This recipe came to me from my friend Juby, who grew up in Kerala. The coconut flavor profile distinguishes it from the curries of other parts of India. See the Notes section at the bottom for more details on ingredients and substitutions.
This recipe first appeared in the Why Did the Chicken Cross the Globe? recipe series.
2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, cut in half through the bone by the butcher (see Notes)
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 (see Notes)
2 red onions, trimmed, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons ginger & garlic paste (see Notes)
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)
For the Temper:
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
Marinate the chicken:
1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large non-reactive bowl or gallon-sized plastic bag. Add the chicken and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, or up to 2 hours.
Cook the chicken:
2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pot with a lid, over medium heat. Combine the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ground fennel, coriander and 4 curry leaves in a small dish. Have the lid ready and add the spices and leaves to the hot oil all at once. They’ll pop and splatter quite a bit, so you can use the lid to shield yourself from the splattering oil. 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. 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.
5. Return all the chicken and its juices to the pan and stir in the remaining tablespoon of 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. Cook, covered, at a slow simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally and turning the chicken over about halfway through, until fully cooked. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer with the lid on for another 10 minutes. Taste and add another pinch of salt if needed.
Make the temper and serve:
9. 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. The first time I made this I thought I could handle the job with my big cleaver and a little elbow grease, but what I didn’t count on was all the shattered little bone fragments left behind. Unlike me and my cleaver, your butcher can make a nice clean cut through each bone, which is exactly what you want.
Cutting through the bone exposes the marrow, so you get a much richer, more flavorful dish. If you’re too shy to ask the butcher, or got all the way home and forgot, or just want to use what you already have on hand, you can absolutely make this with regular chicken pieces on whole bones, or even with boneless pieces. The end result will be a little less rich and amazing. (But still delicious, so don’t let that stop you!)
A trip to the Indian or Asian market may be necessary to find the curry leaves; I’ve never seen them at any of my local grocery stores. (I do have a friend who grows them in her backyard each summer, but I don’t want to burn that bridge by asking too often. However, that makes me think I could probably grow them in my backyard! But I think she brings the cuttings back from trips to India, so that’s not really something I’m going to be able to do on a regular basis.)
So anyhoo, off to the Indian market we go. And while you’re there, you can pick up garam masala and ginger & garlic paste. If you can’t find garam masala, you can combine a pinch of each of these: ground cumin, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground coriander and ground cardamom. If you can’t find ginger & garlic paste, you can make your own with equal parts fresh ginger and garlic, peeled and finely grated on a microplane.
This recipe calls for light coconut milk, because the standard variety is too thick and heavy for this. If you can’t find light coconut milk, you can dilute standard (non-light) coconut milk 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.