I did not know of the husband’s liking for south indian flavors until we got married. It made quite a sense for someone who spent good four or five years of his college life in the southern city of Madras (now Chennai). The hostel canteen served some mean regional delicacies,he fondly recollects. My mom made a few vegetarian south indian dishes at home but those were mostly the general south indian favorites popular all over India –uttapams (savory rice pancakes),upma(breakfast porridge) ,gun powder, coconut chutneys,dosas (rice crepes) and idlis(steamed rice cakes) to name a few. If you follow me on Instagram, you would have seen me making south indian dishes sometimes.
After our wedding, I saw the husband ordering south indian take outs more often than not. He would enjoy those strongly spiced,super hot curries, smelling of coconut and mustard. So, over all these years I have developed a few recipes of south indian style curries, suited to our taste.Spicy, hot and with distinct flavors,these are the recipes I can bank upon when looking for something different on our dinner table.
I do not have stories to connect to this recipe today. It is not the food of my childhood. It is not something I grew up with. I do not claim that this curry belongs to some particular region of southern india,we like it in our homes and call it “south indian chicken curry”. My husband sampled it and asked me to put it up here, because this is a journal of our day today favorite foods.
The curry is quite spicy, take my word for it.I use hot dried red chillies, seeds and all and grind them with strong pungent, spices like fenugreek, mustard seeds and black peppercorns.You would need to visit indian grocer for things like curry leaves, which lend a distinct aroma and flavor to this curry. There is no substitute for them but you can skip them if you do not get. It is quite good even without them.
Ingredients (Serves 2-3)
For Chicken Marination
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 8 dried red chillies (or use about 1.5 teaspoon cayenne pepper,adjust to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns (or use scant 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper)
- a small twig of mace
- 3 cloves
- 1.5 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1.25 lbs chicken thighs, cut into 2.5″ pieces (or any dark meat portions, bone in or boneless)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Gravy
- 4 tablespoon oil
- 3/4 cup finely chopped onions (from 1 large onion)
- 1-2 thai green chillies, slit (optional)
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 small tejpatta (indian bay leaf)
- 2-3 green cardamom pods, cracked open
- 1″ cinnamon stick
- 1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1.5 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped (from 2″ piece)
- 2-3 tablespoon tamarind pulp (use less if using store-bought, see notes)
- 10 fresh curry leaves, roughly chopped
- 3/4 cup to 1 cup thick coconut milk (depending on how creamy and pronounced coconut taste you want)
- Salt to taste
- Store bought tamarind pulp is quite concentrated, tart and very salty. Use discretion when adding it.
- I would not recommend using “light” coconut milk, as it makes the gravy very watery. Go for the thick, creamy one.
Marinating the chicken (This can be done up to a day in advance)
In a small sauce pan, add the 1 tablespoon oil and heat it up on low. Add all the ingredients except chicken and salt to the oil and lightly roast the spices till you smell a nice aroma. Do not let them turn brown. Let cool once roasted.
Grind the roasted spices coarsely. In a large bowl, add the chicken pieces, sprinkle salt and half the quantity of this spice rub, combine so that chicken is coated in spices, cover and let marinate refrigerated for at least 4 hours or overnight(preferably).
Reserve the remaining spice rub.
Making the Curry
Thirty minutes prior to cooking, take the marinated chicken out of the refrigerator and let sit on the counter.
In a kadhai(indian wok) or a large pot with lid, heat up the 4 tablespoon oil on medium high.Once the oil is hot, add the onions, garlic and green chillies to it. Saute and cook the onions for 8-10 minutes until they are golden brown. Add the bay leaf,cardamom, cinnamon stick and sauce for 10-12 seconds till you smell an aroma.
Next, add the marinated chicken to the pot, add salt, turmeric and stir around so that chicken pieces start to coat in the onions and garlic. Once you see that the chicken pieces have started to brown on the edges,cover the pot and let the chicken cook in its own juices until about 80% cooked, about 15-18 minutes(note that this time will depend on the cut and size of chicken pieces).
Add the reserved spice rub, ginger, curry leaves and tamarind paste next and stir around to coat the chicken. Cover and let cook on medium low for another 8-10 minutes until the chicken is almost cooked.If at any point you feel that the chicken is sticking to bottom on the pot, add a splash of water
Uncover, reduce the heat to low, and add the coconut milk to the kadhai. Do not stir immediately. Let the coconut milk combine on its own. Check and adjust the salt. Stir very gently and let simmer for 5 minutes or so.
Garnish with few curry leaves and serve with warm rice.