crisp. If not, no complaints, I think I might try this. I’d been to Zuni a few times when I lived out that way; is their chicken as good as the recipe makes it? (I’d never tried it at the restaurant or recipe at home.)

    Also, you didn’t say to, but I might serve with nan. And raita!!!


    • No, the skin is not super crisp—it might be that these bigger birds release more moisture but there’s quite a bit of liquid in the baking dish. If it’s not as crisp as you’d like as the chicken is getting done, you could always make sure to turn it skin side up and raise the temperature for the last 5-10 minutes.

      And yes, the Zuni chicken is one of those rare things that is raved about and truly lives up to the hype (especially if you make the bread salad that goes with it as well).


  2. As written, this recipe is very good. But my immediate reaction was that tamarind would make the dish sing. So on the reheat tonight, I added tamarind paste and wow, so much better. Definitely give it a try when you are not feeling “too lazy” (your words).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.