Dad’s Kerala Chicken Curry

This recipe for Kerala chicken curry can be made with different ingredients like tomatoes, coconut, or potatoes.

Kerala style chicken curry can vary from household to household, but this is particular recipe is an adaptation of my dad’s, one of my favorite childhood dishes.

My dad made chicken curry often and every version tasted different yet delicious. 

I’ll never forget the time he made what I thought was his best one ever. It had a rich mahogany color and tasted spicy, tangy, sweet, & caramelized.

When I asked him what his secret was, he looked confused at first and then started laughing so hard his face turned as red as the curry.

He said there was no secret. He wasn’t watching the pot and the tomatoes burned on the bottom! He continued making the curry hoping nobody would notice the burnt tomatoes. 

That happy accident created the most tastiest gravies I have ever eaten. Unfortunately, neither my dad nor I could recreate that recipe. But it doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying. 

How to Make Kerala Chicken Curry

Start by gathering 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 3-4 cardamom pods, 3-4 cloves, 1 1/2 inch piece cinnamon, 3 black peppercorns, 1/4 inch piece nutmeg, 1 petal star anise, and 1 pinch of cumin seeds.

Grind the spices together in a spice or coffee grinder until you have a fine powder. Store the masala in a jar and keep in the fridge for optimal freshness.

Also have on hand, cayenne or Indian chili powder, paprika, and ground turmeric and coriander powders.

Next, slice or mince a small onion, mince a 1 inch piece of peeled garlic, and mince few cloves of garlic. Keep these together in a small bowl along with 2-4 green chilies.

The green chilies can be left whole (for mild spice), split in half (for medium spice), or minced finely (for very spicy).

Also, dice a small tomato and set aside.

Then cut some skinless chicken thighs into 1-2 inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Alternatively, use chicken drumsticks with the skin removed.

To the chicken, add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, a few tablespoons of yogurt, 1/3 of the minced ginger and 1/3 of the sliced onions from above, and a handful of curry leaves. Set this aside.

The chicken can be marinated several hours in advance and stored in the fridge until ready to use.

In a large pan or dutch oven, heat the oil on medium-high heat. When the oil starts shimmering add the onions, ginger, garlic, green chilies, and curry leaves. Sauté for 5-8 minutes stirring constantly until the onions are golden brown.

Now add diced tomatoes or tomato paste. Sauté another 1-2 minutes or until tomatoes are cooked down and start sticking to the bottom of the pan.

If you are not using tomatoes, I recommend adding a dash of vinegar or lemon juice for some acidity.

Reduce heat to low and add 1/4 cup ground coriander and 1/2-1 teaspoon chili powder. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until it turns a deep brown color and the spices become aromatic. Be careful not to burn!

Finally, stir in the marinated chicken and cover with a lid. Increase heat to medium-low and let simmer for 10 minutes. There’s no need to add any water at this point, as the chicken will release its own liquid.

After 10 minutes, check the chicken and add about 1/4-1/2 cup hot water if needed. Also add the homemade masala and give another stir. Cover with the lid and and let simmer for about 20 minutes.

Turn off heat and add more salt if needed. You can also drizzle the curry with a little coconut oil if desired.

Most curries taste better 1-2 days after being made because the flavors have time to deepen and become concentrated.

Allow the curry to cool down at room temp for 1 hour. Then store in a covered container in the fridge for up to 1-3 days. You can also freeze and thaw overnight in the fridge. Reheat in microwave or gently over the stove.

Variations for Chicken curry

  • Adding Potatoes: Before sautéing the onions, cube 1 medium potato (Yukon gold preferred), toss with 1/4 tsp turmeric + 1/4 tsp salt, and fry in 2 teaspoons of oil for about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside while cooking the chicken. Add the potatoes to the curry in the last 10 minutes of cooking
  • Coconut Version: Omit the tomatoes or tomato paste and add 1/2 cup low-fat or regular coconut milk halfway through cooking. This version is creamy and slightly sweet.

Kids’ Ratings:
9 year-old: “Absolutely delicious!”
7 year-old: “Delicious, absolutely!”

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A savory and spicy curry made of ground meat, onions, tomatoes, veggies, and plenty of masala! 
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Joby's Test Kitchen Kerala Chicken Curry in metal bowl on wooden platter

Dad’s Kerala Chicken Curry

Joby’s Test Kitchen
Tender pieces of chicken simmered in a rich gravy of tomatoes, onions, and spices.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 44 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 4 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Servings 8
Calories 182 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 lbs skinless chicken thighs cut into pieces, or drumsticks with the skin removed
  • tsp salt or more as needed
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 2-4 tbsps (30-60g) plain yogurt
  • 1 small onion or ½ large onion, sliced (dad recommends red onion)
  • 1 inch peeled ginger, minced or grated
  • 2 branches curry leaves
  • 1-2 tbsps (15-30ml) oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2-4 green chili peppers, split or left whole for less spicy
  • 1 small tomato, diced or 1-2 tbsps tomato paste (*see Notes)
  • ½-1 tsp red chili powder (substitute with ½ paprika for less spice)
  • ¼ cup coriander powder
  • 1 heaping tsp chicken masala (store-bought is also fine)
  • coconut oil, optional

Chicken Masala: grind spices together to make about 2 teaspoons

  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3-4 whole cardamom pods
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • inch cinnamon stick or ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 black peppercorns or ¼ ground black pepper
  • ⅛-¼ tsp nutmeg, optional
  • 1 petal star anise, optional
  • 1 pinch cumin, optional

Instructions
 

  • In a medium bowl, mix together chicken, salt, turmeric, yogurt, ⅓ of the ginger, ⅓ of the onions, and ⅓ of the curry leaves. Set aside.
  • In a large pan or dutch oven, heat the oil on medium-high heat. When the oil starts shimmering add the rest of the onions, ginger, and curry leaves, along with garlic and green chili. Sauté for 5-8 minutes until golden brown, stirring constantly.
  • Add tomatoes or tomato paste, if using. Sauté another 1-2 minutes, or until tomatoes are cooked down and look like a thick paste and start sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  • Reduce heat to low and add coriander and chili powders. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until it turns a deep brown color and the spices become aromatic. Be careful not to burn!
  • Finally add the chicken mixture, stir, and cover with a lid. Increase heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 10 minutes. No need to add any water at this point, as the chicken will release its own liquid.
  • After 10 minutes, check the chicken, adding about ¼ cup hot water if needed. Now add the masala and give another stir, cover, and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
  • Turn off heat, and add more salt if needed. Drizzle with a little coconut oil if desired.
  • Most curries taste better 1-2 days after being made because the flavors have time to deepen and become concentrated. Allow the curry to cool down at room temp for 1 hour. Then store in a covered container in the fridge for up to 1-3 days. You can also freeze and thaw overnight in the fridge. Reheat in microwave or gently over the stove.

Notes

Potato Version: Before sautéing the onions, cube 1 medium potato (Yukon gold preferred), toss with ¼ tsp turmeric + ¼ tsp salt, and fry in 2 tsps oil for about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside while cooking the chicken. Add to the curry at the last 10 minutes of cooking
Coconut Version: Omit the tomatoes/tomato paste and add ½ cup low-fat or regular coconut milk halfway through cooking.
Tomatoes: If you are not using tomatoes, I would recommend adding a dash of vinegar or lemon juice for some acidity.
Keyword chicken curry, Indian, Kerala

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