chettinad chicken curry

Chettinad chicken curry. Coconut milk. Chili. Curry leaves. And a chettinad masala spice blend. This one hits all the right notes.

This is traditional Indian cooking. Homestyle. A staff curry if you live in the UK. Doesn’t matter what you call it though. What matters is that it is seriously delicious.

This one is easy. And a crowd pleaser. Scales really well. A little bit exotic. This is not your every day chicken curry.

Chettinad chicken curry is south Indian

India has an incredibly diverse cuisine. Regionalized. Chettinad chicken curry is from the south. Way south. Tamil Nadu.

They cook to a whole different flavour profile down south. Coconut. Black pepper. Curry leaves.

Those ingredients come together to make some incredible dishes. Flavours you don’t see in restaurants around the world. Which is just a shame. Makes me a little crazy.

Chettinad chicken curry table scene from above

Don’t settle for the same old same old

There are nearly a billion people in India. With millennia of culinary history. Do you think they all eat the same 20 things you see on an Indian restaurant menu?

They don’t settle. Why should you? It’s a formula. And I don’t understand why. One of the most diverse regional cuisines in the world.

And somehow it all comes down to the same 20 dishes. Over. And over. And over. The fault doesn’t just lie with the restaurants. People eat it up.

It’s self-fulfilling. But I think it can be fixed. There are some south Indian restaurants popping up. And some funky Indianish places as well. So it’s changing. But so slowly.

So maybe make chettinad chicken curry? It’s not hard. And then decide for yourself.

If you love it go to your local Indian restaurant. Ask them why they don’t have it on the menu. Maybe together we can help the industry understand the world is ready.

I can dream anyway. And wait. Someday Indian restaurants are going to rock the world…

Closeup of chettinad chicken curry from the front

No compromises for this chettinad chicken curry

This is an old recipe. Updated. From the early days of glebekitchen. I’ve had a while to tinker with this one.

For reasons that escape me completely I tried to keep things a little simpler in the early days. As easy as I could anyway.

I made the chettinad masala optional. Gave people an easier substitute. I said you could leave out the curry leaves even. In my defence I did say it would not be the same.

That changes today. Chettinad masala is not optional. I’ve deleted any mention of substitutes. Curry leaves are mandatory. I am now guilty of revisionist history.

I’ll live with the guilt. My cross to bear. But this is glebekitchen. It’s never about easy. Flavour first. Always.

Chettinad masala is a flavour sledgehammer

Chettinad masala is my kind of spice mix. Don’t read too much into the name though. Masala just means spice mix. Like garam masala or tandoori masala.

There are 17.3 million masalas. Don’t believe me? Visit an Indian grocer. You’ll see. That wall of little boxes of spice mixes. That’s the shrine of masala.

You can use a pre-made masala. But it won’t be the same. This one has the power of freshly ground. And that really is major mojo.

Toasted and freshly ground. I can’t explain how much of a difference that makes. You’ll know when you taste it.

Chettinad chicken curry, dal and rice table scene from above

Curry leaves are important too

Curry leaves are an herb. They grow on a tree with a name that’s too hard to pronounce. So I’m just going to call it the magic tree. The magic flavour tree.

They aren’t like anything else. Not that I’ve ever tasted. They are the defining ingredient in this recipe. So not optional.

Fresh is best. By far. Frozen is a distant second. I’ve made this with frozen curry leaves. Was not happy.

Before you ask. Dried isn’t even worth mentioning. Might as well add dust. Seriously. Think dried cilantro. See where I’m going?

Mind your onions

Onions are the backbone of chettinad chicken curry. Not a shocker. Onions are key to almost all styles of Indian cooking. It’s the approach that changes.

Traditional Indian cooking relies on deeply browned onions. And that defines the flavour.

There’s a lot of real restaurant style Indian recipes on glebekitchen. I really do like it. But it’s not the same beast. Not at all. There is no substitute for taking the time.

Except maybe hotel style. But then you are just browning the onions in a way that allows you to make multiple curries. So really traditional adapted.

When you cook the onions for this recipe think French onion soup. Golden browned. Takes time. Twenty minutes. Probably more. Until they melt into this wonderful mess of goodness. That mess gives the curry its body. And serious flavour.

Chettinad chicken curry closeup from above

Sometimes traditional is best

This is one of those times. There’s something about chettinad chicken curry. The spicing. Slammed up against the flavour of curry leaves.

The bite of black pepper. Balanced by the creaminess of the coconut milk. It just works. In a way I love. In a way I hope you will too.

And if you do, go to your local formula Indian restaurant and demand better. Demand chettinad chicken curry.

Serving bowl filled with chettinad chicken curry from above.
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4.90 from 28 votes

chettinad chicken curry

Chettinad chicken curry is a delicious South Indian coconut based chicken curry that anyone can make.
Course Main
Cuisine Indian
Keyword chettinad chicken curry
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 670kcal
Author romain | glebekitchen


Chettinad masala

  • 1 tbsp coriander seed
  • 3 whole dried red chilies – I like kashmiri
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp poppy seed
  • 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 inch cinnamon bark
  • 2 arms from one star anise – just break a couple arms off
  • 1 clove clove whole
  • 2 green cardamom whole
  • pinch ajwain

Spice Mix

  • 5 tsp chettinad masala – from above (you will have some left over)
  • 2 tsp kashmiri chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2/3 tsp coarse black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

The chettinad chicken curry

  • 1 lb onions thinly sliced (about 2 large onions)
  • 4 Tbsp coconut or vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbsp garlic ginger paste – recipe link below
  • 20 fresh curry leaves Dried is not a substitute. Frozen isn't really either.
  • 2-3 kashmiri chilies mostly because they look good but I like little bites too.
  • the spice mix
  • 8 skinless chicken thighs – or a mix of thighs and drumsticks
  • 1 15 oz can coconut milk
  • 2/3 cup diced tomatoes


Make the chettinad masala

  • Into one small bowl measure out the coriander seed, cinnamon bark, peppercorns, star anise arms, clove and green cardamom. These are your "big" spices.
  • Into a second small bowl measure out the cumin seed, poppy seed and ajwain. These are your "small spices".
  • Pre-heat a small skillet over medium-low heat.
  • Add the big spices. Toast, constantly shaking the pan until the wonderful smell starts hitting your nose. This should take under 2 minutes.
  • Add the little spices and toast around 30 seconds. Add the kashmiri chilies and toast another 30 seconds or so. Flip the chilies about half way through the final 30 seconds.
  • Remove from heat. Let cool.
  • Transfer the cooled spices to a spice grinder. I have a little dedicated spinning blade style coffee grinder for this. Makes terrible coffee. But it grinds spices well. Set aside.

Do your prep

  • Slice the onions. A food processor works for this. If you are good with a knife that's more fun.
  • Dice your tomatoes. Measure out your spice mix. Put on some good music.

Make your chettinad chicken curry

  • Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.
  • Add the coconut or vegetable oil and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are a soft, light brown mess. Think French onion soup. You want these onions melting. This step takes a long time. 20 minutes or more.
  • Add the curry leaves if using.  Now add the garlic ginger paste and cook, stirring constantly until the spluttering stops (you will understand when you do it).
  • Add the spice mix and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute. Toss the kashmiri chilies in and toast lightly.
  • Stir in the coconut milk and tomatoes and bring to a simmer.
  • Add the chicken and simmer until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160-170F, about 20-25 minutes. Use your instant read thermometer!
  • Taste. You are likely going to need a bit more salt if you used kosher salt. If you used regular table salt you should be about right.
  • Spoon off any excess fat (or don't if you are OK with a few calories – the fat is loaded with fat-soluble spices and flavour) and serve with rice or parathas or chapatis. Or all of them!


Think about making your own garlic ginger paste. Fresh is so much better…


Serving: 4servings | Calories: 670kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 47g | Fat: 47g | Saturated Fat: 27g | Cholesterol: 214mg | Sodium: 1151mg | Potassium: 1032mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 500IU | Vitamin C: 110.3mg | Calcium: 91mg | Iron: 5mg

38 thoughts on “chettinad chicken curry”

  1. 5 stars
    Made this tonight – it turned out a lot lighter in colour than your photos, but OMG, the flavours!!!! So very delicious!
    I cooked the onions down for maybe 45 minutes but didn’t let them darken – is that the difference?

    • Could be the onions or it could be the lighting when I took the picture. I go for a moody look for my Indian pictures…

  2. 4 stars
    I made this recipe today and I really appreciate your detailed instructions! Even though I am from India and have cooked Indian food most of my life, I found valuable advice here like the ginger garlic paste and garam masala that I know will make a difference.
    I would make just one change and that is in the coconut milk. One 15-oz can make the dish creamier than I like. I can’t think of what to substitute it with to keep the cooking liquid the same though…any suggestions?

  3. 5 stars
    Thanks Romain,

    Cooked this tonight after your recommendation (from the 30 minute version) and it was superb!!

    Struggle to get fresh curry leaves here so left them out, looking forward to the next time when I get hold of some.

  4. Hi Romain, I’ve tried lots of your curries before, and looking forward to trying this one!
    Just a question about the recipe – do you think cooking it for longer would make it worse, or could improve it?
    Only asking because I like to slow-cook chicken to make it more “stewy”, but hesitant to risk losing out on the flavour!

    • Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

      If you mean slow-cook as in a more gentle braise at a lower temperature but still on the stove then that would work. If you’re thinking of using a slow cooker then I think no.

  5. 5 stars
    Hi, Romain, I made this tonight and it was one of the best chicken curries I’ve ever had. I was shocked how complex, spicy, sweet, savoury, and sour it is, all within one bite. I kept going back for spoonfuls of the sauce. I know what I’m making the next time I have a dinner party!

    I had to make a few changes due to not having the right ingredients or equipment. For your readers…

    Ingredient substitutes:

    1. Kashmiri chili powder – I have a bag of dried arbol chilies I want to use before I buy more chili powder. Along with rehydrated dried arbol chilis, I added Hungarian sweet paprika with a pinch of smoked paprika.

    2. Ajwain – I used a 50/50 combo of nigella seeds and oregano. I really loved the nigella seeds in this, they really add to the complexity.

    3. You said no dried curry leaves, but I found mine added a lot of brightness to the dish and would recommend.

    Method changes:

    1. My mini food processor is terrible at grinding spices, so I tossed 2 arbol chilis in with the spices whilst roasting them. I soaked the roasted chilis in 1/2 cup hot water for about 15 minutes, then I added both the chilis and the water into my blend to make a paste.

    2. I roasted my bone-in chicken thighs in the air fryer. I used some of the spice paste on them, then roasted them for 20 minutes (10 min per side) at 180. I threw them and their juices into pot before I added the coconut milk.

    3. Instead of using two separate onion and garlic/ginger pastes, I cooked them down one after another on the stovetop then blitzed them with my hand blender before adding the other ingredients.

    • Delighted you enjoyed it and thank you so much for your detailed comment. I am also delighted to hear that de arbol chilies are readily available in the UK. I use them a lot for edgier Mexican dishes and do love their fire/flavour.

  6. 4 stars
    Four stars, only because you omitted Kolpasi (aka Stoneflower) – a dried fungus – which is unique and essential to the dish. Might be tricky to find but virtually everything is sourcible online these days.

    • That was absolutely on purpose. I send people hunting for a lot of stuff on this blog. I try to push people a bit out of their comfort zone to discover new things and I am almost never reasonable about it. But stoneflower is pushing too hard (I think) so I left it out. I will happily trade a star if even one person that wouldn’t have otherwise discovered South Indian cooking made the leap based on this recipe.

  7. I made this on Sunday. Very different and very good. The recipe looks a little daunting, but it’s really not. The results are well worth the effort. Another Glebe Kitchen success. Thanks Romain.

  8. 5 stars
    Big fan of your other chettinad recipes, this takes takes this flavoursome curry to a new level … fabulous!
    Came across black stone flower which we understand is used in a lot of chettinad recipes, how would that work with this recipe?

    • Great to hear from you guys!

      I don’t know – haven’t tried that myself. Clearly I need to fix that. I’ll watch for Hellen’s post to get her review:-)

  9. 5 stars
    Another fantastic curry from you guys. The family love it, it’s now a firm family favourite.

    Keep up the good work

  10. 5 stars
    This curry is delicious, I’m definitely leaning towards the traditional curries, it didn’t look the same as yours but I’m adjusting your recipes to Australian measurements and I’m happy with the results.

    • I’ve never tried it with lime juice. I like it as written personally. If you are going to try it with lime juice maybe just try it with a spoonful of the sauce to decide?

    • This dish is so, so delicious. Cooked it many times and the whole family love it. Thanks for this recipe and all the others too.

    • I’m sorry – this got published without the link but it’s fixed now. It’s easy to make your own.

4.90 from 28 votes (17 ratings without comment)

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