This curry chicken has a simple tomato sauce base with peppers and onions, a heaping few tablespoons of curry powder, and lightly breaded chicken pieces.
It's a super comforting dish with just the lightest, tiniest barely there bit of heat that warms you up from the inside out.
Serve this curry chicken over rice, couscous, or any grain you like. I usually go for plain white rice or a long grain brown basmati rice, because nostalgia. It would also be great with naan or even pita bread.
About This Recipe
Let me preface this by saying this is not a "traditional" chicken curry. It is, however, what I grew up thinking of as curry chicken.
It's literally a tomato sauce seasoned with curry powder, so while I'd love to call it something less—ahem—culturally appropriative, my options are really rather limited by the simplicity of the ingredients themselves.
I first shared this recipe with y'all early in the pandemic when we had to limit our grocery trips and were making a lot more recipes using pantry staples. I spent a lot of time dipping back into the family recipe archives.
Most of the weeknight dinner recipes my mom used to make have 10 ingredients max, many of them canned or pantry items. This kid-friendly, simple tomato curry chicken is no different.
In true inherited recipe fashion, the recipe my mom gave me has absolutely zero measurements included, so until I wrote it down here, I used to make it mostly from memory. That's how easy it is!
Here are the ingredients you'll need to make this simple tomato based chicken curry recipe. (Not pictured: Rice or other grain for serving.) See recipe card at the end for quantities!
- Chicken Breast - You can also use chicken thighs!
- Onion - I usually use a yellow or white onion, but a sweet onion will also work here.
- Green Bell Pepper - A red bell pepper will also work if you prefer a slightly sweeter flavor. For a little heat, you can use poblano, Serrano, or even jalapeño peppers.
- Chicken Broth - I recommend an unsalted or low-sodium chicken broth or chicken stock so that you can salt the recipe to your taste preference.
- Tomato Paste & Tomato Sauce - The simplest, most basic version of this recipe uses one small can of tomato paste and one small can of tomato sauce. Scroll down to the "Substitutions and Variations" sections for how to sub in other canned tomato products.
- Curry Powder - Curry powder is a spice blend which can vary in taste by brand or manufacturer. I grew up using this Madras Curry Powder, but you can whatever curry powder your grocery store has on hand.
- Flour - For dredging the chicken before pan-frying it. This gives the chicken a very very very light breading and also helps thicken the sauce.
- Salt and Pepper - For seasoning the chicken before cooking it, and for seasoning the sauce to finish.
- Cilantro - This is optional as a garnish, but adds a really nice fresh flavor to the curry chicken. If you don't like cilantro, you may prefer a squeeze of lime juice right before serving. (You could also serve this with a dollop or drizzle of my simple lime cilantro yogurt sauce!)
Substitutions and Variations
One of the things I love most about this curry chicken recipe is that it can hold up to a lot of ingredient swapping. You can definitely adjust it to suit your own preferences.
- Chicken broth - The original recipe calls for a crushed chicken bouillon cube and water to make the sauce with the tomato paste and sauce. I think its easier to use boxed chicken broth, or homemade chicken broth if I have it, so that's how I've written the recipe. But you can use a crushed bouillon cube (add it to the peppers and onions) or a tablespoon of Better than Bouillon and water if you prefer.
- Tomato paste and tomato sauce - Use a large 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes instead. This will add a lot more liquid to your pan, so you'll definitely want to skip adding chicken broth and use the crushed bouillon cube or Better than Bouillon paste instead. If you do find the pan needs more liquid, you can add up to a cup of water. Using crushed tomatoes instead of tomato paste gives the same great tomato flavor in a slightly chunkier sauce. I generally prefer the smoother sauce, but either will do in a pinch.
- Curry powder - If you don't have something called "curry powder" you can substitute a blend of spices like turmeric, coriander, cumin, cardamom, paprika, or ginger. When we're out of curry powder, I usually sub in some garam masala, tandoori masala, and/or a Kitchen King spice blend that my friend brought me back from India. None of these are curry powders, but they all share similar flavor profiles that work just as well in this simple tomato based curry sauce.
How to Make Curry Chicken
Start by cutting the chicken breast into cubes approximately 1 inch in size. You can use chicken shears or a knife, and don't worry if they're not all perfect in size. You're aiming for consistently bite sized pieces of chicken.
Combine the cubed chicken, flour, curry powder, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a plastic container with a lid.
Seal the lid tightly and give the container a good, vigorous shake. This will evenly coat the chicken in the flour and spices.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add a generous glug of oil — enough to coat the bottom of the pan. The flour from the chicken will absorb a lot of the oil, so you need a little more than you might think. At least two tablespoons to start.
When the oil has loosened up and ripples slightly when you move the pan, add the chicken in a single layer and cook until golden brown. If the chicken pieces stick at all, don't pry them up — they'll release once they're cooked.
Remove the cooked chicken to a plate. It should be mostly cooked through, but may not be all the way cooked through. It will continue cooking as it rests, and will finish cooking when you add it back to the sauce.
Without cleaning out the pan, it's time to start making the sauce. Those brown bits stuck to the bottom are going to add a ton of flavor!
Add another drizzle of oil to the pan and cook the peppers and onions until slightly softened. Then add the curry powder and stir well.
Add the tomato sauce and tomato paste and cook until slightly thickened. The tomato paste will start to caramelize slightly on the bottom of the pan.
Add the chicken broth and bring the pan to a boil, stirring frequently. The goal is to reduce the sauce slightly so it thickens. This can take about 5-10 minutes.
Add the chicken back to the skillet and give it a good stir. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook 10 minutes more.
Serve curry chicken over whatever rice or grain you like best with a garnish of chopped cilantro. Unless you don't like cilantro, in which case, leave it out. It's your dinner not mine!
Store any leftover curry chicken in airtight container for up to a week. Reheat in a pot on the stove or in the microwave in one minute bursts, stirring in between until warmed throughout.
Curry chicken is a great freezer meal — I recommend freezing it in a large resealable bag, pressed into in a flat layer. Defrost by submerging the bag in cool water, then reheat in a skillet on the stove.
Practical Tips & Recipe Notes
- When it comes to cutting your onions and peppers what matters most is that they're uniformly sized pieces. I like big chunks, so I do a fairly large chop. But Jimmy doesn't like big pieces of onion and pepper, so he prefers a smaller dice. It's really up to you! Just remember that smaller pieces will cook faster, so adjust the cooking times accordingly.
- If you're cooking for more than 5 people, add a third chicken breast or two additional chicken thighs. No need to scale up the sauce portion of the recipe unless you're serving more than 8 people.
- Taste the sauce as you go — the curry spice flavors will intensify as the sauce simmers and thickens. If the sauce is too spicy for you, stir in a dollop of sour cream, plain greek yogurt, or heavy cream right before serving, or serve with a dollop of plain greek yogurt or sour cream on the side.
- For more on the long, colonized history of curry dishes, I recommend watching season 2, episode 2 of David Chang's Ugly Delicious on Netflix, or listening to "The Curry Chronicles" episode of Gastropod.
Simple Tomato Curry Chicken
- Large airtight container
For the chicken
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 pounds)
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour (gluten free 1:1 flour will work)
- 2 tablespoon curry powder (or garam masala)
- 1 teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt (use half as much of any other brand)
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
For the sauce
- 1 medium white onion (diced)
- 2 green bell pepper (diced)
- 1 tablespoon curry powder (or garam masala)
- 1 can tomato sauce (8 oz)
- 1 can tomato paste (6 oz)
- 3 cups chicken stock
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro or parsley (chopped, optional for topping)
- 1 teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt (use half as much of any other brand)
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Pat the chicken breasts dry and cut into 1" cubes.
- Combine chicken pieces, flour, curry powder, and salt in a large airtight container. Put the lid on and shake to coat the chicken pieces in flour.
- In a large skillet, heat 2-3 tablespoons oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the chicken to the skillet in an even layer using tongs so you don't dump excess flour into the pan.
- Cook the chicken, stirring and turning them until just barely cooked through. They’ll be golden brown on the outside and some of the light breading will start sticking to the bottom of the pan. This can take 5-7 minutes. Remove the cooked chicken to a plate and set aside. They’ll continue cooking as they rest.
- Without cleaning out the skillet, add an additional tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Cook onions and peppers in oil 3-5 minutes until slightly soft. Add curry powder and cook an additional 60 seconds, stirring frequently.
- Add tomato sauce and tomato paste and stir to coat the peppers and onions. Keep stirring as the tomato mixture starts to caramelize slightly on the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil, stirring frequently as it reduces slightly, about 3-5 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning to taste: add salt, pepper, or more curry powder if needed.
- Add the chicken back to the sauce, reduce heat to low, and simmer an additional 10 minutes.
- Serve over rice, couscous, or any grain of your choosing. Garnish with fresh cilantro if you like it.
- If you don't have curry powder or garam masala: 1 tablespoon coriander, 1TBSP cumin, 2 teaspoon turmeric, ½ teaspoon ginger, pinch of smoked paprika or cayenne
- You can also sub the can of tomato paste, can of tomato sauce, and chicken stock for (1) 28 oz can crushed tomatoes and 1 cup chicken stock.
- If you don't have chicken stock: Add a crushed cube of chicken bouillon OR 1 teaspoon Better than Bouillon to the skillet when you add the curry powder to the onions and peppers and use water instead of stock.
- If you’re cooking for 6+ people, you may want to add a third chicken breast or two chicken thighs.
- If the sauce is too spicy, stir a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt into the sauce or serve with a dollop of cilantro lime yogurt sauce on the side.