Easy Achari Chicken
No toasting or grinding spices, no stuffing chili peppers, and no hard to find ingredients. This easy, fuss-free Pakistani & North Indian-style Achari Chicken recipe requires one pot and takes less than 50 minutes to make.
What is Achari Chicken?
Achari Chicken is a chicken curry made with ingredients used to make achaar, or South Asian pickle. So while the chicken itself isn’t pickled, it’s livened up with a zesty, tangy, ‘pickled’ flavor.
Ingredients that make Achari Chicken curry different from a regular chicken curry are:
- Seeds or whole spices used to make achar.
- Whole green chili peppers, sometimes stuffed with achari spices.
- Yogurt, which gives it a richer, tangy base.
In terms of method, it cooks like Chicken Karahi, in that the curry is cooked down with an extra dose of tomatoes.
Notes on the Ingredients for Achari Chicken
In addition to foundational curry ingredients, Achari Chicken requires a few extra ingredients. Here are some notes on them:
- Fenugreek Seeds (Methi Dana) – Fenugreek seeds are an essential ingredient for Achari Chicken. Though they give a punchy flavor, they can be quite bitter, so feel free to reduce the amount if you find it too strong.
- Nigella Seeds (Kalonji) – Nigella Sativa, not to be confused with onion seeds, are another essential ingredient. I’ve kept them minimal because they can taste quite strong. If you want them more visible throughout the curry, feel free to increase these by another 1/4 teaspoon. (More recipes that use Nigella Seeds: Haleem and Gluten-free Naan.)
- Fennel Seeds (Saunf) – The mild, sweeter flavor of fennel seeds helps offset some of the bitter flavors of the fenugreek and nigella.
- Chicken pieces: Like Karahi, Achari Chicken is made with a whole chicken that’s cut up into small to medium pieces, also called karahi cut (~18 pieces). I prefer it with bone-in chicken, but I’ve shared how to make this curry using boneless chicken below.
- Green Chili Peppers: Large, mild green chili peppers are sometimes stuffed with achari masala (or a blend of achari spices + lemon) and added to Achari Chicken. To keep things simple, I’ve added a few unstuffed whole chili peppers (such as Serrano or Thai chilis) toward the end of cooking.
- Yogurt – Use plain, whole milk (full-fat) yogurt. Yogurt substitutes: I haven’t tried these myself, but coconut milk/cream, dairy-free yogurt, or cashew paste would all work here.
- Oil – You can use any neutral oil, and even a bit of mustard oil if you’d like.
- Mustard Oil – Mustard oil, a pungent oil made from mustard seeds, is often used to make Achari Chicken. My father-in-law once told me that when he was a child, his mom used mustard oil to make curries. Here in the U.S., it’s banned for consumption due to high levels of erucic acid (Source). Though I haven’t tried it myself yet, if you’re comfortable using it, a small amount would be perfect here.
How to make Achari Chicken
Here’s what we’re trying to achieve at each step:
- Heat the oil and add the seeds. Adding them early on helps reduce their bitterness while infusing the oil with the achari flavor.
- Brown onions: Brown the onions to form the base of the curry, then add garlic and ginger.
- Sauté the chicken: This technique, called ‘bhunai‘ sears the meat and gives it richer flavor and color.
- Add the tomatoes, green chili peppers, and spices. The moisture from the tomatoes along with a bit of water will be enough to cook the chicken while keeping it moist.
- Cover + Cook: Like a braise, a slow simmer will ensure tender chicken and well-developed flavors.
- Sauté to reduce: Once it’s done cooking, sauté out the extra water until you can see the chicken turning glossy and the oil starting to separate.
- Add yogurt and green chili: I experimented with adding yogurt earlier but found I loved the pronounced taste and consistency it gives when added at the end. After adding the yogurt, continue to cook it through until the oil starts leaving the sides again.
How to Prevent Yogurt from Curdling in Curries
- Use full-fat, whole milk yogurt. Greek yogurt can curdle easier because of higher protein content.
- Let it come closer to room temperature before using it.
- Whisk it before adding it to the curry.
- Stir it in a little at a time.
- Garnish: An extra squeeze of lemon juice, cilantro, and some julienned ginger to give it a special touch.
How to make this with boneless chicken
If using boneless chicken breast or thighs, cut them into 1.5-inch pieces. There are 3 main differences when making this with boneless chicken breast or thighs:
- To prevent it from drying out, sauté it for less time after adding it to the onions (~2-3-ish minutes).
- Because of extra moisture from the chicken breast + tomatoes, you will not have to add any water before covering to cook.
- Cook/simmer for a shorter time. Depending on the size and if you use breast or thighs, 13-15 minutes of cook time should be enough.
I would say this is a milder (but still very flavorful!) Achari chicken. Here are a few variations you may try:
- Add store-bought or homemade Achari Masala along with the ground spices for more punchy flavor.
- A sprinkle of mustard seeds would be very befitting here.
- Achar oil – I wouldn’t use achar itself as I find it takes away from the nuanced flavors, but a little oil from the bottle at the end adds a nice scent and flavor.
What to serve with Achari Chicken
Because it’s on the ‘drier’ side, Achari Chicken is typically eaten with naan, roti, paratha, or other flatbread. Some say it gets better with time as the flavors have more time to develop.
More Chicken Curry recipes you’ll love
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Easy Achari Chicken
- 1/3 cup (79 ml) neutral oil
- 2 tsp fenugreek seeds, methi dana
- 2 tsp fennel seeds, saunf
- 1 tsp nigella seeds, kalonji
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, zeera
- 1 medium to large (~250-270 g) onion, finely chopped
- 6-8 (~1 tbsp heaped) garlic cloves, crushed
- 1- inch (~1 tbsp ) ginger, crushed
- 2 lb bone-in cut up, skinless chicken pieces , (preferably cut small – See Note 1)
- 2 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 3-4 small (~270-290 g) tomatoes (I use Roma), finely chopped
- 1-2 green chili peppers , such as Serrano or Thai chili, chopped or sliced
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp red chili powder, or to taste
- 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/4 cup (61 g) plain, whole milk yogurt (See Note 2), whisked
- 2-4 whole green chili peppers, such as Serrano or Thai chili
- 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
- 1-2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 tbsp julienned ginger, optional, for garnish
- Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, heat the oil and add the fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, nigella seeds, and cumin seeds. The seeds will begin to sizzle. Immediately add the onions and sauté until they are lightly golden (~10-12 min). If needed, deglaze the pan with 2 tbsp of water. Once the water dries up, add the garlic and ginger and sauté for a minute, until aromatic.
- Add the chicken and 1/2 tsp salt and sauté for 5 minutes, until it changes color. Add the tomatoes, green chili pepper, coriander powder, red chili powder, turmeric powder, and remaining salt (1 ½ tsp). Continue to sauté until the tomatoes soften (~2-3 min). Add 1/3 cup water (the water should cover about 1/3 of the chicken) and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat to a simmer (low-medium), cover, and allow the chicken to cook for 20-25 minutes (depending on size), stirring once in between.
- Uncover and raise the heat to high. Sauté for 4-5 minutes to reduce excess liquid. You will notice the chicken taking on a glossy appearance as the oil starts to separate, but it’ll still have plenty of curry.
- Lower the heat to low-medium and stir in the whisked yogurt. Add the whole green chili peppers. Gently sauté for 2-3 minutes until well incorporated and you can see the oil separated from the curry. Taste and adjust salt, if needed. (I usually need another 1/8 tsp.)
- Turn off the heat. Add lemon juice and stir to mix. Garnish with cilantro and julienned ginger. Serve hot with naan, roti, paratha, or other bread.