My mom’s Sri Lankan chicken curry is something that I’ve painstakingly tried to master over the past 8 years of living away from home. After exhausting all my options with many trials and errors, I I’ve finally resigned to the fact that I can’t replicate ammi’s chicken curry to the dot, but what I can do instead is make a recipe that I call my own! This recipe is by far the best I’ve made and I’ve incorporated bits of tips and tricks I learnt from some of the best cooks I know.
Before jumping into the recipe itself, let me share a few tips which I found to be pretty useful for making a great tasting Sri Lankan chicken curry.
My better half and I both love our chicken breast over drums, thighs or wings; but just like when making a biriyani, a good chicken curry needs the flavour imparted by the bones, a little bit of skin and all the giblets. So do yourself a favour and use a full chicken for this recipe with a little bit of skin on meat. I leave the drums and the wings with their skins on and de-skin the breast as chicken skin doesn’t sit too well with the better half.
And like I said, the type of chicken you use really really makes a difference. I would give anything to use Sri Lankan curry chicken but as I can’t, I substitute it with a local Kampong chicken over broilers.
The Curry Powder
Almost every Asian country has their own version of a curry chicken – be it a red Thai curry or a creamy Singaporean/ Malaysian style curry, a Japanese curry or an Indian chicken curry. In my opinion, what distinguish the Sri Lankan curry from all those is essentially the curry powder itself. The amazing Sri Lankan curry powder; which I am yet to master, consists of some amazing locally grown spices like Ceylon cinnamon, fennel, cumin, coriander, red chilli, curry leaves etc, and warrants a blog post on its own!So till then let’s just stick to the yummy off-the-shelf curry powder you can buy from the supermarket or a grinding mill.
Tempering the Curry powder
This is one step that was missing from my curry for so long as I was afraid of smoking up the entire kitchen by following this step. However, once I started doing it, I never went back because it really really gives a deep flavour and a lovely reddish layer of colour to the dish.
All you need to do is, heat up a heavy bottomed pot, add in some oil and immediately add in the Curry powder directly into the oil and fry it at a low temperature for a few seconds before adding in the rest of the ingredients. Be careful to control the temperature and also make sure you swirl the spices around to prevent them from burning and adding a bitter taste to the curry.
I know what you are going to think, a pot is just a pot – but trust me, using a clay pot makes such a big difference to the curry as it distributes the heat evenly and lets the chicken cook in a lower temperature while retaining all the moisture thus resulting in a flavoursome and moist curry.
So if you ever have a chance to pick up a Sri Lankan clay pot – please do yourself a favour and do that or you could also use a heavy bottomed pot as that too helps to cook food evenly while retaining the flavour. For this recipe, I used my heavy bottomed pan as the clay pot was not able to accommodate my entire curry.
These are the few essential tips that I really think helped me in making a curry that I am finally satisfied with and I hope to hear more tips and tricks from you guys!
Now for the recipe, here’s what you will need.
- 1 Full chicken cut into about 8-10 pieces
- Curry leaves
- Chopped onions
- Fresh green chilli
- Minced garlic
- Sri Lankan curry powder (roasted and un-roasted)
- Sri Lankan roasted chilli powder
- Pepper powder
- Turmeric powder
- Coriander powder
- Stick of cinnamon
- Few pods of cloves and cardamoms
- A piece of lemongrass
- 1-2 Dried red chilli
- Piece of goraka (optional)
- Oil & water
Clean and cut the chicken and give it a quick rinse with a bit of turmeric powder to get rid of any impurities.
Next, season the chicken with all of the above except the onions, green chillies, water and oil. I’ve labelled the ingredients as below for a quick overview and to roughly gauge the quantities of each spice.
Next heat the clay pot or the heavy bottomed pan and add in a bit of oil and immediately add in a bit more of the roasted curry powder and swirl it around till it releases a smoky aroma. Please be mindful to do this at a lower heat so that you will not burn the spices.
Next add in the onions and the green chillies, followed by the marinated chicken and give it a good stir and let the chicken sear from the outside.
Once the chicken is well coated with the oil and the tempered curry powder, add about half a cup of water and cover and simmer in a low heat for about 20-30 mins or till the chicken is cooked and tender. You don’t need to add so much of water as the chicken itself will release a lot of water when you cover it and simmer. Take note that it’s important to cook the curry in a low heat so that you won’t lose moisture under the rapid heat.
Once the chicken is fully cooked, you could either go ahead and add in about a quarter cup of light coconut milk but I like to keep mine fiery without the creaminess of the coconut milk.