Good chicken curry or stew is loved the world over. Each cook uses the spices they love, and some onion and garlic often get thrown in the mix. Maybe even some ginger joins the party, making a soul-satisfying meal with some rice. Kerala chicken curry is infused with the warming spices (garam masala) of the region based on fennel, green cardamom, and black pepper. I have posted a Kerala garam masala, but if you prefer to buy it, try to find a South Indian garam masala brand called Eastern, for example. Or I have a quick substitute described in the Notes below that does a good job of giving you a rich and savory taste of Kerala.
Chicken dinner twist
If you have been making Indian food for a while, this cooking process should look very familiar. Kerala chicken curry only requires a brief 30-minute marinade. While that is happening, create a simple sauce starting with onions, ginger, garlic, and a chili or two (more or less as you wish). Then add ground spices to get to know everyone. If there are tomatoes to go in, as there are in this dish, they cook down into a paste. Then the last step, and the gilding of many a South Indian stew: coconut milk. Well, sometimes freshly grated coconut is used, but not today.
PS If you love the flavors of Kerala, take a look at my Instant Pot beef curry.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Kerala Chicken Curry
- 2 tablespoon coconut oil ~ Or oil of your choice
- 1 cup onion ~ Minced
- 10 curry leaves ~ Coarsely chopped. See Notes below. About and buy.
- 2 small green Indian chilies ~ Minced or one serrano; more or less to taste
- 1 1/2 tablespoon ginger garlic paste ~ Make or buy
- 1 tablespoon Kerala garam masala ~ Make or buy; or a quick substitute see Notes
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or to taste; replace with 1/4 tsp. cayenne OR
- 1 cup tomato purée ~ Or 2 medium tomatoes chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon sea or table salt
- 1 cup coconut milk
- Gather all your marinade ingredients.
- Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. I prefer roughly 1 1/2 by 1 1/2 cubes. In a bowl that will hold the chicken, add all the marinade ingredients except the chicken. Combine the spices and lemon juice, then add the chicken. Stir to coat the meat well and set aside to marinade.
- Gather all your sauce ingredients.
- Heat the coconut oil in a wok or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 8 to 12 minutes until the edges turn golden brown.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the curry leaves (if using), and the ginger garlic paste. Sauté for 2 minutes or until the ginger and garlic no longer smells raw.
- Add the garam masala OR the 3-spice combination listed in Notes, turmeric, red chili powder and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. 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. Add the chicken (and the lime zest if using instead of curry leaves) and cook for 3 minutes.
- Add 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 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
- Serve with rice and your favorite flatbread. This curry freezes very well.
- If you prefer using chicken breasts for Kerala chicken curry, there are several things you can do to keep them from overcooking: leave the breasts whole and reduce the High-Pressure cook time to 8 minutes. Cut the chicken up before serving.
- Curry leaves add herbaceous, anise, and citrus notes to a dish. curry. 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 can add some of the citrus notes you get with the real thing. Buy unwaxed fruit.
- Instead of the Kerala garam masala, you can use regular garam masala, buy or make. Or make this quick Kerala garam masala substitute: 1/2 teaspoon ground green cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds.