Chettinad Chicken Curry

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If you like spicy chicken curries then this fiery, aromatic Chicken Chettinad curry is right up your alley. It is so delicious that you’ll want to lick your plate off!

An overheat shot of chicken chettinad served in a copper coated bowl. Accompanied by rice.

What is Chettinad chicken?

If you have never had it before, Chicken Chettinad is a spicy and aromatic chicken curry from central Tamil Nadu (a state in the Southern part of India). This region is famed for its rich culinary heritage and repertoire of excellent dishes that are perhaps unparalleled anywhere else in the region.  

It is all about the spice! 

What makes this dish stand out is its rich, spicy, and aromatic flavor. It is always cooked with a special blend of freshly roasted and ground spice mix or masala. The fresh masala infuses the dish with all its flavors and gives the Chettinad Chicken its gorgeous aroma and signature spicy taste.  

What is Chettinad cuisine? What is it known for? 

I grew up in a community with lots of families from Tamil Nadu. All of them were vegetarians and I always believed that Tamilians never ate any meat. I finally got rid of my misconception when I was introduced to Chettinad cuisine.  

Chettinad cuisine comes from the Nattukotai Chettiar or Nagaratha community. They were traditionally vegetarian seafaring traders who traveled all over South East Asia, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East to trade in spices, grains, gems, etc. They brought back food influences from all these areas to create their own distinctive cuisine which we now know as the Chettinad Cuisine.  

It is funny that the cuisine of traditionally vegetarian people is best known for a non-vegetarian chicken dish! 

Chettinad cuisine uses a unique blend of spices that is unlike any other. Most of the spices used are freshly roasted and ground before being used which helps to release the flavors from the spices and makes their dishes so fragrant. Now Chettinad Cuisine is famous for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes but the community still serves mainly vegetarian fare during special events such as festivals and weddings.  

Most of the dishes, including this authentic Chettinad chicken curry, is served with dosa, appam, or rice.  

An overhead shot of Chettinad chicken curry served with rice. A sprig of curry leaves is placed on the side.
Chicken Chettinad Curry

How to make Chicken Chettinad Curry

This recipe is inspired by a Chettinad pepper chicken curry I ate at an Indian restaurant in Troy, Michigan. Extremely aromatic, with a good balance of heat and spice – this chicken curry was one of a kind. What was unique about their recipe was the use of channa dal which made this dish stand out. This is my humble attempt to recreate this dish.

Making Chicken Chettinad involves 3 steps – 

  1. Marinating the chicken – Some folks marinate the chicken in salt and chili powder while some skip this process altogether. I not only marinate the chicken in salt and chili powder but also include whole spices and oil – gives it an added level of flavor. You could leave the chicken to marinate overnight but I usually do it for 30 minutes. I use the time to make the base masala and fry the onions.

Making the masala – This involves roasting the spices and grated coconut in oil and grinding them into a fine paste along with tomatoes.

Making the curry –  Add onions to a kadhai or a pressure cooker along with ginger and garlic paste to a tempering of mustard seeds, curry leaves, and channa dal. Once they turn soft and translucent, add the chicken, fry for a couple of minutes or so before adding the ground masala from step 2. Mix them well. Add water and cook them in a pressure cooker (till the vent goes off once) or Instant Pot (for 5 minutes on high pressure) or a wok until done.

Variations

  1. Skip the channa dal.
  2. Instead of adding whole spices in the marinade, include them in the masala. 
  3. Use bone-in chicken instead of boneless chicken thighs. In that case, set the Instant Pot cooking time to 10 minutes. 
  4. As far as spices go, less is more. Do not exceed the amounts listed.
  5. Replace tomatoes with tamarind (size of a ping pong ball). Soak it in 1/2 cup hot water for about 10 minutes. Run it through a sieve and use the strained juice while grinding the masala.

If you like spicy food, then you’ll love these popular curries and biryanis from the southern part of India



Got a new Instant Pot? Check out the links below to make the most of your pressure cooker -  
An overheat shot of chicken chettinad served in a copper coated bowl. Accompanied by rice.

Chicken Chettinad Curry

4.67 from 3 votes
If you like spicy chicken curries then this fiery, aromatic Chicken Chettinad curry is right up your alley. Delicious to the core, you’ll want to lick your plate off. 
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Diet : Gluten-free, Nut-free
Course : Entree
Method: Pressure cooker
Cuisine : Indian

Ingredients
 
 

Marinade

Chettinad masala

Gravy

  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves, kadipatta
  • 1 tablespoon channa dal (split Bengal gram), soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
  • 2 medium sized onions, finely chopped, ~ 2 cups
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2- inch piece ginger, grated
  • salt to taste

Garnishing

  • finely chopped cilantro/coriander leaves for garnishing

Instructions
 

Instructions

  • Marinate the chicken with chili powder, salt, oil, black cardamom, bay leaves, green cardamom pods, star anise seed, turmeric powder, and mace. Set it aside for about 20 minutes till you get the masala ready.
  • Heat oil in a medium-sized pan and at medium-low heat, add all the ingredients listed in the masala section to the pan (except coconut and tomatoes) and roast it till an aroma emanates from it ( takes about a minute).
  • Add the grated coconut and roast for another minute and take it off heat.
  • Transfer the spices/masala to a blender along with chopped tomatoes and grind it to a fine paste using water as needed.

Using a traditional stovetop cooker

  • Heat oil in a cooker kept at medium heat. Once heated, add mustard seeds and when they begin to pop, add curry leaves, along with channa dal. Fry them for about 30 seconds or so, and then add onions, garlic, and ginger.
  • When the onions turn translucent (takes about 3-4 minutes), add the marinated chicken and mix well. Cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the ground masala and 1/2 cup water and mix well.
  • Cover the cooker and put the vent on. Let the vent go off once before switching off the gas. Wait for the cooker to cool down before opening the lid.
  • Garnish it with coriander leaves and serve hot with rice or roti.

Using Instant Pot / Mealthy

  • Choose the Saute setting and set it to normal. Heat the oil in the steel insert of the Instant Pot and add mustard seeds to it.
  • When the mustard seeds begin to pop, add curry leaves, along with channa dal. Fry them for about 30 seconds or so, and then add onions, garlic, and ginger.
  • When the onions turn translucent (takes about 3-4 minutes), add the marinated chicken and mix well. Let the chicken cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the ground masala and 1/2 cup water and mix well.
  • Cover the Instant Pot, set the vent to sealing and pressure cook on high for 5 minutes. When the cooking cycle is complete, move the vent carefully to the venting position.
  • Open the lid and garnish the chicken with coriander leaves and serve hot with rice or roti.

Notes

  1. Skip the channa dal.
  2. Instead of adding whole spices in the marinade, you can roast them with the rest of the spices used in the masala. 
  3. Use bone-in chicken instead of boneless chicken thighs. In that case, set the Instant Pot cooking time to 10 minutes. 
  4. As far as spices go, less is more. Do not exceed the amounts listed.
  5. Replace tomatoes with tamarind (size of a ping pong ball). Soak it in 1/2 cup hot water for about 10 minutes. Run it through a sieve and use the strained juice while grinding.

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Disclosure: This recipe contains affiliate links to products we love and recommend. As an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition

Calories: 508kcalCarbohydrates: 14gProtein: 27gFat: 39gSaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 161mgSodium: 324mgPotassium: 561mgFiber: 4gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 560IUVitamin C: 12.9mgCalcium: 66mgIron: 2.6mg

Disclaimer: Approximate Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and can vary depending on the exact ingredients/brands used. If you have health issues, please work with a registered dietician or nutritionist.

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Keyword : Aromatic, Authentic, spicy

This original post from September 2014, has been completely updated with pictures and text to reflect my current process of making this recipe. 

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