Good chicken curry or stew is a favorite the world over. The cooks of Kerala make theirs with a fragrant blend of fennel, star anise, and mace enriched with coconut milk. This is a dish you won't want to miss! If you want to make a Kerala curry with beef, try my Instant Pot beef curry.
Nadan, Malabar, or Kohzi Curry?
Kerala is a Southwestern coastal state of India. And chicken curry is described by all three of these names. These curries all have coconut, green chili, ginger, and garlic in common. So what do they mean?
The Malabar region follows the western coast from Goa, north of Kerala, to the southernmost tip of India. But a curry called Malabar chicken curry is mainly found in Northern Kerala. This version often starts with a paste of fresh coconut and spices.
The Nadan name comes from a Tamil caste called Nadars, located in Kerala and the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. Seafood, mutton, seafood, vegetables, and fresh herbs are the foundation of this cuisine.
And kohzi is simply the word for chicken in the local dialect of Malayalam.
I have posted a Kerala garam masala, but if you prefer to buy it, try finding a South Indian garam masala brand called Eastern. Or I have a quick substitute described in the Notes below that does an excellent job of giving you a fragrant taste of Kerala.
What's to Love
- A memorable blend of spices that you've probably not tasted before
- Marinade just as long as it takes you to make the sauce
- Excellent substitutes for any more difficult to find ingredients
- Perfect to make ahead or pop into the freezer for a rainy day
Ingredients & Substitutions
The marinade ingredients are a mix of ginger, garlic, red chili, salt, lemon juice, and turmeric. Oh, and the chicken of course! I prefer chicken thighs (skinless and boneless) but certainly, use breast meat if you prefer.
To make the sauce you will need:
- Fresh ginger and garlic
- Minced onion
- Green chili
- Coconut oil or your choice
- Kerala garam masala or a three-spice substitute
- Ground red chili: Kashmiri or cayenne
- Coconut milk
How to Make Kerala Chicken Curry
If you have been making Indian food for a while, this cooking process should look very familiar.
- While the chicken is marinading, create a simple sauce starting with onions, ginger, garlic, and a chili or two (more or less as you wish).
- Toast the ground spices briefly. Then stir in the tomatoes and cook them until they caramelize and thicken.
- And then the last step for many a South Indian stew is the addition of coconut milk.
With each addition getting the cooking time needed, this progression of ingredients builds a beautifully balanced curry.
Mix all the marinade ingredients together except the chicken. Then coat the chicken pieces well and set them aside while you make the sauce.
Heat the coconut oil in a wok or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and salt. Cook for 8 to 12 minutes until the edges turn golden brown.
Stir in the curry leaves (if using), green chili, and ginger garlic paste. Sauté for 2 minutes or until the ginger and garlic no longer smell raw.
Cook the onions
Add in the ginger, garlic, and chilies
Add the Kerala garam masala (or the 3-spice combination of ground cardamom, fennel, and black pepper as a substitute), turmeric, and red chili powder. Sauté for 1 minute.
Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until the sauce darkens and thickens. The oil will begin to separate along the edges.
Add the spices
Cook down the tomatoes
Add the chicken and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and turn the heat down to low. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes until the chicken is tender.
Questions and Answers
Besides the unique blend of spices, dishes are usually made with coconut milk, curry leaves, and, often, mustard seeds.
In general, a Malabar curry often starts with a fresh spice paste of grated coconut and aromatics instead of adding coconut milk near the end of cooking.
Not necessarily. Most dishes do have either/or ground pepper, red chilies, and fresh green chilies. But often heat is added with pickles. This curry is best with some mild heat as I have written in this recipe, but certainly, adjust it to your taste.
Yes! I typically don't prefer white meat, but in this dish, because the chicken cooks so briefly, it is easy to control the cooking time so that the breast meat doesn't overcook.
Tips & Tricks
- For even more flavor and convenience, cook Kerala chicken curry on night 1 (or at least marinate the chicken), reheat or finish cooking on Night 2.
- Finely chop the onions so that they melt into the sauce
- Use coconut oil for more of a taste of Kerala
- Don't hurry the cooking of the onions step ~ you are building flavor
- Don't hurry cooking the tomatoes. A secret to a good curry is proper flavor development by cooking the fresh ingredients long enough, so that carmelize, mellow their rawness, and allow the spices to marry.
Serving and Storing
Rice and any sort of flatbread make the perfect accompaniment. This chicken curry keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
It also freezes well. Using a ziplock bag or airtight container it will keep for 1 to 2 months. Ideally, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, but a quick thaw in the microwave also works. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit of liquid. Any sort of milk or even water will do.
Some other delicious Kerala recipes
And more Kerala recipes besides!
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to hear about it! Please rate by clicking stars ⭐️ on the recipe card and/or let me know in the comments section below. Thank you! ~Alonna
Recipe Card 📖
Creamy Kerala-Style Chicken Curry (Nadan)
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs ~ Or breasts, see Notes below
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or to taste; replace with 1/2 tsp. cayenne OR
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice ~ Or lime juice
- 3/4 teaspoons sea or table salt ~ Or to taste. Double if using Diamond Kosher
- 2 tablespoon coconut oil ~ Or oil of your choice
- 1 cup onion ~ Finely minced
- 1/8 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ To taste
- 10 curry leaves ~ Coarsely chopped. See Notes below. About
- 1 teaspoon small green Indian chilies ~ Or Serrano minced, or serrano. See NOTES
- 1 1/2 tablespoon ginger garlic paste ~ Make or buy, or 2 teaspoon each grated ginger and garlic
- 1 tablespoon Kerala garam masala ~ Make or buy; or a quick substitute in Notes
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or to taste; replace with 1/4 tsp. cayenne or substitutes
- 1 cup tomato purée ~ Or 2 medium tomatoes chopped
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala ~ Optional. The more common version.
- 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) ~ Optional
- Gather all your marinade ingredients. In a bowl that will hold the chicken, add all the marinade ingredients except the chicken.
- Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. I prefer roughly 1 1/2 by 1 1/2 cubes. Combine the spices and lemon juice, then thoroughly coat the chicken. Set aside to marinate.
- Heat the coconut oil in a wok or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion and salt. Cook for 8 to 12 minutes until the edges turn golden brown.
- Stir in the curry leaves (if using), the minced green chili, and the ginger garlic paste. Sauté for 2 minutes or until the ginger and garlic no longer smell raw.
- Add the Kerala garam masala (OR the 3-spice combination in Notes), turmeric, and red chili powder. Sauté for 1 minute, adding a tablespoon of water if the masala is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the sauce darkens and thickens. (Fresh tomatoes will take longer to break down.) The oil will begin to separate along the edges. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the chicken (and the lime zest if using instead of curry leaves) and cook for 3 minutes.
- Stir in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and turn the heat down to low, or whatever temperature keeps the stew cooking at a very low simmer. Allow to cook for about 8 to 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.
- If using chicken breasts begin checking for doneness in 5 minutes. Stir in the final garam masala and kasoori methi if using.
- Serve with rice and your favorite flatbread. This curry freezes very well.
- If using chicken breasts: Start checking at the 5-minute mark for doneness so as not to dry out the meat.
- Curry leaves add herbaceous, anise, and citrus notes to a dish. If you can’t find them, you can add 1/2 teaspoon of lime rind. The result won't be the same but the zest will add some of the citrus notes you get with the real thing. Try to find unwaxed fruit or scrub well.
- Green and ground red chili: This amount of chili will give you a low hum of heat. Feel free to add more or less to taste. The same goes for the ground red chil.
- Spicing options:
- Make a Kerala garam masala.
- Make this quick Kerala garam masala substitute:
- 1/2 teaspoon ground green cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds.
- Or look for a South Indian-style garam masala like the Eastern brand.
- Or you can use regular garam masala (buy or make). You won't have the flavors of Kerala but it will be a delicious curry.
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