Here’s what I do to make chicken curry. I’m not claiming it’s authentic – it’s just a bunch of cooking skills accumulated over 20 years, put together. Quantities are not strict – do what you want, experiment with flavours and see what you like.
Butcher a chicken – set aside meat for curry, and carcass to make a broth.
Fry some diced onions, then add spices, it gets dry, and then we add stock from the chicken broth.
Then add the chicken meat, then coconut milk, adjust flavours, cook for a while, add coriander near the end, and serve with rice.
Buy a whole chicken
Ideally, get an organic free-range chicken, but it’s not crucial. You can get a regular cruelty-chicken, or you could buy pieces pre-butchered.
If you bought a whole chicken, butcher the chicken – remove the legs by first piercing the skin near the hip, push the leg back until the hip breaks, get a knife in the joint and cut it off (both sides).
Do the same with the wings by getting a knife tip into the shoulders (enter the joint from below – the “armpit”).
Then dissect away the breast pieces from the sternum – this takes practice; like a surgeon, you can use traction and with a combination of gentle slices, and your finger (blunt dissection), peel away muscle from its connections. You may have to cut through muscle around the clavicle (wishbone). You’ll be left with a carcass. Wash that under the tap and scrape away the kidneys (unless you like them).
Put the carcass in a pot and make chicken broth – cover with water (not too much). No flavouring is required at this point. Gently boil. After at least half an hour, we can use some of the broth in our curry.
After using the liquid you need for the curry, you can flavour the stock, eg some garlic, spring onion, ginger, and let it boil for a total of about 1 hour (of course you can use a flavoured stock in the curry, I’m just explaining what I did today). Then pour the liquid through a sieve and keep the broth for various uses. I discard all the solids – they have released all their flavour.
Dice up the breast to be used in the curry. I like to remove the thigh from the drumstick, but it’s not necessary, you can keep the whole Maryland piece together.
The frying of the onion base
Dice two or three large onions. No need to be fussy, coarse dicing is fine, maybe it’s even better. Many curry recipes use a curry paste which you fry in oil first. This version is different – I’m using the same spices but adding them separately.
Start frying the onions and 3 to 6 dried chillies in some tallow. Adjust chillies for next time as you learn how spicy they are.
Prepare some garlic, ginger, kaffir lime leaf (optional), and curry leaves (optional).
Add the curry leaf, kaffir lime leaf, and ginger (no further slicing needed) to the onions as you prepare to add in the spices next. Hold off on adding the garlic until just before adding the spices. You want to reduce exposure to high heat to avoid burning them, it produces a bitter flavour. And for this reason, I don’t slice them much either, I just add in large pieces as shown above (that’s 5 cloves sliced a little).
Also, add a piece of lemongrass (optional). I don’t slice it up; I put a large piece and let the flavour seep out over time. It can be discarded when serving, or not. You can see it in the picture below:
When to add the spices will determine how cooked the onions get. If you leave the heat on low for a while, they’ll caramelise and get sweeter. How you time that is a variable that you can play with to suit your taste.
For example, if you want the onions to have a sweet flavour, cook them on low heat for a long time until you’re happy. Then add the spices, and soon after the liquid from the broth. For less onion sweetness, add the spices earlier.
I seem to throw in slightly different amounts each time. Here’s a rough guide:
- 1-2 bay leafs
- 1-2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1-2 tsp cumin seeds
- 3-5 green cardamom pods
- 3-6 cloves, whole
- 1/2 tsp ground tumeric (careful, it’s potent)
- 1/2 to 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp red chilli powder or pimenton
- 1-2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp home made garam masala (I omit it sometimes)
- salt (undersalt initially)
Cook the spices with the onions for a bit, but be careful not to let it burn. The pot will get dry fairly quick and burning will begin. Add some stock to stop that (1 to 2 ladles):
Now add in the chicken:
Because there is a fair amount of liquid, the chicken will cook but not brown. I might try browning next time for potentially a nicer flavour – only one way to find out. What I’d do is cook the chicken first in a little ghee or tallow, let it brown but not necessarily cook through, and then remove the chicken to add later. Then proceed as described from the beginning, possibly adding more tallow if needed to cook the onions.
After cooking the chicken a bit, I add in one can of coconut milk.
Today, I added a bit more chicken stock at this point. The colour is pale to begin with but darkens later as the coconut milk caramelises.
A good cook always tastes their food as they go and makes adjustments. Once the chicken is not raw, taste and see what it needs. If you don’t know what it needs because you’ve never made this before, at least by sampling the flavour you gain “flavour experience” for next time.
I adjust for salt, sweet, and sour – this is crucial.
For sour, I use tamarind paste. I suppose you can add teaspoons of vinegar instead. A little trick is to serve some of the liquid from the pot to a little bowl and add drops of vinegar/tamarind, a bit of salt, and a bit of sugar – try to get the overall balance of flavour just right. This way if you mess it up, you haven’t ruined the whole pot. Then adjust proportionally to the whole pot and execute the same adjustment to the whole thing. You can have more than one go at it.
For tamarind paste, I put some in a bowl, ladle out some of the hot liquid from the pot, or some hot chicken stock, wait a while for it to soften, and push the stuff back into the pot through a sieve. Discard the seeds and coarse pulp.
For sweetness, I added 1 tsp of sugar. Today, I under-salted (I was distracted with photos and preparing these instructions) and we needed to salt our food at the dining table (embarrassing).
Continue cooking to caramelise
Set the heat on low, cover with a lid, but leave it ajar to allow moisture to gradually escape.
Over time the mixture will thicken and darken.
Stir from time to time, and don’t let the food stick to the bottom too much, or it will get bitter.
You should cook for over an hour – the chicken will fall off the bone, and the oil will separate from the coconut milk (this is normal).
As it gets drier, if you keep stirring, and keep cooking, it will get so dry that you’re proceeding to a rendang technique. I’ve done this before and it is also very nice, particularly with beef. If you’ve accidentally gone drier than you wanted, you can add a little chicken stock, or water. With some meats, eg beef, you may want to cook for longer, so it’s necessary to periodically add water to prevent the whole thing from drying out. This may not be required for chicken as it cooks quicker.
I like to add some coriander leaves just at the end and mix it through.
The unground (whole) spices are actually quite nice, especially the mustard seeds that pop in your mouth, and I don’t remove anything (even the cinnamon stick). Serve with rice.
I’d love to hear about your results if you attempt this. Good luck!
Can add star anise
Can add fish sauce
Can use different meats
Can cook further to make a Rendang
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