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.
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.
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 ½ 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!)
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.
- 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.
- 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 curry chicken
- Large airtight container
For the chicken
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 lbs)
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 tablespoon curry powder (or garam masala)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon 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 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)
- 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.
- 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 tablespoon coriander, 1tablespoon 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 plain greek yogurt into the sauce or serve with a dollop on the side.