White Masala Chicken

This recipe is a variation on one of my absolute favourite chicken dishes. Made by an aunt who is one of the two best cooks in the entire extended family, we refer to it only as “shaada chicken” or “white chicken”. It visually resembles the rezala but unlike that classic Bengali “Mughlai” dish it does not contain nuts or yogurt. In my aunt’s recipe the chicken is cooked with pureed onions, ginger, garlic, green chiliies and a few whole spices and that’s it. (No, there’s no haldi/turmeric in this—I know, it feels strange to me too.) I got that recipe from my aunt several years ago—and it became very popular on an Indian food forum way back when—but of course I could never make it taste as good as she does. As to whether that’s because she left something out of the recipe or because her hand is just several orders of magnitude better than mine, I don’t know. But I do know that this variation that adds a few more “white”/grey spices to the mix is also pretty good. It’s even approved of by our children. Give it a go—there’s a good chance you’ll like it too.


  • A 4-5 lb chicken cut into 8-10 pieces or equivalent in drumsticks, thighs and breasts.
  • The following whole garam masala: 5 pods green cardamom, 5 cloves, 1 large piece cassia bark/cinnamon, 1-2 tez patta/cassia leaves
  • A large red onion, either thinly sliced or pureed
  • 1 tblspn freshly pounded garlic
  • 1 tblspn freshly pounded ginger
  • The following ground into a fine powder: 1 tblspn fennel seeds, 1 tblspn white sesame seeds, 1 tblspn poppy seeds, 1 tblspn coriander seeds, 1 tspn methi/fenugreek seeds
  • 3-5 slit Thai chillies
  • 1-2 cups water off the boil
  • Salt
  • Neutral oil of choice
  • 2 tblspns chopped dhania/cilantro for garnish


  1. Heat 2-3 tblspns of oil over medium heat in a deep pan and when it shimmers add all the whole garam masala.
  2. When the tez patta begins to darken add the onion puree or sliced onion, depending on which you’re using.
  3. Saute the onion till the oil begins to separate from the puree and the raw aroma is gone or till the sliced onion is softened but not darkened.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic, mix and saute for another minute or till the raw aroma is gone.
  5. Add all the ground masalas, mix and saute for another minute or two, keeping everything moving.
  6. Add the chicken and salt, mix in and saute till the oil begins to separate.
  7. Add the water and the slit green chillies, lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pan and cook till the chicken is tender.
  8. Uncover, taste and adjust for salt.
  9. Garnish with the chopped dhania and serve with steamed rice or parathas.


  1. Using pureed onions will make the gravy richer but you have to be sure to saute the onion puree till the raw aroma is completely gone. You can also puree the ginger and garlic with the onions.
  2. The onion puree may turn bluish-green when it hits the heat—especially if the garlic is ground with the onion. Don’t worry about it.
  3. If you use sliced onions the gravy will be a little sweeter.
  4. The chicken will give off a lot of liquid as it cooks and you may find two cups of water to be too much. I’d suggest making it with two cups of water the first time and tasting the gravy when the chicken is done. If it tastes too “thin” you can raise the heat to medium, remove the cover and reduce it for a few minutes. If you prefer the flavour with a more clingy gravy make it with 1 cup of water the next time. But be careful with the salt—don’t add it all till you know whether you’re going to reduce the gravy or not.
  5. For further variation you could also puree the green chillies and the dhania with the onions, ginger and garlic.


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