Chicken Curry with Fennel

The last recipe of the month is for a chicken curry that I was inspired to make by and for a long-time reader of the blog, Dan Davies (who goes by yak_lord on Instagram and whisky_yak on Twitter). He has made and posted pictures of a number of my recipes over the years and I have always appreciated it: it gives me great pleasure when my recipes enter other people’s repertoires. Last month a post he made on Instagram citing one of my recipes caught my eye. He noted that he’d not used garlic and had substituted fennel for onion. At first I was foxed by this. But, of course, there was a good reason for it: a dietary restriction in his household that makes cooking with onions, garlic and other alliums untenable. This got me thinking and I resolved to come up with a chicken curry recipe that centered fennel and omitted onions and garlic from the get-go. The recipe also eschews red chilli powder and tomatoes and the spice mix includes quite a lot of poppy seed. This makes for a “white” gravy that is mild yet flavourful: the fennel brings a bright sweetness, the pepper and ginger a bit of bite and the whole garam masalas and green chillies add fragrance. For best results use chicken on the bone as without onion or garlic you need more depth of flavour in the gravy than boneless chicken will give you.

This has, by the way, become a popular dish in our house since I first made it. The boys really enjoyed and actually asked for it to be made again—which is the most gratifying kind of peer review.


  • 1 chicken (4-5 lbs), cut into 8-10 pieces
  • 2 fennel bulbs, cut into small wedges after removal of the dense cores at the base of the bulbs.
  • The following whole garam masala: 2 tez patta/dried Indian bay leaves; 5 pods green cardamom; 3-5 cloves; 2 small pieces of cassia bark/cinnamon
  • 2-3 Thai chillies, slit lengthwise
  • 1 heaped tblspn freshly crushed ginger
  • 3/4 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • The following spices ground together into a coarse powder: 1/2 tspn methi/fenugreek seeds; 1 tspn zeera/cumin seeds; 1 tspn black peppercorn; 2 tspns coriander seed; 1 tblspn poppy seeds
  • 1.5-2 cups of water, fresh off the boil
  • Salt
  • 3-4 tblspns neutral oil of choice
  • 1-2 tblspns chopped dhania/cilantro for garnish


  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a deep saucepan and when it shimmers add the whole garam masala.
  2. As soon as the tez patta darkens (very soon), add the slit chillies and crushed ginger and stir till the raw aroma of the ginger is gone.
  3. Add the chicken, mix in well and saute for a few minutes, stirring often.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the salt, the haldi and the ground masala, mix in thoroughly and saute, stirring often, till the oil begins to separate.
  5. Add the fennel, mix in and saute for 5-7 minutes, stirring often, till the chicken has begun to brown and the fennel has begun to soften.
  6. Add the water, mix in and bring to a high simmer.
  7. Cover the pan and cook till the chicken is tender.
  8. Garnish with the dhania and serve with rice.


  1. You can certainly use milder green chillies if all you’re after is the fragrance.
  2. And you can also reduce the amount of black pepper if you’d like it a bit milder.
  3. The poppy seeds in question are the white variety that you can find in desi stores.
  4. If you’re worried about the chicken possibly sticking at the last stage, add 2 rather than 1.5 cups of water and reduce the gravy as needed after uncovering the pan. Remember the chicken will also give off more water as it cooks.
  5. Yes, there’s a Reel.


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