Tender juicy pieces of chicken in aromatic sauce based on onion and tomato, and flavored with coconut, garlic, ginger, cumin,
cloves, fennel, cardamom, coriander, allspice and lemon juice.
Chicken curry is is a common delicacy in Sri Lanka, just like it is in India, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. The Sri Lankan way of making it is typically by using whole spices and shredded coconut that are slightly roasted before it is ground into a powder. You will enjoy the fantastic aromas this process will make in our kitchen!
Chicken curry is commonly served with steamed rice (Basmati), and sometimes with breads such as nan or chapatti. I also love to have a dollop of sour cream with mine.
You can use any pieces of the chicken you prefer for this dish, or you can use a whole chicken. If you use chicken with bone in, you can use water in the sauce. If you prefer to use boneless chicken, it is best to use chicken broth to make the sauce. Chicken thighs usually make the most tender result.
Here is how I make it:
1. You need 1.5 to 2 ls. of chicken, skin removed. Rinse and tap dry the chicken pieces with a paper towel. Cut the chicken into 2 inch pieces (chicken thighs cut in half). Put the chicken pieces in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
2. Crush 4-5 cloves of garlic and a 1 inch piece of ginger and rub it into the chicken pieces (best if you use your hands for this - just remember to wash them well afterwords).
3. If you choose to use ground spices you can skip this step. To a dry pan add 1/4 tsp. cloves, 1/4 tsp, fennel seeds, 4-5 cardamom pods, 1 tsp. cumin seeds and 1 tsp. coriander seeds and roast over medium high heat for a few minutes until you smell the aromas (be careful not to let it burn). Let cool completely before grinding the spices. There are many ways to grind them, I use my Nutribullet. If you don't have one you can use a spice mill, coffee grinder, mortar, or a blender.
4. Add the ground spices plus 1/4 tsp. turmeric, 1/4 tsp. allspice, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (1/4 makes it mild, 1/2 makes it a little spicy) and 3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice to the chicken. Mix well and let marinate for a minimum of 20 minutes.
(The longer you marinate the better, but if you marinate for more than one hour you need to cover and put it into the refrigerator. If you are good at planning your meals ahead you can do these steps the night before and let it marinate over night. If you refrigerate, remember to take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you start cooking it. )
5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Put 3/4 cup of cashews on a baking sheet and roast them for 10 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and let cool. On the same baking sheet roast 1/4 cup of shredded coconut for 4 minutes. Let cool. Once cool grind the coconut with 1/4 cup of the roasted cashews in a food processor until it becomes a powder. If you don't have the patience to let it cool first, it might stick together into lumps. Reserve the rest of the cashews for garnish.
6. Cooking the chicken: In a heavy bottom pot, heat 2 tbsp. coconut oil (or you can use ghee or vegetable oil) on medium high heat. Add the chicken to the pot and cook the chicken pieces for about 3-4 minutes on each side, until light golden brown. Remove the chicken pieces from the pot (but leave the oil).
7. Finely chop one onion and cook in the same pot as the chicken until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
8. Puree or finely chop three very ripe tomatoes. Add to the onion and let cook for a few minutes on medium high.
9. Add 2 cups of chicken broth (or water if you use bone in chicken) to the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce the temperature to medium. Add the chicken pieces to the pot, as well as one cinnamon stick and the ground coconut/cashew powder you made. Once/if it boils, reduce the heat to low (1.8 of 10) and let cook for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hour).
10. Add the creamy part (1 cup) from the top of one can of coconut milk to the pot and let it cook for about four-five minutes. Taste to see if more salt is needed. If you used low sodium chicken broth you probably need to add about 1/2 tsp., depending on how generously you salted the chicken in the beginning. Add a little salt at the time (1/4 tsp.), stir and taste. If you like it spicier, you can also add more cayenne at this point.
11. Remove the pot from the heat and garnish with 1/2 cup of cashews and about 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves.
Serve with steamed rice or bread, and perhaps a dollop of sour cream or strained greek yogurt.
Here is what you need to make Sri Lankan Chicken Curry with Cashews:
- 2 lbs. skinless chicken, cut into 2-3 inch pieces. (I use boneless chicken thighs cut in half).
- Salt and pepper
- 1 one inch piece of fresh ginger, grated or 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed or pressed
- ¼ tsp. cloves (or ¼ tsp. ground cloves)
- ¼ tsp. fennel seeds (or ¼ tsp. ground fennel)
- 4-5 cardamom pods (left whole) (or ¼ tsp. ground cardamom)
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds (or 1 tsp. ground cumin)
- 1 tsp. coriander seeds (or 1 tsp. ground coriander)
- ¼ tsp. turmeric
- ¼ tsp. allspice
- ¼ tsp. cayenne or more if you like it a little spicy
- 3 tbsp. lemon juice
For the Gravy:
- ¾ cup raw cashews
- ¼ cup shredded dried unsweetened grated coconut
- 2 tbsp. ghee, coconut oil or vegetable oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped (I use white onion, but any color is fine)
- 2-3 very ripe tomatoes, finely chopped or pureed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cups chicken broth or water
- 1 cup thick coconut milk (the cream on top inside the can)
- Fresh cilantro (coriander) to garnish.
Steamed Rice or Bread to Serve.
1. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper and put it in a mixing bowl. Add crushed ginger and garlic and rub into the chicken. If you are using only ground spices, you can skip the next step. In a dry skillet, over medium heat, roast the seeds (cloves, fennel, cardamom, cumin and coriander) until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Let cool before grinding in a blender, spice mill, coffee grinder or mortar. Add the spices you ground plus the turmeric, allspice, cayenne and lemon juice to the chicken. Cover and let marinate, either in room temperature for 20 minutes to 1 hr., or in the fridge if you have time to marinate it longer of or for best result over night. Take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking.
2. Preheat oven to 375F degrees. Put the cashews on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the baking sheet and let cool. On the same baking sheet roast the coconut for 4 minutes. Let cool. Grind the coconut with ¼ cup of the cashews in a grinder or food processor to make a rough powder. Reserve the rest of the cashews for garnish.
3. In a heavy bottom pot, heat the ghee or oil on medium heat. Add the chicken to the pot and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally until lightly brown. Remove the chicken from the pot. Add the onion and cook until translucent and sot, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes or tomato pure and let it cook with the onions for a couple of minutes Add broth and bring to a boil while stirring occasionally. Add the cinnamon stick, chicken and coconut/cashew mixture. If/when it boils reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hr. to 1 ½ hour (this will make it very tender).
4. Stir in the coconut milk and cook for 3-4 minutes. Taste to see if you need to add salt or pepper. Remove from the heat or transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the cashews and cilantro leaves.