Yes… this Chicken Masala is my very own… It’s my version… It’s special… It’s my favorite… It’s my go to recipe so often… And it’s reasonably easy!!
This is my quick fix when those Indian cravings start hitting me hard. Many times I want to make that luscious butter chicken or tikka masala or that nice fish curry I grew up on with a huge plateful of rice or some yummy, fluffy rotis. But just the idea of slaving in the kitchen and I’m like, hmmmm… naah… I would rather do some quick stir fry instead. But my heart keeps going boom boom without these masala fixes.
Sometimes I go without a proper, decent, hard earned Indian meal for months. Then, day by day, I yearn to dip those rotis in that spicy heaven. My brain start thinking of some easier Indian food to make and I always end up thinking of this Chicken Masala. As I said before, it’s comparatively quick and easy… not as quick as making some spaghetti, though… I must warn you. Indian food needs lots of care and pampering. But this one is reasonable and quite achievable in an hour or so. Once you master this, my friends, I bet you will impress any guest or family with these mind-blowing flavors. Get ready to be known as the “Curry Master”.
I’m not talking about making curry with some curry powder. Curry powder… hmmm… what’s that..?? Seriously, it’s non-existent in the land of spice. If you ask any native East Indian whether they use curry powder they will nod their heads in that peculiar way they are famous for (and believe me in this case it’s an assertive NO!!). Have you ever seen the great Indian Head Nod? There are so many different types. Does that nod mean a clear yes? Is that a no? A maybe? A sign of uncertainty? Annoyance perhaps? Hmm… when I think about it… It’s not exactly a nod. Or a shake. It’s more of a tilting movement, either gentle or fierce. Anyways, I’m getting carried away… that Indian will be pretty passionately nodding NO for curry powder! We don’t have curry powder in our homes, period!
A quick lesson on spices…
What we have is a plethora of spices and herbs in that treasured spice box. Curry powder simply ain’t one of them. All Indian households have their pretty spice boxes with the best of many different colorful of spices… different types of chilies and masalas. A masala is just a blend of different spices. Many Westerners can get intimidated by the big list of ingredients need to cook a decent Indian meal. A trip to the nearest Indian grocery store helps if you seriously want to make authentic Indian curries. But even if you miss an ingredient here and there, it doesn’t make much of a difference to end result.
You can make mighty good Indian with your regular pantry staples: onions, tomatoes, garlic and ginger (if you don’t buy this root often, you definitely want it in your basket to make that yummy Indian). Beyond that, we need the trinity of Indian food: coriander powder, tumeric powder and red chili powder. This is not the powder to make chili, but the red chili powder you would get in Indian store. I look for Kashmiri red chili powder, as it is more vibrant and mild. If not available, use paprika for mild or cayenne for more kick. These three are important. Anything else, like whole spices and garam masala powder, is a bonus. What are whole spices? You see them in regular stores… bay leaves, peppercorns, cardamoms, cinnamon, anis flower, and so forth. Get those in your pantry and you are well equipped to whip up some serious curry!
This is home style curry. Every home has their little twists. Sometime in the future I will cook you those elaborate restaurant favorites, but I want to start you with something simple to teach you some basic Indian cooking techniques. So what is chicken masala? It’s not that tikka masala where you need to make a marination, grill the tikkas and make a gravy. Remember, I want life a little simpler on my curry craving days. This is chicken smothered in a tasty, spicy, thick gravy of tomatoes and onions… and of course spices!
Traditionally this is made with whole, cut up, chicken. Personally, I like bone-in thighs. Skin them, as we don’t like skin in our gravies. Yes, we call it gravy and not sauce, I guess a little British influence. We are going to keep those pieces quite big and chunky, as they are going to get smothered for a long time in.
Here is the flow of your Chicken Masala…
When the oil is hot, add your whole spices: bay leaves, small pieces of cinnamon, a few green and black cardamoms, peppercorns and cloves. Don’t worry too much if don’t have all of them. But one very important note, you don’t actually EAT them. Their purpose is just to impart their flavors. My husband says God help anyone who accidentally bites into one, they can leave a pretty unpleasant taste in your mouth. So, how to solve this problem? You can either weed them out before serving or tell your guests not to eat any whole spices. Another option is to omit the whole spices and add 1 tsp of garam masala powder in the end. Garam masala powder is nothing but a blend of those whole spices. Do either or, but not both.
Then add the chopped onions and fry until they are golden brown. That’s Secret Number 1. Get that color! Be patient!
Then add your ginger garlic paste. In Indian food, the more garlic the better. Sometimes people’s eyebrows go up when they see the amount of garlic I use for my curries. But that’s Secret Number 2… For loads of flavors… you need to add loads of flavors!!
I make my ginger garlic paste fresh in my mortar and pestle. It takes time, but small little things like that add nice flavor. Some people finely chop it, but I think paste or mince is best. I will add a bit more ginger later, in julienne form, to add more depth of gingery flavor.
Once your kitchen starts having those great aromas of sauteed onions, ginger and garlic it’s time to add chopped tomatoes. Season with salt, turmeric, red chili powder and coriander powder. And keep on stirring every now and then… Secret Number 3… stir and wait… stir and wait…
Stir and wait… that’s where care and pampering comes in when cooking Indian food. It doesn’t like to be ignored for long. You need to fry and stir this masala until the oil starts separating at the sides. That’s when your masala is ready for the chicken. Once you add the chicken let it cook in its own juices. If you like more gravy, you can add a little water. But I like this masala a little thicker, adhering to the chicken and not too runny, so just the natural juices are enough for me.
Stir, cover, now you can relax a bit and letting it cook. Don’t relax too much! It still wants a little attention every now and then. When you are peaking in around the last 10 minutes add a bunch of chopped cilantro and julienne ginger slices. Let it smother until the chicken is cooked. For the extra spice lovers, you can slit one jalapeno or green chilie to get that kick.
Talking about the spice factor, people so often shy away from Indian food thinking all Indian food is spicy hot. Not at all. All Indian food is flavorful. The spice level is easily controlled by the amount of red chili powder. You can always experiment with that. See, you can still get the delicious Indian flavors without the chili fear.
By this time your whole house is full of amazing aromas that will make your neighbors envious!
Garnish your chicken masala with some more cilantro and a dash of lime. Sometimes I garnish with a bit more julienne ginger. Serve witha big pile of basmati rice or any of your favorite Indian bread like naan, paratha or roti. After all that slaving in the kitchen, don’t feel guilty polishing off your plate. You earned it today, my friends. Congratulations, you have graduated to authentic Indian chef level!
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My Chicken Masala, on my Gypsy Plate… Enjoy!
Want a nice cool side dish for this meal? Try my Tomato Cucumber Raita
Try these other great curries!
South African Chicken Curry
Trini Curry Chicken
Pinoy Pork Menudo
Caribbean Mussel Curry
Turkey Tikka Masala
Japanese Beef Curry
Alpana's Chicken Masala
Homestyle Indian Masala. Simple, yet crowd pleasing. Impress your friends and neighbors... Guess what? Indian doesn't have to mean spicy! But it sure means flavorful!
- 2 lbs chicken thighs
- 4 Tbsp cooking oil
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 9 Green Cardamom
- 2 Black cardamom
- 3-4 Cinnamon sticks
- ¼ tsp Peppercorn
- 1 Anise flower
- 5-6 Cloves
- 3 large onions, finely chopped
- 2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
- 3 Tbsp roughly crushed garlic
- 1&1/2 tbs crushed ginger
- 2-3 tbs julienne ginger
- 4 tsp Coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
- 3 tsp Kasmiri red chili powder
- Large bunch of cilantro
- 1 lime
- 1 jalapeno. (optional)
1. Heat oil in pan, add whole spices (cardamoms, cinnamon, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, anis). Sauté for a few seconds until aromatic.
2. Add chopped onions. Fry onions until golden brown .
3. Add ginger garlic paste and sauté for a few minutes .
4. Add chopped tomatoes. Add salt and spices (turmeric,c oriander powder and kashmiri red chili powder). Sauté and keep stirring until oil starts separating from the masala.
5. Add chicken pieces and coat them well with masala mixture. Cook covered for 15 minutes on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally.
6. Add 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro and julienne ginger and cook until chicken is fully cooked.
7. If the chicken starts sticking to the bottom, you can add a little water. Otherwise, let the chicken cook in its own juices (you can add more water if you prefer saucier).
8. Garnish with lime and cilantro. Serve with rice or your preferred indian bread like roti, naan bread or paratha.
If you prefer a saucier masala, add water. This is a drier version.
Use chili powder to you own hotness preference. This may require some practice. Start out conservative, and add chili powder gradually until you find that sweet spot.
If you prefer to avoid whole spices, just add 1 tsp of garam masala powder during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Don't be shy about making a big batch, this is one of those dishes that is even better the next day as leftovers!
Nutrition InformationYield 8 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 362Total Fat 24gSaturated Fat 5gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 18gCholesterol 145mgSodium 237mgCarbohydrates 13gFiber 4gSugar 4gProtein 29g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
Check out my roundup of the 40 BEST curries!
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