Basic Indian Chicken Curry/Mughlai Chicken

The Indians among my regular readers will wonder why I am posting such a standard recipe but believe or not – I have been repeatedly asked by the non-Indian readers for this recipe.  Most restaurants have some variation of this dish and those that frequent Indian restaurants know this as Mughlai Chicken or Chicken Curry.  Contrary to popular belief, curry in India is NOT a spice mix! Curry in India just means that the dish has a thick wet sauce (which is often spicy), as opposed to a dry dish with no sauce.  There are regional variations of Chicken Curry in India – in south India there is heavy use of coconut (coconut milk or fresh/dry grated coconut) in the sauce but in the north the sauce is most often a combination of onion, garlic, ginger and tomatoes.  Also South Indians rely on mustard seeds and curry leaves to flavor their curries but in the north the standard spices are cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper.  Muslim families often use nutmeg and mace, which most Hindu families either avoid entirely or use very sparingly.  The result of all these variations is that Chicken curries from different parts of India can be completely different dishes.
Over the years, I have made up my own recipe which combines some of the flavors from my part of India (Punjabi Hindu) with some of those from my husband’s part of India (Bihari Muslim) along with some ingredients that I have discovered through cookbooks (my favorites are those written by Madhur Jaffrey – in my book, she is the Queen of Indian cookbooks!).


1.    One whole chicken (skinned and cut up and I prefer organic free-range)
2.    ½ cup of plain low fat yogurt
3.    3 medium sized onions
4.    1/3 lb of tomatoes (rough estimate – you can add or reduce the amount) but the tomatoes should be ripe and juicy.
5.    6 cloves of fresh garlic
6.    1 inch of fresh ginger root (thickness about an inch as well – if thinner, use a longer piece)
7.    3 tablespoons of cooking oil (corn or vegetable – avoid using olive oil in Indian food because its flavor is too strong for this kind of cooking and interferes with the flavor of the spices)
8.    1 tablespoon of Fenugreek Leaves (called Kasuri Methi in India and these are available at all South Asian grocery stores).
9.    1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
10.    5-6 green cardamom pods
11.    4-5 cloves
12.    One stick of cinnamon
13.    One nutmeg
14.    One teaspoon turmeric
15.    Salt to taste (I added one teaspoon)
16.    2 teaspoon of Garam Masala (a spice mixture available at Indian stores)
17.    One tablespoon of dry coriander seeds
18.    2 green chilies
19.    1 teaspoon red chili powder
20.    Salt to taste
21.    1 teaspoon of sugar

22. Cilantro leaves for garnishing


1.    Peel and slice one onion very thinly.
2.    In a large deep pan, pour the cooking oil and heat it on medium heat.
3.    When the oil is hot, pour in the sliced onion pieces and deep fry them.
4.    Keep stirring the onions and let them cook till they look dark brown (be careful not to burn them – they should not be black otherwise they will taste bitter).
5.    Using a kitchen spider, take the onions out and spread them out on a dry paper towel and let the oil drain out of them. Set these aside.
6.    In the same pan, using a pair of tongs, place the chicken pieces so that they lie flat on the base of the pan and let them get lightly browned on both sides – this takes only 4-5 minutes on each sides and it seals the juices in. Do not crowd the pan.  If there are too many chicken pieces cook them in batches.  Place the browned chicken pieces on dry paper towels and set these aside.
7.    Peel and dice the rest of the onions in small pieces –as fine as you can cut them.

8.    Put in the dry cumin seeds into the pan and let them sizzle in the hot oil for 20-25 seconds and then pour the pieces of chopped onions into the pan. Cook these over medium heat (while stirring regularly to prevent burning).
9.    Peel and slice the garlic cloves.
10.    When the onions are lightly browned, add the garlic slices and cook till the onions and garlic are browned.
11.    While the onions and garlic are cooking, chop the tomatoes.

12.    Add the tomatoes and the green chili to the pot and stir.
13.    Add the cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric powder, red chili powder/flakes, sugar and salt to the pot.
14.    Add the lightly browned chicken to the pot and stir. Let this cook for 4-5 minutes.

15.    Also add the yogurt to the pot and stir.
16.    1/3 cup water and cover the pot and let it simmer on low heat for 15 minutes or so.  Please check on it every 5-7 minutes and stir. If it looks too dry at the bottom of the pot, add a little bit more water.

17.    After 15-20 minutes of cooking the chicken, use a knife to cut open a large piece to see if the inside of the chicken piece is cooked completely. If you see any pink inside the piece of chicken, continue cooking more a little bit more time. Adjust the liquid level (there should be about half an inch of water at the base of the pot so that the chicken does not burn.

18.    When the chicken almost done, grate in some ginger and add freshly powdered coriander seeds, dried fenugreek leaves, Garam Masala and the crispy fried onions that you had set aside at the very beginning add. Let this curry cook for another 4-5 minutes on low to medium heat. The test for when the curry is fully cooked is when you see the oil separate from the cooked onions and begin to float on top.

19.    Serve the curry while it is hot with a rice pilaf or some flat bread on the side. Garnish with fresh Cilantro leaves on top.

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