30 minute chicken masala curry

Chicken masala curry. Ready in 30 minutes. Deep flavours. Straightforward ingredients. And a crazy tasty Indian restaurant gravy.

This is what would happen if the chef at your local Indian restaurant was craving comfort food. Chef’s special chicken. It’s probably already on the menu.

It’s actually what happens when I crave comfort food. Tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger, green chilis and spice all wrapped up in a lush sauce. Curry in a hurry.

close up of chicken masala curry from the front

Chicken masala is not tikka masala

You’ve probably already figured this out. But I want to be clear. This has nothing to do with chicken tikka masala. Nothing at all.

There’s no tandoori chicken. No cream. No coconut. So now you know. Don’t say you weren’t warned. 

This is a classic Indian chicken curry. But with that smooth restaurant sauce you crave.

Straight forward. Simple spices. You can probably get everything in this curry at your local supermarket. 

Except maybe the green chilies. But you could substitute jalapeños if you have to. Will be different. But still great.

Go with smaller pieces. And use less. Jalapeños have a bit more bite.

chicken masala curry and dal from above

30 minute chicken masala is inspired by homestyle cooking

The inspiration for 30 minute chicken masala comes from an old book by Julie Sahni. The ingredients line up pretty closely.

Except the green chilies. This dish screams for green chilies. That’s not her. That’s glebekitchen.

What changes is how the ingredients come together. Ingredients matter. But technique matters more. Makes this version completely different.

Ms Sahni’s dish is traditional. This version moves solidly towards restaurant cooking. And restaurant results.

If this was on a menu at your local Indian restaurant it would read “Succulent morsels of chicken with Chef’s special blend of spices, tomatoes, fenugreek leaves and green chilies”.

The truth in advertising version? “Chef’s mom’s chicken curry that she made me for my birthday when I was young that I turned into a restaurant dish”.

If anyone knows who actually writes Indian restaurant menus please leave a comment. I think it’s all the work of the same person.

I do love the descriptions though. Always good for a laugh.

spoonful of masala chicken curry from the front

Takeaway flavours at home

Indian restaurants approach cooking in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with the four hundred twenty seven million Indian recipes online. That’s a fact. Mostly.

The whole internet is about traditional Indian cooking. Restaurants do things differently. Surprisingly differently.

This isn’t quite the way they do it. But it’s close. Very close. Nearly Indian restaurant. And it takes 30 minutes. Start to finish.

A lot of the techniques used come from Indian restaurant style.

Blooming spices to extract maximum flavour?

Absolutely.

Frying onion gravy to make that smooth sauce you crave?

That’s here too.

What isn’t here is the prep. The hours of prep. Restaurants cook for scale. And that means having everything ready for service.

Restaurants can crank out curries in 10 minutes flat. They have adapted. Nobody is going to wait two hours for their dinner.

There is a ton of prep that goes into that. Gravies. Masala pastes. Spice blends. Pre-cooked protein. All fundamental in an Indian restaurant kitchen.

If you want to go the distance there is a whole section on Indian restaurant cooking here on glebekitchen. It’s a fun little rabbit hole. If you have the time.

Don’t have the time? Or the inclination? This will get dinner for 4 on the table in 30 minutes.

Onion puree in a black bowl from above.

Onion paste makes this chicken masala possible

Restaurants use this stuff called curry base or gravy to make their dishes. It’s basically a whole lot of boiled onions blended up to make a sauce. Takes a couple hours to make.

This is curry in 30 minutes. Can’t have a two hour step in it. The math just doesn’t work. I’d get called out. Get all sorts of nasty comments. Luckily there is another way.

Onion paste is that other way. The backbone of curry in a hurry. Microwave curry gravy. Instant curry base. I’m pretty sure this is a glebekitchen original.

This recipe is a re-tread. First published in 2019. Part of a nearly restaurant series. I I thought it would be a hit. But very few seemed to get where I was coming from.

Which was making restaurant style curries in 30 minutes from a standing start. So this is a new series of fast, easy Indian dishes.

This is marketing. No doubt about that. But I’m hoping people get it this time. Give it a go. Who doesn’t want great curry in 30 minutes? I know I do.

The curry snobs will hate this. It challenges dogma. Not exactly the same as pure restaurant technique. So it must be wrong.

I’m not too worried though. I have a whole section of restaurant curries for them. And I don’t really like the curry snobs anyway. Small-minded thinkers block progress.

Microwaved onions instead of boiled onions. Maybe a few less trace spices. Not quite the same a restaurant style.

But you can make it on a Tuesday. WIth zero prior planning. That works for me. I have a day job too.

And for what it’s worth I took new pictures for this update. And I think I made the recipe instructions a bit more amusing.

chicken masala curry and chapati from above

Give yourself the time you need

This recipe can be done in 30 minutes. That’s how long it takes me. But that doesn’t mean you have to get it done in 30 minutes.

This isn’t a contest. The only prize is your dinner. It’s a good prize. But you get it no matter what.

Cook at your own pace. If it takes you 35 minutes that’s OK. 40 minutes is OK too.

The important thing is you enjoy your time in the kitchen. Don’t stress. This is supposed to be fun. Try to keep that in mind.

Chicken masala on the table in 30 minutes (or thereabouts)

Chicken masala is a straight down the middle chicken curry. And that’s a good thing. It has all the backbone flavours you expect. And the delicious bite of green chili.

Not complicated. Not too many crazy ingredients. Straight forward flavours that just works. This is a solid, tasty chicken curry.

Chicken masala is not a flashy dish. Not famous either. But don’t let that stop you.

It’s a classic chicken curry. Which means really tasty. And a restaurant style sauce. On the table in 30 minutes. Or maybe 34 minutes if things don’t go perfectly.

That should be enough to make you smile. Makes me smile anyway. Great curry for everyone. Fast.

Chicken masala in a bowl from the front.
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4.75 from 24 votes

30 minute chicken masala curry

Chicken masala brings homestyle flavours to Indian restaurant curries
Course Main
Cuisine Indian
Keyword chicken masala
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 444kcal
Author romain | glebekitchen

Ingredients

The onion paste

  • 2 cups onions – coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

chicken masala

  • 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into 3 pieces per thigh.
  • 1 tsp indian restaurant mix powder – see notes. Or just use a commercial curry powder. That works too.
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp mild kashmiri chili powder
  • 1 tsp kasoor methi – dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1 tsp kosher salt – use a bit less if you are using table salt
  • 2 inch piece of cinnamon bark – also called cassia bark
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 2 tbsp garlic ginger paste – see notes
  • 2-3 green chilies cut into large pieces
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste plus enough water to dilute it to the consistency of tomato sauce
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup tomatoes – diced
  • 2-3 tbsp cilantro – coarsely chopped

Instructions

The onion paste

  • Chop your onions coarsely. And by coarsely I mean 1/2 inch pieces. No point going any finer. Just wasting time…
  • Place the onions in a microwave safe dish and cover with cling wrap. Punch a hole in the top. Microwave at 70 percent until the onions are soft and translucent. This takes about 10 minutes in an 1100 watt microwave oven.
  • Remove the onions from the microwave. Be careful. They will be hot. Like burn you with the steam hot. Let them cool slightly. 

Do your prep

  • Do your prep while the onions are in the microwave.
  • In a small bowl, combine the indian restaurant mix powder or curry powder, turmeric, kashmiri chili powder, cumin, kasoor methi and salt. This is your spice mix.
  • Get your blender out. Get the pan on the stove. Measure out your ingredients. Cut up the chilies. Dice the tomatoes. Dilute the tomato paste.
  • Cut the chicken into big bite size pieces. I like 3-4 pieces per thigh. Thighs are just better. More fat. More flavour. And more forgiving.
  • The microwave should ding any second now. Place the onions, 2 tbsp vegetable oil and 1 cup of warm water in a blender and puree until smooth. Leave the paste in the blender. There is no point making more dishes here…

Make the chicken masala

  • Heat 4 tbsp vegetable oil in a pot over medium heat until it shimmers.
  • Toss in the cinnamon bark and green cardamom. Let cook about 20-30 seconds. You will see little bubbles forming around the bark.
  • Add the garlic ginger paste and green chilies. Stand back. Cook until the garlic ginger paste stops spluttering.
  • Turn the heat to medium low. Add the spice mix. That's the mix you made above and put in the small bowl. Stir continuously until it starts to smell really good. It This takes around 30-40 seconds. Watch it carefully. If you burn the spices at this point you have to start over. This is called blooming the spices. It is one of the big secrets to Indian cooking. It's also why you you need to add all the oil specified in this recipe. Things will go poorly for you if you try shave calories.
  • Add the diluted tomato paste and stir to combine. Turn the heat up to medium. Cook for 1 minute.
  • Add half the onion paste and turn the heat up to medium high. Just dump it out of the blender. Stir to combine. Cook for about a minute.
  • Add the rest of the onion paste and stir again. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes. Don't worry if it looks dry. The chicken will release juices as it cooks. Instant delicious.
  • Turn the heat down to medium low. Add the chicken and stir. Cover and simmer until the chicken is done. It's done when you measure the internal temperature and it says 170F, about 10-15 minutes. I can't tell you how long this takes. I don't know how big your chicken pieces are. I also don't know how hard things are simmering in your pan. An instant read thermometer is a handy thing to have here. It's actually a great thing to have period. Great chefs use them. You should use them too.
  • If the curry is a bit thick add a bit of water or chicken stock and stir. You are after a saucy consistency like you get in a restaurant.
  • Add the diced tomatoes and cilantro. Let the chicken masala simmer another minute or so. Basically you are just warming the tomatoes through. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
  • Garnish with a bit more cilantro if desired. This dish goes great with a simple tarka dal, chapattis and rice.

Notes

The recipe for Indian restaurant spice mix can be found here. If you don’t have the time to make it you can use a commercial curry powder. Please don’t use garam masala. That is a very specific spice blend full of warming spices. It is not a general purpose blend no matter what you’ve been told. 
You can buy garlic ginger paste but it’s easy to make and homemade is way better. Here’s an easy recipe for garlic ginger paste. If you cook Indian fairly often it’s so worth it to whip up a batch. It will keep for a few weeks in the fridge. Do that ahead of time or there is zero chance you will hit 30 minutes though…

Nutrition

Serving: 4servings | Calories: 444kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 35g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 18g | Cholesterol: 161mg | Sodium: 893mg | Potassium: 703mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 465IU | Vitamin C: 12mg | Calcium: 58mg | Iron: 3.2mg

32 thoughts on “30 minute chicken masala curry”

  1. 5 stars
    Excellent! Loving your recipes & approach.

    Re: “Curry Snobs”, All I can say is that consistency (and dogma) are the hobgoblins of small minds… 😊

    Reply
  2. 5 stars
    This was fantastic Romain. Love this method too, perfect for when you go to the freezer and you’re all out of base gravy. Think I’ll be cooking this one a lot.

    Reply
  3. 5 stars
    Amazing Romain, really enjoyed this one, I can’t wait to try it again soon.

    Full of flavour and the beautiful texture that is restaurant style.

    Thanks again – delicious.

    Reply
  4. I’m looking forward to trying this! My husband will be so pleased that I can now wack out a thick saucy curry on a Tuesday 😀

    Reply
  5. 5 stars
    Great to see you revisit this style of cooking Romain, I remember when you first came up with the idea and I tried the technique myself. I actually prefer the texture and flavour of this onion paste over the base gravy style and saving so much time and effort is always a winner for me. Keep up the great work, I look forward to seeing more “nearly restaurant style” recipes

    Reply
    • More recipes are coming. Hopefully people take notice this time around. I believe. I just need to convince people to try it out:-)

    • There is no replacing the deeply browned onions used in traditional Indian cooking. This is more like what you get in restaurants. If you want speed and the depth of flavour you get from browned onions maybe look at the hotel style section here…

  6. 5 stars
    Hi Romain, I have been cooking Glebe Kitchen for more than two years now and amazingly there’s still new things to discover!

    Like easy Indian. Somehow I have never looked at the recipes in this section because I thought it was traditional light and not a different take on restaurant style. But as soon as I saw your blog post I realized I had been missing out! (Almost, because I recognized the micro-onion technique from your Doro Wat recipe – one of my all time favorites – which I had used a few times to make fast Indian.)

    The micro-onion idea i pure genius!! Sometimes even better than curry base (when you really want a blank base for a particular spice mix). Going to make more of these gems during busy week days. My gratitude and admiration as always, chef!

    Reply
    • ‘m trying again as I really believe in this approach for people who just don’t have the time but want a quality meal. This came first. I applied the technique to the doro wat a couple years later.

  7. Looking forward to trying this. I don’t have a microwave though: would you suggest just simmering the onions, oil and water in a covered pan on the stove?

    Reply
    • Without the pure power of a microwave you are back to just making restaurant gravy I think. The key is to get the onions broken down and that takes time when you cook on the stove. I did a quick gravy recipe on YouTube but that takes 35 minutes on its own…

  8. 5 stars
    Hi Romain
    Loving this style, so quick, tasty and effective!!
    Mine was a very light colour though, due to the onion paste I think. Next time I will use more heat, add the paste in say 3 batches and try to brown it and lose the water content…… ie. The Maillard effect? Or do you think this will overcook the paste?

    Reply
    • Delighted to hear you are enjoying it. I would start with adding it in two batches as described in the recipe but trying a little more heat. Think frying the onion paste in oil. That’s what is going on in the pan.

  9. 5 stars
    This recipe was simply awesome. I have been trying for years to find a curry recipe that I could cook at home and then actually want to cook again. I was never able to make the ‘Base Gravy’ approach work and I have tried many of them (perhaps I am too timid with the heat). Really feel that this is a great approach to make a lot of different styles of curry. Love your writing style too.

    Reply
    • That’s great to hear. Delighted that it worked out for you. Nearly restaurant style works with just about anything you want to make. And thank you for the kind words about my writing. I have a lot of fun with this blog:-).

  10. Hi Romain and thanks for the great recipes. Your Rogan Josh was spectacular and I’m moving on to this masala next- today even! Following on from your answer to Andy, I wanted to ask you: does this recipe become ‘Restaurant-Style” if I substitute the onion base with my already-prepared base gravy?

    Reply
    • Not quite. The technique is what makes restaurant style restaurant style. There’s a lot of onion paste here cooked for a lot longer than you would in true restaurant style (with the small batches of base gravy fried in lots of oil at high temp). The onion paste is much thicker than base gravy and the chicken adds liquid to the mix so it’s a bit different.

      You would just need to make sure that you add enough base to balance against the spice because there is obviously a lot more spice in the nearly restaurant recipes. And you would need to balance that with the liquid the chicken throws. I think it comes down to feel when trying to move from one technique to the other. But in the end I think it would work out OK.

    • Many thanks for your quick reply- managed to make 2 pots of garlic/ginger paste during the wait. Won’t be using chicken (we’re veggies now!), however I think I think I’ll switch to having a go at making veg versions of one of either your Baingan Masala or Tikka Masala recipes. Keep up the good work…

      btw – a nice tip for the chicken tikka marinade if you’re interested (it was my main party piece when I ate chicken)… Instead of using food colouring to get the restaurant look, I used to whack a shrink-wrapped packet of beetroots with a rolling pin, stab a hole in the side, and squeeze-squirt the juice in to stain the marinated chicken- it’s mild flavour doesn’t detract from the end result. Same as you I grilled (hot as poss about 7 mins-ish both sides) + didn’t use yoghurt, but did use Groundnut Oil, also adding a diced onion, almond powder, a squirt of lemon or lime juice, salt, and garlic/ginger paste.

      God I miss that.

      🙂

  11. Hi
    I saw your article about ‘curry base’. Looked good, so I made a batch and froze it in individual containers. Now I want to make a curry using the curry base but all your recipes appear to not use that. What am I missing?

    Reply
    • There are three types of Indian recipes on glebe kitchen. There are traditional recipes done as they have always been done. There are nearly restaurant recipes (like this one) that use a hybrid technique. And there are full blown restaurant recipes that use the curry base. The full blown recipes are all identified as “restaurant style” and not “nearly restaurant style”. Look for those.

  12. 5 stars
    Tried this for first time and it was fabulous. Quick and easy to make. A big hit in my house. Will definitely make it again. 10 out of 10. Love all your recipes

    Reply
  13. 5 stars
    Excellent recipe, much easier to make than boiling curry base for hours. I chucked in some red pepper and peas as well. Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Great to hear! There are a few nearly restaurant style recipes on glebe kitchen and more coming.

  14. 5 stars
    Five stars as always, thanks Romain another super quick and super tasty curry. Love these nearly Indian restaurant curries!

    Reply

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