Chicken Chettinad curry is a delicious South Indian curry that is cooked in a spice paste made with coconut, black pepper, curry leaves. Get ready to be transported to the palm groves and verdant paddy fields of Chettinad!
(Please read the entire post for detailed step-by-step instructions and tips)
This recipe was first published in April 2017 and has been updated with new instructions and images
Some regions of India are synonymous with their food. Say the word Lucknow and I think dum biryani (biryani cooked in a sealed pot), say Malabar and parotta (layered flatbread) comes to mind, say Chettinad and the classic chicken Chettinad it is! These regions are strongly associated with their cuisine.
Chettinad, a region in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, is so well known for its distinctive and evolved cuisine, however, has been somewhat typecast as the region known for its excessive use of red chilies in its cuisine. Nothing could be further from the truth...
The Chettiar community were merchants and traders by occupation and had close ties to the British rulers in India. The community played a key role in the spice trade between India and countries such as Burma, Sri Lanka, etc. Some of the regional food, such as appams or Iddiyapams, have been influenced by the cuisine from these regions. Although the Chettiyars were originally vegetarian, they adapted their tastes to include a plethora of non-vegetarian dishes to their menus, thus doing us all a great service!
What is Chettinad Masala
The cuisine of Chettinad is known for the use of spices that set it apart. Chettinad spices typically include black peppercorns, fennel, mustard seeds, star anise, fenugreek seeds, etc. There is a misconception about Chettinad food being too fiery, doused liberally with red chilies when in fact the use of black pepper is what adds a subtle and restrained heat to many a Chettiar dish.
Chettinad masala is characterized by the use of black pepper. The masala (spice paste) used to make Chettinad curry is often freshly ground, and will almost always include coconut and black pepper, and will be tempered with curry leaves. (Read my guide on Indian spices and how to use them).
To make an authentic Chettinad chicken curry, we roast the whole spices along with the coconut and then grind (or blend) the roasted coconut along with the spices. This freshly prepared spice paste is a classic example of Chettinad masala.
List of Ingredients
To make Chettinad chicken curry, we will need the following ingredients:
- Chicken - Use boneless chicken or chicken legs (bone-in) for best results
- To marinate the chicken:
- Lemon juice
- Turmeric powder
- Ginger garlic paste (or use grated ginger and garlic)
- Kashmiri red chili powder
- For the Chettinad masala:
- Grated coconut (or use desiccated coconut)
- Fennel seeds
- Coriander seeds
- Whole black pepper
- Cinnamon Stick
- Optional ingredients - Star anise, poppy seeds, cashews, dried red chilies
- Curry leaves
- Bay leaves
- Vegetable oil (or use coconut oil)
Step by Step Instructions
To make Chettinad chicken curry, marinate the chicken pieces with the salt, lemon juice, red chili powder, turmeric powder, and ginger-garlic paste and keep the chicken aside while you start preparing the dish.
Heat a wok on the stovetop and add the whole spices - cardamom, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, cumin, cloves, fennel and cinnamon stick. As the spices heat up, they will release their aromas.
Add the grated coconut, and toast it until it turns light brown. Make sure to keep stirring regularly. Once the coconut is browned (see pic 3), turn off the heat and transfer all the spices and coconut to a blender jar.
Blend the ingredients together to form a paste (pic 5). This is the Chettinad masala used to make the curry base.
In the same wok, heat the vegetable oil. Once hot, add the chopped onions and saute. As the onions are sauteing, add the bay leaves. Let the onions saute until light brown.
Tip: At this stage, you can add some water to prevent the onions from sticking to the wok.
Add the ground Chettinad masala to the wok and mix well.
After adding the Chettinad masala, add curry leaves and tomatoes. Mix well and saute for a couple of minutes.
Get the chicken that has been marinating and add it to the wok. Mix gently so that the chicken is well coated in the masala in the wok. Add 1 cup of water, and mix well (pic 13).
Cover the wok with a lid, and let the chicken simmer for 5-7 minutes. Then remove the lid and cook the chicken on medium heat for another 18-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the curry has thickened and the chicken is cooked, turn off the stove.
To serve, you can prepare a tadka (tempering) of mustard seeds and curry leaves - heat some coconut oil in a small saucepan, and once hot, add mustard seeds. Once the seeds sputter and crackle, add curry leaves. Heat the curry leaves until aromatic, and turn off the heat. Drizzle this tempering over the chicken curry and serve.
Chettinad chicken curry is best served along with Malabar parottas (flaky Indan flatbread - available at all Indian stores) or with basmati rice.
For marinating the chicken
For the Chettinad Masala
- 1 inch piece of cinnamon
- 4-5 cloves
- 3-4 green cardamom pods
- ¾ Teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 Teaspoon fennel
- 1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
- ½ Teaspoon Whole Cumin
- 1 cup grated coconut Or use dessicated coconut
- Clean the chicken pieces, make small slits on them and mix with salt, red chili powder, turmeric, ginger garlic paste and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Let this marinate while you proceed with the rest of the steps.
- Heat a wok or pot with high sides on the stove top. Add the whole spices - cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, peppercorns, fennel, coriander seeds, cumin for a couple of minutes until fragrant.
- Add the grated coconut and heat, stirring regularly with a spatula. The coconut should turn light brown. Turn off the heat. Transfer all the iroasted ingredients into a blender jar (or coffee grinder).
- Grind or blend together the roasted coconut and spices along with a couple tablespoons of water. It should form a semi-coasre paste.
- In the same wok, on medium heat, add the vegetable oil and let it heat. Then add the onions followed by the bay leaves. leaves and onions.
- Saute until the onions turn light brown. If the onions are sticking to the bottom of the wok, add a little water.
- Now add the ground Chettinad masala, followed by chopped tomato, and curry leaves. Cook for a couple of minutes untill the tomatoes begis to soften.
- Add the marinated chicken, stirring it well, so that the chicken is well coated with all the spices. Add 1 cup of water to the pan, cover it with a lid and let it cook on medium heat for 5-7 minutes.
- Remove the lid, and continue cooking for a further 18-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked, and the water reduces. The gravy in the curry should be thick. Turn off the heat.
- Prepare the tempering - heat the coconut oil in a small sauce pan. heat some coconut oil in a small saucepan, and once hot, add the mustard seeds. Once the seeds start to crackle, add curry leaves. Heat the curry leaves until aromatic, and turn off the heat. Drizzle this tempering over the chicken curry and serve.
- Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve with basmati rice or malabar parottas.
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