Make a full-flavored tasty Chicken Curry with this easy recipe. Tender & succulent pieces of chicken swimming in a super flavorful & delicious curry sauce, is the ultimate comfort food for a curry lover. This post will teach you how to make a basic Indian Chicken Curry at home with pantry staples. I also share tips & tricks to customize it further to your palate.
What is Chicken Curry?
Chicken Curry is a traditional Indian dish made by simmering chicken pieces with plenty of spices, herbs, onions and tomatoes. It is believed to have originated in India & now made and enjoyed all over the world.
Also known as curried chicken, this dish is popular across the Asian countries and variations exist with different names.
Indian cuisine is diverse so there are again numerous ways to make an Indian Chicken Curry. While spices, herbs and onions are a staple in every version, some recipes use ingredients like tomatoes, yogurt (curd), coconut, poppy seeds or nuts to enhance the taste.
About this recipe
I have grown up eating many kinds of Indian Chicken Curries from various regions as my Mom was a food enthusiast. So making a good Chicken Curry is something I learnt from my Mom.
I have shared a lot of Chicken Curry & Lamb Curry recipes on this blog which are our family favourites. But this recipe is the most basic version and a great one to start with if you are a novice.
This recipe uses the most basic ingredients in the traditional form & requires no fancy ingredients like canned tomatoes, stock or any sort of cream. But feel-free to use what you have on hand depending on where you live. Ex: replace the fresh tomatoes with canned.
If you are a beginner please read the full post including Pro Tips, ingredients & substitutes and possible variations sections below before you try the recipe.
Authentic Indian Curry Does Not Use
- Canned tomato puree
- Curry powder
- Cornstarch or
- Any kind of stock or broth
So this recipe does not use any of the above mentioned ingredients & will give you a real Indian chicken curry with a burst of flavors & deliciousness. However feel free to use canned tomatoes but do adjust the spices. You can also use stock for flavor, especially if you are using boneless chicken.
How to make Chicken Curry (Stepwise Photos)
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in heavy bottom pan. When the oil turns hot, add
- 1 small bay leaf (or 1 sprig curry leaves)
- 2 inch cinnamon piece
- 4 cloves
- 3 green cardamoms. (All of these are optional but recommended)
2. Add 1 cup very finely chopped onions and 1 chopped green chili pepper. Saute the onions till they turn golden. To speed up, I used another tbsp of oil here and this is optional.
3. Add 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste. Make sure the onions turn golden before adding ginger garlic.
4. Saute ginger garlic for about 2 to 3 minutes or until the raw smell disappears completely.
5. Add ½ cup tomatoes (chopped or mashed or pureed). Also add ¼ teaspoon turmeric and ½ teaspoon salt.
6. Next fry until the tomatoes turn completely mushy and the raw smell has gone.
7. Add 1 teaspoon red chili powder and ¼ cup whisked yogurt (curd). Check the tips section below to know tips on how to prevent yogurt from splitting in the curry. To substitute yogurt, you can soak 12 cashew nuts or almonds or 3 tablespoons white poppy seeds in ½ cup hot water for 30 minutes. Blend it to a smooth paste & add here.
8. Saute on a medium flame until the mixture becomes thick and begins to smell good. Optional – If you do not like chunky onions in your curry, then cool and blend this with water to a smooth puree.
9. Add the following ingredients
- ½ kg chicken (about 1 lb)
- 1 teaspoon garam masala powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves or mint leaves.
10. Saute for 3 to 4 mins or until the chicken turns pale.
11. Cover and cook on a low flame for about 3 to 4 mins so the chicken absorbs the flavors. Meanwhile, heat 1 cup water in a separate pot. You can also microwave the water in a cup for 1 min.
12. Pour ½ to ¾ cup hot water or as needed. Using cold water often makes the meat tough & hard.
13. Make sure you use just enough water to partially cover the chicken. Cover and cook on a low to medium heat until soft tender. It took about 10 mins for me. This may vary depending on the age of the chicken or the size of the pieces. Do not cook on a high temperature.
14. Lastly check whether the chicken is done by pricking it with a fork. It must be soft and should fall off the bone easily. Taste the curry and add more salt if need. Also add ½ teaspoon more garam masala if you feel the curry is low on flavor.
When the curry reaches a desired consistency switch off the stove. Add some coriander leaves for garnish. Keep covered until you serve.
- Fine chop the onions so they cook down to a jammy texture in the curry. This also helps to cook the onions faster. You may use a chopper or food processor for that.
- You can use chopped tomatoes or pureed tomatoes. I prefer to peel and deseed the tomatoes if using them in chopped form. If you want to use canned tomatoes or passata, you will need higher amount of ground spices.
- The specialty of this chicken curry is to slow cook on a low heat. Do not hurry up to finish the dish. A slow cooked dish is worth the effort as it really stands out in taste & flavor. A chicken curry prepared on a high heat yields a hotchpotch curry and not the one that you will really love & enjoy.
Ingredients & Substitutes
Choosing chicken: You can make this curry with boneless or bone-in chicken. But bone-in chicken yields the best curry due to the marrow goodness. Bone-in chicken also thickens the curry without adding any thickener.
Most traditional Indian households use the whole chicken that is cut to equal sizes. The curry is made with all the pieces – thighs, breasts etc. But if you are choosy you can use whatever you like. This kind of whole chicken that is cut up is known as curry-cut chicken.
Whole spices: Whole spices like bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves and cardamoms impart additional flavor to the curry. While they can easily be left out if you do not have I advise giving them a try whenever possible. You will find the flavors of the curry more robust and intense.
Since ground spices oxidize overtime (during their shelf-life) whole spices boost and impart the flavors slowly as your curry simmers.
Garam masala: Garam masala is an Indian spice blend made by dry roasting whole spices & grinding them. The key ingredient to make a good chicken curry is a good garam masala or a chicken masala.
I use this homemade garam masala or this biryani masala. You can also use store bought garam masala for convenience. Also note that every brand is different and you have to adjust the quantity depending on the strength and aroma of the garam masala.
Substitute: A good substitute to garam masala is a meat masala, biryani masala, kitchen king masala or curry powder. You can again choose something good from a popular brand. But please note that a curry powder does not have the same aroma & spice level as the garam masala powder.
Taste enhancer or thickener
Traditional chicken curry is made without any thickening agents. To enhance the taste & give the curry sauce a thicker feel, ingredients like coconut, yogurt, nut paste or poppy seeds are used in smaller quantities.
Back home in India, my Mom would always use white poppy seeds paste to make this chicken curry. Since poppy seeds are banned in the country I live, I either use yogurt, coconut or nut paste & a lot of times just nothing.
So feel free to use fresh yogurt if you do not own a blender to make a paste of coconut or nuts. Here is how to use yogurt:
Using Yogurt in Curry
Most often thick yogurt with lesser whey, won’t split in the curry but however for unknown reasons it may sometimes happen. So these tips will help you prevent that.
Simply whisk the yogurt with a fork until smooth. Temper the yogurt first by adding 2 tbsps of onion tomato masala (made in the recipe) to it. Mix it well. Lower the flame completely and pour the yogurt to the pan.
Yogurt that is not sour and has lesser whey works well in this recipe. So you can use Greek yogurt or even homemade yogurt.
If your yogurt is too runny and has a lot of whey, simply strain it in a cheese cloth and then use. Too much of whey will always split the yogurt in the chicken curry.
To make a Smooth Curry Sauce, simply cool the onion tomato masala and blend it with 1 cup water until smooth. You don’t need to fish out the whole spices.
First saute the chicken for a few minutes until pale, then simply strain the puree to the chicken and let simmer until you see traces of oil over. Add more hot water if you want to adjust the consistency.
Make Creamy Chicken Curry
You can make this chicken curry creamy by adding 4 tbsps of heavy cream, cooking cream, thickened cream or thick coconut milk towards the end. Also note that adding a lot of it will alter the flavor profile and may turn your dish bland.
Chicken Curry Recipe
For best results follow the step-by-step photos above the recipe card
Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )
- ½ kg (1.1 lbs.) chicken (preferably bone-in, boneless is okay too)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons oil
- 1 cup (3 medium) onions (fine chopped)
- 1 to 2 green chilies (slit, omit for less spicy, Thai or Indian chili peppers or serrano peppers)
- 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste or minced ginger garlic
- ½ cup (2 medium) tomatoes (pureed or finely chopped)
- ¼ cup yogurt (substitute with 12 cashews or 3 tbsps poppy seeds, refer notes)
- ½ to ¾ teaspoon salt (adjust as needed)
- ½ to 1 cup hot water (or coconut milk)
- 2 tablespoons coriander leaves or mint leaves finely chopped
Spice powders (or use curry powder as needed)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder or smoked paprika (½ tsp for less spicy)
- 1 teaspoon garam masala (½ tsp more if needed, adjust to taste)
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
Whole spices (omit if you don't have)
- 1 bay leaf or 1 sprig curry leaves
- 4 cloves
- 2 inch cinnamon piece
- 3 green cardamom
- First heat oil in a deep pan, then add whatever whole spices you have – bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves & green cardamoms. Fry them till you get an aroma, just for a min.
- Add chopped onions and chilies. Saute till the onions turn deep golden in color.
- Next add ginger garlic paste and saute till you get a nice aroma. This just takes about a minute.
- Then add tomatoes, turmeric and salt. Mix well and cook until the tomatoes turn soft & mushy.
- Pour yogurt (or cashew paste), red chili powder, garam masala & coriander powder.
- On a low heat, cook until the mixture smells good and the raw smell goes away.
- Add chicken and coriander leaves. Fry till the chicken turns white or pale in color. This takes around 3 mins.
- Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 to 4 minutes. This step is very important as the chicken absorbs all the flavors of the spices.
- Meanwhile in a separate pot, heat up 1 cup water. Using cold water most times toughens the chicken so it is good to use hot water.
How to make Chicken Curry
- Pour hot water just enough to make a thick curry. Do not add too much water. Chicken curry will become runny. Sometimes chicken lets out lot of moisture. So use only as needed.
- Cover and cook on a medium to low flame till the chicken is soft cooked and the curry turns thick.
- Taste the curry & add more salt if needed.
- You can also add another ½ tsp garam masala at this stage if you feel it is less in flavors.
- Cover and cook on a low flame for 3 to 5 mins. When the chicken is cooked completely it will fall off the bone easily.
- You can also skip the whole spices if you do not have. But they add a more intense flavor to the curry.
- To prevent yogurt from splitting, add it to a bowl and whisk it well with a fork. Add 2 tbsps of onion tomato masala (made in the recipe) and mix it well with yogurt. Ten lower the flame completely and pour the yogurt to the pan.
- To substitute yogurt, soak 12 cashew nuts or almonds or 3 tablespoons of white poppy seeds in half cup water for 30 minutes. Later blend it in a small grinder to make super smooth milk.
- If you don’t like chunky curry with onions and tomatoes then blend the onion tomato masala with half cup water in a blender.
- Adding cold water to chicken sometimes makes it hard or tough. So use hot water.
- This chicken curry can be cooked in coconut milk instead of water. Do not pour cold coconut milk. Heat up and add.
- Please choose a good garam masala for the recipe especially if using store bought. Some brands sell really pungent garam masala. Use it with caution.
- You can also use 3 to 4 tbsps of cream or thick coconut milk towards the end if you prefer. Just add it towards the end and turn off.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.
For best results follow my detailed step-by-step photo instructions and tips above the recipe card.
NUTRITION INFO (estimation only)
© Swasthi’s Recipes
If you are using naatu kodi / kozhi (country chicken) you can make this chicken curry in a pressure cooker and cook for 4 whistles on a medium flame.
I’m Swasthi Shreekanth, the recipe developer, food photographer & food writer behind Swasthi’s Recipes. My aim is to help you cook great Indian food with my time-tested recipes. After 2 decades of experience in practical Indian cooking I started this blog to help people cook better & more often at home. Whether you are a novice or an experienced cook I am sure Swasthi’s Recipes will assist you to enhance your cooking skills. More about me
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