Indian chicken curries are known all over the world for their incredible depth of flavors and aromatic spices. The term “masala” refers to a blend of spices that forms the base for these curries. Masala can contain spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom and chili peppers. When these spices are toasted and ground into a powder, they provide an unmistakable flavor profile.
In this beginner’s guide, you will learn all about classic Masala Hut chicken recipes—these flavorful chicken curries originate from small roadside restaurants in India called dhabas. The chicken is simmered slowly with tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and aromatic masala until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. The gravy has a rich, thick and buttery texture. These curries are best enjoyed with steaming hot rice or warm Indian bread.
Procuring the Right Main Ingredient – Chicken
The star ingredient of these flavorful Indian chicken curries is obviously the chicken itself. Some tips on choosing the right chicken:
- Opt for good quality free-range chicken that has been naturally fed. The flavor will be superior.
- Boneless skinless chicken thighs or drumsticks work very well as they don’t dry out during extended cooking times.
- You can also use bone-in chicken pieces for more robust flavor that seeps from the bones to the meat and sauce.
- Always wash the chicken well and pat it completely dry before using for best results.
The Aromatic Masala Mix
A good Masala Hut style chicken curry is only as good as its masala. Here’s what goes into making an aromatic masala mix:
Whole spices like cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cloves and cardamom pods get lightly roasted to bring out their essential oils. Then they are set aside.
Onion and Garlic
Chopped onion and garlic provide a flavorful base for the masala. They are sautéed until golden brown.
Ginger adds a lovely zing and brightness to the mix. It is grated finely before being sautéed with the onions and garlic.
Coriander and Cumin Powder
Roasted and ground coriander and cumin take the masala flavor to the next level. You can easily find them in the spice aisle at an Indian grocery store.
Kashmiri Chili Powder
This powder made from dried Kashmiri chilies has a rich deep red color and imparts a mildly spicy flavor without too much heat. Use according to your spice tolerance.
Once the whole spices, onion, garlic, ginger and powdered spices are cooked together, they are ground into a smooth masala paste with some water. This aromatic masala forms backbone of the curry.
Choosing the Right Cooking Vessel
An authentic Indian chicken curry tastes best when cooked in traditional Indian cooking vessels made from clay or cast iron.
Clay pots are excellent conduits of heat. The meat cooks slowly and evenly while absorbing flavors from the spices. This is because the porous walls allow some evaporation.
Cast Iron Kadai
The round bottom Kadai distributes heat evenly just like a clay pot. It also gives a mild iron flavor to the dish. Cast iron vessels need to be seasoned properly before use.
While traditional vessels work best, you can also use heavy bottom non-stick pans and Dutch ovens to make these chicken curries.
Flavorful Sauce and Gravy
The sauce or gravy is what makes these classic chicken curries stand out from the rest. Here are some ways to build amazing flavor:
Cook sliced onions very slowly on low heat until they turn uniformly brown and add complex sweet notes to the curry.
Fresh ripe tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes add sweet-tart flavor and texture to the rich sauces. Cook them just enough to lose their raw taste.
Tomato puree lends color, texture and a tangy flavor to the gravy. It also makes it nice and thick so it can properly cling to the chicken.
Blooming the whole spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves in hot oil before adding the onion, garlic and ginger introduces another layer of aroma.
Yogurt and Cream
Adding some tangy yogurt and dairy like heavy cream gives each bite of chicken a luxuriously silky and rich taste.
Simmer and Reduce
Letting the curry simmer away slowly on low heat until some of the water evaporates allows all the flavors to develop and meld together in the sauce. This also further thickens it.
Time to Cook the Chicken!
We have prepped all our ingredients and built our flavorful sauce. Now comes the best part – actually cooking the chicken!
Brown the Chicken
First, sear the chicken pieces in some oil until lightly browned on the outside. This caramelization adds heaps of taste. Set aside browned chicken.
Bloom Spices and Cook Onions
Next, bloom the whole spices in the same pot. Add onions, garlic, ginger and cook until softened. Deglaze the fond left over from chicken for extra flavor.
Add Masala and Cook
Mix the freshly ground masala into the onions, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes. The oils will release their robust aroma.
Simmer in Sauce
Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, browned chicken and yogurt/cream. Cover and let simmer for 30-40 mins until chicken is very tender.
Check for salt and adjust chili powder according to taste. You can also add garam masala or crushed kasuri methi at this point.
Finish with Butter and Herbs
Just before serving, add a knob of butter and torn cilantro leaves. The butter adds a lovely richness.
Follow these steps properly, adjust spices carefully and you will have flavorful, aromatic chicken curry that transports you straight to the Masala Hut!
Serve this iconic chicken curry just like they do at the dhabas – with hot steamy rice, fresh hot chapatis, some pickle, raita and fried green chilies on the side. Enjoy the delightful flavors!
Veggie Sides for a Complete Meal
This chicken curry is complete only when served with some tasty vegetable side dishes. Here are some excellent options:
This healthy mix of 5 different dals cooked with traditional spices makes the perfect protein-rich accompaniment.
Cauliflower and potato florets sautéed in thick tangy tomato gravy balance the richness of the chicken.
Berry-like dhungri beans cooked with spices and rice add color and nutrition.
Sweet, earthy beetroots cooked home-style in Indian spices make a great vegetable side.
The cool cucumber yogurt dip provides a refreshing contrast to the hot curry.
A simple meal of chicken curry with dal, subzi and raita gives you all the dietary nourishment you need. Complete it with rice or Indian bread.
Ideas for Leftovers
Like most curries, Masala Hut style chicken tastes even better the next day as the flavors develop even further. Here are some delicious ways to use up leftovers:
Pull the leftover chicken and stuff into soft whole wheat dough to make flavorful stuffed parathas. Pan fry until golden brown and enjoy.
Chicken Tikka Sandwich
Shred the chicken, drizzle some tikka masala sauce, stuff inside bread & grill to make an incredible desi sandwich.
Toss cubed chicken with veggies, chickpeas & spices. Drizzle lemon juice and olive oil dressing for a quick salad.
Wrap or Tacos
Warm the shredded chicken and mix with beans, corn, tomato, onion, cilantro & cheese. Wrap in soft tortilla bread for fusion-style tacos.
So don’t ever throw away leftover curry! You can transform it into multiple dishes through the week.
Final Tips and Tricks
Here are some final useful tips to help you along your journey with cooking classic Masala Hut style Indian chicken curries at home:
Use Good Quality Ingredients
Premium spices and pastes really elevate the flavor versus cheaper quality ones. Good meat also makes a noticeable difference.
Adjust Spices Wisely
Spice levels vary across batches of ground masalas. Add them gradually and adjust to suit your taste.
Cook on Low Flame
Cook the curry on low gentle heat rather than high to allow time for flavors to meld and prevent burning.
Finish with Fat and Herbs
Add some ghee or butter at the end with torn coriander for the right rich restaurant-style finish.