Kerala Chicken Curry (Nadan Kozhi Curry)
Sunday supper in the province of Kerala, this curry is infused with the flavors of the spice route. Visit the Why Did the Chicken Cross the Globe? series that inspired this recipe.
2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, cut in half through the bone (see notes below)
For the Marinade:
2 Tablespoons lemon juice and/or papaya juice
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use more if you prefer a very hot curry, less if you'd like it mild)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the Dish:
4 Tablespoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1 teaspoon plus 1 Tablespoon ground coriander
4 curry leaves (available at Indian markets; omit if not available)
2 red onions, trimmed, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons ginger & garlic paste (see notes below)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use more if you prefer a very hot curry, less if you'd like it mild)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup unsweetened light coconut milk (see notes below)
Optional Temper for Garnish:
5 Tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 medium red onion (which has been halved lengthwise), cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
10-12 curry leaves
1. Marinate the chicken: combine the marinade ingredients in a large non-reactive bowl or gallon-sized ziplock bag. Add the chicken and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, or up to 2 hours.
2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pot with a lid, over medium heat. Have the lid ready and add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ground fennel, coriander and 4 curry leaves. The spices and leaves may pop and splatter in the hot oil as they cook - this is normal, but alarming! Use the lid to shield yourself from any hot splattering oil, and to help contain the popping. Saute the spices and leaves in the hot oil for about 2 minutes.
3. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the onions along with about 1/2 cup of water. Saute the onions for about 10 minutes as they reduce in volume and darken in color. If the onions begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, add another splash of water as you stir.
4. Add the ginger & garlic paste and saute for 2 minutes, adding another splash of water if the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the pan.
5. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the chicken pieces, cooking about 1 minute on each side until chicken is opaque. You may need to add the chicken in batches depending on the size of your pan.
6. Return all the chicken and its juices to the pan and stir in the remaining 1 Tablespoon coriander along with the cumin, cayenne, black pepper and salt. Add another splash of water if the mixture seems dry, then turn the heat to medium-low and cover.
7. Cook, covered, at a slow simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally and turning the chicken over about halfway through, until fully cooked.
8. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer with the lid on for another 10 minutes. Taste and add another pinch of salt if needed.
9. Optional (but very nice): Make the tempered garnish. Heat the 5 Tablespoons of coconut oil in a skillet or saute pan with a lid over medium-heat until shimmering. With the lid handy to protect from splatters, add the curry leaves, followed by the red onions. Stir the mixture around for about 2-5 minutes, until the leaves are fried to a crispy green and the onions have softened a bit. Top the curry with the onions and leaves, along with their coconut oil and serve.
Ask your butcher to cut the chicken pieces through the bone for you (doing it yourself with a cleaver may result in shattered bone fragments, which are very unpleasant while eating!). If you prefer, you can simply use boneless pieces, but note that cooking time will be less.
Ginger & garlic paste can be found at Indian markets, or made with equal parts fresh ginger and garlic, peeled and finely grated (on the small holes).
Garam masala is an Indian spice mix commonly available at grocery stores with a good selection of international ingredients (I can usually find it at Whole Foods). If you can't find it, you can just add a pinch of each of these (whatever you have on hand): cumin, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground coriander and ground cardamom.
If you can't find light coconut milk, you can use standard (not light) coconut milk and dilute it this way: fill a measuring cup to the 2/3 cup mark with coconut milk, then fill it to the 1 cup mark with water.
Thank you to Juby George-Vaze for the original version of this recipe.