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. I didn’t have any of that on hand, so I used a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes and a 1/2 cup of chicken stock instead. Same great tomato flavor, slightly chunkier sauce. I actually preferred it that way, so that’s how I’ve written the recipe. (Don’t worry, I’ve included some suggested swaps!)
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.
We were out of curry powder, so I used the last bit of some garam masala we had from the Teeny Tiny Spice Co of Vermont, and a spice blend called Kitchen King 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 chickenCourse: Dinner, PoultryDifficulty: Easy
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.
- For the chicken
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
OR: 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1″ pieces
1/4 cup flour
1-2 TBSP curry powder
OR: 1-2 TBSP garam masala
OR: 1/2 TBSP coriander, 1/2 TBSP cumin, 1 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 TBSP vegetable or canola oil
- For the sauce
1/2 medium white or yellow onion, cut into uniform pieces*
2 bell peppers, red or green, cut into uniform pieces*
1-2 TBSP curry powder
OR: 1-2 TBSP garam masala
OR: 1 TBSP coriander, 1TBSP cumin, 2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp ginger, pinch of smoked paprika or cayenne
28 oz can of crushed tomatoes and 1/2 cup of chicken stock**
OR: (1) 8 oz can of tomato sauce and (1) 6 oz can of tomato paste and 2-3 cups of chicken stock**
- 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, 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.
- Heat an additional tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Cook onions and peppers in oil 3-5 minutes until slightly soft. Add curry powder (and chicken bouillon, if using) to the onions and peppers and cook an additional 1-2 minutes.
- Add crushed tomatoes (or tomato sauce and tomato paste) and stir to coat the peppers and onions. Add the chicken stock (or water) 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 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 4+ people, add a third chicken breast or two additional chicken thighs.
- If the sauce is too spicy, stir a dollop of sour cream or yogurt into the sauce or serve with a dollop on the side.