an overhead shot of a large, shallow bowl with rice on the right and curry chicken on the left. a wooden spoon sticks out of the rice. the dish is garnished with parsley, and a few sprigs are on the white wood table on either side of the bowl.

simple curry chicken

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Let me preface this by saying this is not necessary a “traditional” chicken curry. It is, however, what I grew up thinking of as curry chicken.

It’s a simple tomato sauce base with peppers and onions, a heaping few tablespoons of curry powder, and lightly breaded chicken pieces. It’s the kind comforting dish with just the lightest bit of heat that warms you up from the inside out.

It can be served over rice, couscous, or any grain you want. I usually go for plain white rice, because nostalgia.

A bowl of curry chicken with rice. A spice bottle of kitchen king spice blend is on the counter behind it.

As we’ve had to limit our grocery trips and make a lot more dishes using pantry staples, I’ve been dipping back into the family recipe archives.

Most of the recipes my mom used to make have 10 ingredients max, many of them canned or pantry items. Tuna Newberg got me through last week’s lunches. And this week, I dug out chicken curry.

two bowls of curry chicken with a cloth napkin on a wooden table

What I love about this recipe is that it can hold up to a lot of ingredient swapping.

In true inherited recipe fashion, the recipe my mom gave me has absolutely zero measurements included, so I usually make it mostly from memory.

The original recipe calls for a crushed chicken bouillon cube, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and 4 cups of water to make a silky smooth sauce. If I don’t have that on on hand, sometimes I’ll use a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes and 1/2 cup chicken stock instead.

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. (I’ve included some suggested swaps in the recipe below to help you out if you’re stuck!)

An extreme close up of curry chicken over rice in a white bowl with a fork

Curry powder itself is a spice blend and the flavor can differ from brand to brand. There are infinite blends and types of curry powder, so whatever kind you have on hand will do.

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, so I usually sub in some garam masala (I like the one from Teeny Tiny Spice Co of Vermont!), and/or a Kitchen King spice blend that my friend brought me back from India.

cooking 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 don’t have chicken stock, add a crushed chicken bouillon cube or the contents of a flavor packet from chicken ramen to the peppers and onion at the same time you add the curry powder, and use water instead of stock.
  • If you’re cooking for 6-8 people, add a third chicken breast or two additional chicken thighs. No need to scale up the sauce unless you’re serving more like 8-12 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 a dollop of sour cream, yogurt, or heavy cream into the sauce right before serving, or serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream on the side.
  • To really bring the heat, use poblano or serrano peppers instead of bell peppers.

simple curry chicken

The Practical Kitchen
This simple curry chicken will warm you up from the inside out. Serve over rice, couscous, or any grain you have on hand. It’s a very simple, forgiving recipe that can handle a lot of swapping if you’re out of certain ingredients. Suggested swaps included below, but feel free to get creative.
0 from 0 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Indian
Servings 6 servings

Equipment

Ingredients
  

For the chicken

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 lbs)
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 TBSP curry powder (or garam masala)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper

For the sauce

  • ½ medium white onion (diced)
  • 2 red or green bell peppers (red or green, chopped into 1" pieces)
  • 1 TBSP 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)

Instructions

  • Pat the chicken breasts dry and cut into 1" pieces.
  • Combine flour, curry powder, and salt in a large airtight container. Put the lid on and shake to combine. Add the cubed chicken pieces, seal tightly, and shake to coat the chicken pieces in flour.
  • In a large skillet, heat 2-3 tablespoons oil over medium heat. When droplets of water flicked into the oil sizzle and evaporate on contact, use tongs to add the chicken to the skillet a few pieces at a time , so that you don’t dump any extra flour from the container into the pan.
    If any pieces haven’t been fully coated in flour, use the tongs to toss them quickly in the container before adding to 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.
  • Add an additional tablespoon of oil to the skillet over medium heat. Cook onions and peppers in oil 3-5 minutes until slightly soft. Add curry powder to the onions and peppers and cook an additional 60 seconds, stirring frequently.
  • Add tomato sauce and tomato paste and stir to coat the peppers and onions. Add the chicken stock and simmer, covered, 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning to taste: add salt or more curry powder if needed.
  • Add the chicken back to the sauce and let simmer an additional 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
  • Serve over rice, couscous, or any grain of your choosing.

Notes

  • What matters most when it comes to cutting your onions and peppers is that they’re cut into uniform 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 don’t have curry powder or garam masala: 1 TBSP coriander, 1TBSP cumin, 2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp 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 tsp 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 plain greek yogurt into the sauce or serve with a dollop on the side.
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Joel Bradshaw

Hey there! I made this with the tomato paste + sauce option, and 4 cups of stock seems like a lot! It came out more like soup, which was still delicious, but not quite what I’d call a sauce 🙂 Judging by eye, next time I’ll try it with half that and see how it goes. Doing the math, that would be roughly equivalent total volume to the crushed tomatoes option, so it checks out there as well.