There is little that beats a great curry — try my Chicken Chettinad


I often find as the weather gets warmer, I hanker for more and more spicy food, especially Indian food. There is little that beats a great curry in my opinion, and Indian cuisine is fantastically diverse; there is always something new to discover, some regional specialty or new flavor profile. It is also very easy these days to find all the ingredients one might need for most Indian dishes. Local supermarkets or local health food stores stock a wide range of spices and fresh herbs, and more Asian Supermarkets are opening around the country all the time. These offer the widest range and the best value, so I highly recommend you find your nearest one and go stock up on spices and other ingredients. I love wandering around the islands finding inspiration for new dishes and discovering new ingredients. It is one of my happy places.


This week’s recipe is for a lovely, fragrant, and tangy dish from Tamil Nadu in South India. Chicken Chettinad features a gravy flavored by toasted coconut and spices that is rich and deep and full of flavour. It is often served with Dosa, so if you want to serve it in a more traditional style, you could use my Dosa recipe from this column a few weeks back.

If you prefer, you can of course serve it with some Naan breads or rice and a simple fresh onion chutney. To make that simply peel and thinly slice a medium onion. Pop the onion into a bowl along with the juice of a lime, one finely chopped green chilli with the seeds removed, a tablespoon or so of fresh chopped coriander, a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt.

This is one of those curries that tastes even better the day after you make it, so make it ahead if you have time, or make more than you need and then you can enjoy the leftovers in the days that follow.

Traditionally, this dish uses grated fresh coconut, but I have substituted desiccated coconut here instead which works very well. If you cannot get hold of fresh curry leaves, just use a small handful of fresh basil leaves, about six of those is plenty. If you want more heat, add a little more chilli powder or some dried red chillies when you are frying the spices and herbs at the stage just before adding the onions.


Chicken Chettinad

A hearty, fragrant dish that is full of flavour. Perfect for a Saturday night fakeaway.

Chicken Chettinad

Preparation Time

15 min


  • 400g boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breast if you prefer

  • Marinade:

  • 2 tbsp plain yogurt

  • ½ tsp ground turmeric

  • ½ tsp chilli powder

  • 25g fresh ginger root

  • 4 garlic cloves

  • A pinch of salt

  • Masala-Spice mix:

  • 3 green cardamoms

  • 4 cloves

  • 6 black peppercorns

  • 1 tbsp coriander seed

  • 1 tsp cumin seed

  • 1 tsp fennel seed

  • 8 cashew nuts

  • 50g desiccated coconut

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

  • ½ tsp chilli powder

  • Bonuses:

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 12 curry leaves or 6 fresh basil leaves

  • 1 star anise

  • 1 large onion

  • 2 tomatoes

  • 1 tbsp coconut or soft brown sugar

  • 2 limes

  • A handful of fresh coriander


  1. Cut the chicken into 3cm chunks. Peel and grate the ginger and garlic and combine them in a bowl with all the other ingredients for the marinade. Add the chicken and stir to coat the meat in the marinade. Set aside as you prepare the spice mix.

  2. Heat a dry pan over a low heat. Lightly crush the cardamon pods and remove the seeds. Add those, along with the cloves, peppercorns, coriander, cumin and fennel seeds and toast them for three to four minutes until they are fragrant. Now add the coconut and cashews and continue to toast them, stirring regularly until the coconut turns golden brown, about another four to five minutes should do it. Remove from the heat and allow the mix to cool. When cool, pop the lot into a food processor or grinder and blitz until smooth and fine. It will likely be a little sticky as the nuts will add some oil to the masala. Add in the ground cinnamon and chilli powder.

  3. Next, grate, blitz or chop the tomatoes and finely chop the onion. Heat the coconut oil over a high heat, then reduce to medium and add the curry or basil leaves, star anise and bay leaf. Let those fry for a minute and then add the onion. Fry the onion until it is soft and translucent and add the spice mix. Stir that in well, frying it for another minute before adding the chicken and its marinade. Fry the chicken for five or six minutes, stirring regularly. Now add the tomatoes and 250 ml of boiling water. Stir well to combine everything, cover the pan with a lid and let it simmer on a low heat for twenty minutes.

  4. Finally, add the coconut or brown sugar and the juice of the two limes. Taste and season with a little salt if required. By now your gravy should be nice and thick, coating your perfectly cooked chicken. If it is still a little wet, just cook it with the lid off for another few minutes to reduce the liquid. Finally, wash and chop the fresh coriander and stir that in. Serve garnished with some more chopped coriander and a little sliced ​​fresh red chilli if you fancy it.



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