Oh so delicious
Xacuti (pronounced shakuti) is a complex spice blend that works with any protein you want to use. Traditionally made with chicken or lamb, it pairs beautifully with seafood, beef, or vegetables as well. Enriched with toasted and then ground coconut, and spicy from black pepper and whole red chilies, this curry goes from a bit kicky, all the way to very hot, depending on your heat tolerance.
A beautifully balanced blend of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, white poppy seeds, and fennel seeds gives Goan chicken curry its distinctive signature. Goa is a west coast state in India known for its food and beaches. And while I have made sauces that use these very same spices, the differing amounts, and small changes in its minor supporting flavors, e.g., cardamom, mustard seeds, and fenugreek seeds, make Goan chicken curry genuinely memorable. Oh, and no marination except while you are toasting the spices.
Hot or not
When looking at xacuti photographs online, you see the color ranges from golden brown to bright red. The color of your curry is dependent on the number of dried red chilies you use. I always start on the lower end of the heat scale because one can always add some additional ground chili in the end.
The four Kashmiri chilies I use in this recipe is a bit spicy. It is just enough for me and a couple of notches lower than what my husband likes, but I know he can always sprinkle some ground chili on his serving to his taste. Also, know that Kashmiri chilies are prized for their color and fruity flavor, but they are on the low end of the heat scale. If you are using another type of dried red chili, you may want to use fewer chilies than I suggest unless you are familiar with their heat level.
Make it your own
Besides heat levels and your choice of protein, you get to choose how dry or saucy you want your curry. It is perfectly fine to have a dish with the water cooked out and the sauce just clinging to the meat or vegetables. Or it can be quite saucy. I shoot for somewhere in between the two. It is lovely to have enough thickened gravy to moisten a side of fluffy basmati rice. To get my preferred thickness, I sometimes remove the cooked chicken and give the sauce a good boil for 5 to 10 minutes until it is thickened to my taste. You are the boss of your Goan curry.
Try this curry!
While there are quite a few spices in this recipe it is not hard to make. And the result is so beguiling that you will forgive the measuring required. The only unusual spices to non-Indians are the fenugreek seeds and white poppy seeds. White poppy seeds are used for flavor and to thicken sauces. Black poppy seeds are not a great substitute here. My recommendation, if you can't find white poppy seeds, is to either use an equal amount of white or black sesame seeds or chia seeds. Both can be toasted with the rest of the spices.
I encourage you to make this Goan chicken curry. It is worth the effort, and you will experience flavors you’ve never had before but you will want to make again and again.
P.S. If you would like to try a Goan shrimp dish make my prawn curry (balchao).
See the Notes below before you cook.
Goan Chicken Curry (Xacuti)
- 2 pounds skinless bone-in chicken ~ Cut into pieces
- 1/4 cup lime juice ~ Or lemon juice
- 1 1/4 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Substitutions
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Whole Spices & Coconut for Toasting
- 1 cup fresh coconut ~ Or frozen, or 1 1/12 cup desicated (dry) coconut
- 1 tablespoon white poppy seeds ~ See Notes below for substitutes
- 4 Kashmiri dried red chilies ~ More or less to taste, substitutes
- 8 whole cloves
- 2 inches cinnamon stick
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 12 black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds ~ Or anise seeds
- 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds ~ Or black or yellow seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds ~ Skip if you don't have
- 2 tablespoons ghee ~ Or oil of your choice
- 1 1/2 cups onions ~ Finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic ~ Finely minces, grated or puréed
- 1 tablespoon ginger ~ Finely minces, grated or puréed
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 tablespoons cilantro ~ Optional garnish
Whole Spices & Coconut
- Gather the spices for toasting and the coconut.
- In a large skillet or pan, toast the coconut over medium heat until light golden brown. About 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the coconut from the pan and allow it to cool.
- In the same pan over medium heat add the rest of the spices under the toasting heading. Stir or shake the pan frequently until the spices are fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Allow them to cool for 5 minutes.
- In a spice grinder and process the coconut to a powder and pour it into a medium-sized bowl. Grind the spices in a batch or two and add them to the coconut powder.
- In a medium heavy saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat, add the ghee and allow it to get hot. Add the onion and sauté until it becomes tranlucent and begins browning; about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, turmeric, and nutmeg. Sauté for several minutes until the garlic no longer smells raw.
- Measure 2 cups of water and place beside your stovetop. Add the ground spices and coconut to the onion mixture and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If the mixture begins to stick, add some of the water; you may need up to 3 or 4 tablespoons of water. This step of toasting the spices is an important step, so take your time.
- Add the chicken pieces and the rest of the 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and return the heat to low. Cover the pan and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is tender.
- Taste for seasoning. You may need some more lime juice, heat from some ground chili, or salt. If the sauce is too thick, add some water. And if you prefer a thicker sauce, remove the chicken and give the sauce a good boil until it reaches the desired thickness. Return the chicken to the sauce and heat it through. Serve with a simple side of rice and garnish with chopped cilantro. This is a perfect make-ahead curry.
- Use an equal amount of white or black sesame seeds, or chia seeds instead. Both the sesame seeds and the chia seeds can be toasted with the rest of the spices.
- Feel free to use other proteins, especially lamb, beef, or even seafood. With some sort of fish, prawns, or shrimp, you could make this recipe a weeknight cook. Vegetables would work well with this masala too. I am thinking of 8 cups of a mix of potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, string beans, and mushrooms. Anything you like really.
- To streamline the cooking steps I had my butcher remove the skin from the chicken. I can only get the combinations of skin on, bone-in, or skinless and boneless chicken. As usual, I prefer to use chicken thighs because they are much juicier.