South Indian-Style Chicken Curry

South Indian-Style Chicken Curry

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 28 mins
Cook: 70 mins
Total: 98 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
1192 Calories
71g Fat
19g Carbs
120g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 1192
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 71g 91%
Saturated Fat 39g 194%
Cholesterol 402mg 134%
Sodium 857mg 37%
Total Carbohydrate 19g 7%
Dietary Fiber 5g 18%
Total Sugars 5g
Protein 120g
Vitamin C 46mg 230%
Calcium 156mg 12%
Iron 10mg 57%
Potassium 1659mg 35%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Chicken curries come in many styles depending on where they're from. South Indian variations are rich in aromatic spices and inevitably evoke memories of tangy tastes, like sour kokum fruit and sweet-and-tangy tamarind fruit, in a mixture tempered by the smoothness of coconut cream. Although each region adds its own local ingredients, all chicken curries share the usage of yogurt, cream, or coconut milk to thicken the dish and temper down the spices.

This dish, while South Indian in origin, is a variation on a classic, with an emphasis on fragrant whole spices and a generous amount of delicious and silky gravy. For a more flavorful dish, we suggest using skinless bone-in chicken, but if chicken breast is all that you have on hand, use it. Just don't overcook it, as the pieces can dry out.

This South Indian chicken curry is a great dish for entertaining and, as with most South Indian delicacies, it goes really well with simple, plain basmati rice and vegetables.

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Ingredients

For the Spice Mix:

  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds

  • 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns

For the Curry:

  • 6 tablespoons ghee, or any vegetable cooking oil

  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

  • 1 (2-inch) stick cinnamon

  • 3 1/2 pounds skinless, bone-in chicken, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced

  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger, optional

  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, divided

  • 3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

  • 1 teaspoon Indian red chili powder, cayenne, or milder chili powder

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1 (13.5 ounce) can full fat coconut milk

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 2 to 3 fresh green chiles, halved lengthwise

Steps to Make It

Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, this curry is broken down into workable steps to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.

Make the Spice Mix

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    South Indian-Style Chicken Curry ingredients

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Set a small cast-iron frying skillet over medium-to-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes.

    cast-iron pan on a burner

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Put the coriander seeds, the fenugreek seeds, and the black peppercorns in the skillet and dry-roast until slightly darker and fragrant. Remove the spices from the pan and cool.

    coriander seeds, the fenugreek seeds, and the black peppercorns in the cast-iron skillet

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. When cooled, grind the roasted spices to a fine powder in a clean, dry coffee or spice grinder. Reserve for later use.

    coriander seeds, the fenugreek seeds, and the black peppercorns in a grinder

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prepare the Chicken

  1. Pour the ghee into a wide pan and set on medium-high heat.

    ghee in a pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. When the ghee is hot, add in the black mustard seeds and the cinnamon stick. 

    ghee with black mustard seeds and a cinnamon stick in a pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. As soon as the mustard seeds start to splutter, add the chicken pieces in a single layer. Be careful of not overcrowding the pan.

    chicken, ghee, black mustard seeds and a cinnamon stick in a pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Brown the chicken pieces in as many batches as required. Set browned chicken aside.

    chicken, ghee, black mustard seeds and a cinnamon stick in a pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Using the same pan in which you cooked the chicken, sauté the onions and garlic on medium heat.

    onions in a pan with a cinnamon stick

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  6. Stir often until the onions are light brown.

    onions cooking in a pan with spices

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  7. If using, add the ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of the turmeric, and tomatoes. Stir and cook until the tomatoes have turned soft and mushy.

    onions, turmeric, and tomatoes in a pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  8. Reduce the heat and add the roasted spice mixture made earlier. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, the red chili powder, salt, and lemon juice. Stir well.

    onions with turmeric, the red chili powder, salt, and lemon juice in a pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Separate the Coconut Milk

  1. Remove the thick cream portion from the top of the coconut milk and set aside. Add enough of the water to the can of coconut milk to fill it to the top. Stir the mixture in the can.

    coconut milk in bowls

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Finish the Chicken Curry

  1. Return the chicken to the pan, pour the water and coconut milk mixture onto the chicken, and bring to a boil.

    water and coconut milk mixture with chicken and onion mixture in a pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

    South Indian-Style Chicken Curry

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Stir up the thick coconut cream that was set aside and add to the chicken along with the green chiles.

    South Indian-Style Chicken Curry with green chiles in a pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Stir a few times, and when the thick coconut cream has warmed through, turn off the heat and serve.

    South Indian-Style Chicken Curry with green chiles in a pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Enjoy.

    South Indian-Style Chicken Curry in a bowl

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Is it Chicken Curry or Curry Chicken?

A curry is a type of Indian dish that uses spices, herbs, and chiles. Thus, a chicken curry would be a curry that features chicken, like shrimp curry and tofu curry are curries featuring shrimp and tofu, respectively. "Curry chicken" refers to the spice that's used to season and flavor the chicken, which is presented in some other way than in a dish called a "curry." The same goes for similar dishes where curry is what imparts flavor, like curry fish or curry potatoes.

For Best Results

Here are a few tips if you're a novice in making curries:

  • Choose whole spices over ground spices because they tend to preserve their flavor and fragrance for longer.
  • Make your own spice mix if possible. If you can't make it or don't have the time, always choose high-quality spices and spice mixes.
  • Be patient with the onions and garlic. Take time to brown them properly to enhance their flavor the most.
  • Add powdered spices in the final stages of cooking. High temperatures and moisture tame down the flavor of spices, so adding them last helps preserve their fragrance.
  • Use bone-in chicken because it adds more flavor to the dish. Chicken thighs can also yield a very flavorful curry.
  • It will be easier to separate the coconut cream from the coconut water if it is chilled. Refrigerate the can of coconut milk for 12 hours or overnight.

Substitutions and Additions

If there are any food allergies in the household, you may want to skip the coconut milk. If you prefer an alternative, here are a few options:

  • Soak 3/4 cup of almonds or cashews in hot water for 1 hour. Drain and blend at high speed. Use the paste instead of the coconut milk to thicken the curry.
  • Use 400 milliliters of 2 percent Greek yogurt or plain yogurt instead of coconut milk.
  • Double the number of tomatoes and make an all-tomato dish without the addition of cream, coconut milk, or yogurt.


To top the curry you can use:

  • Toasted sesame seeds, sliced almonds, or any crunchy nut of your liking.
  • Chopped fresh cilantro.
  • Coconut flakes.
  • Roasted chickpeas.

How to Store Curry Chicken

Chicken preparations are prone to go bad quickly if not properly stored. For a safe and tasty leftover dinner, follow these steps:

  • Cool off the cooked curry and place it in an airtight container. It can keep in the fridge for up to two days.
  • If you want to freeze, cool completely, portion, and freeze in zip-top bags. Label with the date and consume within four months.
  • For heating up, place the refrigerated dish in a pan over medium-low heat with a little extra ghee or cooking oil. Cover, and stir occasionally until warm. Add a few tablespoons of coconut milk or water, if too thick.
  • For heating the frozen dish, thaw overnight in the fridge and place in a pan over medium-low heat with a little extra ghee or cooking oil. Cover and stir occasionally until warm. Add a few tablespoons of coconut milk or water, if too thick.

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