This Madras chicken curry is so much tastier and healthier than any takeout. And quick and easy enough for a weeknight. It is the perfect chicken curry for your crockpot or make on the stovetop, as you wish. Another Madras curry to make is my coconut lamb curry or try Spicy Chicken 65 Biryani from Chennai.
What is Madras Style Curry?
Madras chicken curry is a favorite dish the world over. One bite of a good Madras curry and you can see why. While that city in the state of Tamil Nadu is now called Chennai, the Madras name lives on for this masala.
The sauce begins with the often-used Indian combination of ginger, garlic, onion, and tomato. But what makes this curry special is the accents of cinnamon, fennel, mustard, and fenugreek seeds. Chicken is most often used, but mutton (lamb in the West), beef, and mixed vegetables are also delicious bathed in this rich and creamy spiced coconut milk.
You can certainly buy a Madras curry spice blend, and I have some recommendations for that in the Ingredients section. However, my recipe for an easy, freshly made Madras curry powder, will take your curry to another level.
Authentic or Not?
There is much disagreement about whether this curry is "authentic." It seems that even Indians can't agree on whether this masala has grown out of Indian kitchens, or whether it is an Anglo-Indian invention.
The popular Madras curry served in restaurants in the UK is not to be found anywhere in Madras. However . . .in the the Coromandel coast (near Chennai), the local village cook made a stunning mutton curry.Camellia Panjabi, "50 Great Curries of India"
As Ms. Panjabi was traveling throughout India to research her book, two local chefs on separate occasions served her mutton and fish curry, which was spiced very similarly to the recipe we think of as Madras curry. If you are interested in a bit more about the authenticity of this dish, see my Madras curry powder recipe notes.
What's to Love
- Make a Madras curry without the heat if you wish. This recipe has a pleasant moderately low hum of heat. Adjust the chili powder to your taste.
- No marinading time needed
- Use your slow cooker and have a memorable dinner at the end of the day
- Perfect to make ahead or pop into the freezer for a rainy day
Ingredients & Substitutions
Make this curry with just 10 ingredients:
- Ginger garlic paste, make or buy
- Madras curry powder, make or buy
- Garam masala, make or buy
- Kashmiri chili powder or cayenne
- Coconut milk
- Lemon or lime juice
- Paprika, optional for color
NOTE: If buying Madras curry powder:
I have tried Swad Madras chili powder. It was good but not as complex as my blend, however, it was great in a pinch. Frontier Co-op's Curry Powder with Coriander, Turmeric, and Mustard isn't called Madras curry powder, however, the ingredients are similar and it makes a good substitute. Also very good is the Sun Brand Madras curry powder, but it was very mild so I added a bit more Kashmiri chili. Spicewalla's Madras blend is up next!
How to Make Madras Chicken Curry
I have made this recipe on the stovetop and the slow cooker and both work quite well. However, I have found that if you are using chicken breast, the slow cooker produced slightly more moist meat.
For either cooking method, follow these instructions:
- Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
- Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan and add the onion and salt. Cook until the edges of the onion turns golden brown.
- Stir in the ginger garlic paste. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the spices and cook for several minutes.
Add ginger garlic paste to onions
- Add the tomato and cook until the sauces thickens.
- Pour in the coconut milk and add paprika, if using. Proceed with either the slow cooker or stovetop instructions.
Stir in the chicken
Stir in the chicken. Bring to a simmer and cover the pan. Turn the heat down to low, or whatever temperature keeps the masala cooking at a very low simmer. Allow to cook for about 20 minutes for chicken thighs, and 12 to 15 minutes for chicken breast. Add the lemon juice and taste for seasonings.
Chicken Curry ~ Slow Cooker
Follow the instructions above to prepare the sauce. Then:
- Transfer the sauce mixture to your crockpot. Nestle the chicken into the sauce and cover. Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours, or until the chicken thigh meat registers 175°F (80°C) or the chicken breast registers 160F (70°C).
- Remove chicken from slow cooker and cut into 1-inch pieces. Stir it back into the slow cooker.
- Stir in the lemon juice and taste for salt, heat, and acid levels.
Questions and Answers
Madras curry has more turmeric which adds a deep orange color, besides flavor. It also adds fenugreek and mustard seeds, as well as Kashmiri chili powder (most curry powders don't include any or much chili powder). The rest of the ingredients are mostly the same.
Use chicken breasts if you must. I find this meat so easy to dry out. However, with both cooking methods, as long as you keep a close eye on it, you can have tender chicken.
This recipe adds paprika primarily for color, which is why it is optional. The amount of chili powder you use will also affect how red the final sauce is.
Tikka simply means pieces. Traditionally, as in chicken tikka masala, the boneless chicken pieces are cooked in a very hot tandoor oven. If you put aside the cooking method, chicken tikka Madras is the same as chicken Madras if you are using bite-sized boneless chicken, as in this recipe.
Tips & Tricks
- Madras curry powders have variable spices and heat levels. Start with 2 teaspoons of the curry powder, and you can always add a bit more chili powder at the end of cooking, if needed. Curry powders in general, except for garam masala, need to be added near the beginning of the dish so the raw flavors can be cooked out.
- For even more flavor and convenience, cook Madras chicken curry on night 1 (or at least marinate the chicken), reheat and finish cooking on Night 2.
- Finely chop the onions so that they melt into the sauce. Many cooks blend the aromatics for a silkier sauce, but I find this step unnecessary. Feel free to purée the onions, ginger, and garlic before cooking. Then cook for 3 to 4 minutes in oil, or until no longer raw.
- SHORTCUT TIP: Using tomato paste cuts the cooking time because it is already cooked down. However, I have instructions if using tomato sauce or purée.
- Make Madras chicken curry the day before you want to serve it for an even more flavorful dish. While this curry is very good on the day you make it, it is even better (as with most curries) on day two.
Serving, Storing, and Reheating
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 South Indian Recipes
And more South Indian 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 📖
Yummy 10-Ingredient Recipe for Chicken Madras Curry
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs ~ Or breasts, see Notes below
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil ~ Ghee or oil
- 1 cup onion ~ Finely minced
- 3/4 teaspoons sea or table salt ~ Or to taste. Double if using Diamond Kosher
- 2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste ~ Make or buy, or 1 tablespoon each grated/minced ginger and garlic
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or to taste; replace with 1/2 tsp. cayenne OR
- 1 tablespoon Madras curry powder ~ Make or buy; See brands below
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala ~ Make or buy
- 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste ~ Or 1/4 cup (56g) tomato sauce/purée. See Notes below
- 1 can coconut milk ~ !3 to 14 ounces, or 1 3/4 cups
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice ~ Or lime juice. More to taste.
- 2 teaspoons paprika ~ Optional, for color. Not smoked.
- Gather all your ingredients together and place a couple of tablespoons of water in a glass beside your cooktop.
- For either cooking method, cut small chicken thighs into thirds, or large, into 4ths. If cooking on the stovetop, cut chicken breasts into 1 1/2-inch pieces. However, if using the slow cooker, keep chicken breasts whole.
- 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 ginger garlic paste. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes or until the paste no longer smell raw.
- Add the Madras curry powder, Kashmiri chili powder, and garam masala. Sauté for 1 minute, adding a tablespoon of water if the masala is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of water to the tomato paste and add to the pan. Cook for 1 minute. (See Notes if using sauce or purée.) Stir in the coconut milk and paprika, if using.
- STOVETOP COOKING INSTRUCTIONS
- Turn the heat up to medium-high and stir in the chicken. Bring to a simmer and cover the pan. Turn the heat down to low, or whatever temperature keeps the masala cooking at a very low simmer.
- Allow to cook for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and tender. NOTE: For chicken breast, start checking at the 12-minute mark. The temperature for chicken thigh meat is best at roughly 175°F (80°C), and for chicken breast 160F (70°C).
- SLOW COOKER INSTRUCTIONS
- Transfer the sauce mixture to your crockpot. Nestle the chicken into the sauce and cover. Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours, or until the chicken thigh registers 175°F (80°C) or the chicken breast 160F (70°C).
- Remove chicken from slow cooker and cut into 1-inch pieces. Stir it back into the slow cooker. See Notes below for a thicker sauce.
- Stir in the lemon juice and taste for salt (I usually find I need to add a pinch or two more salt), heat, and acid levels. Serve with a sprinkle of cilantro, and eat with rice or your favorite flatbread. This curry freezes very well in an airtight container for up to two months.
- If using chicken breasts:
- Stovetop: Start checking at the 12-minute mark for doneness so as not to dry out the meat.
- Slow cooker: Please note that cooking the chicken breasts whole, and then cutting them after they are cooked, helps prevent the meat from drying out. Begin checking in 2 1/2 hours for doneness.
- Slow cooker sauce: If find the sauce a bit thinner in the slow cooker than on the stovetop. If you want a thicker consistency, simmer the sauce on the stove while you are cutting up the chicken. Stir in the chicken when done.
- If using tomato sauce or purée: Add to the curry in place of tomato paste but you will need to cook it longer to remove the raw, acidic taste of the tomato. Over medium heat, simmer for 4 to 5 minutes until the sauce thickens and the oil begins to glisten on the surface.
- If buying Madras curry powder: I have tried Swad Madras chili powder. It was good but not as complex as my blend, however, it was great in a pinch. Frontier Co-op's Curry Powder with Coriander, Turmeric, and Mustard. isn't called Madras curry powder, however, the ingredients were similar and it made a good substitute. Also very good is the Sun Brand Madras curry powder, which was flavorful but needed a bit of extra Kashmiri chili. Spicewalla's Madras blend up next!