Authentic Chicken Curry (Easy Chicken Salan)
Here’s an Authentic Chicken Curry (or Chicken Salan) recipe made in the traditional Pakistani and North Indian style. This is a simple, one-pot curry recipe that you can make in under an hour. Unfussy, easy-to-follow, and tested to perfection!
Authentic Chicken Curry
Ahh the most basic, simple, classic chicken curry in all its unpretentious glory.
If you’re familiar with this curry, you don’t know you’re passionate about it until you’re deprived of it. You can travel and eat delicious food from around the world, but you’ll need a good chicken curry to feel like you really ate.
If you’re not familiar with it, this may be the chicken curry you’ve been searching for. It captures the essence of South Asian cooking while still being approachable. Plus, it’s made without heavy cream or coconut milk, so it’s cozy and comforting while still being light.
The difference between this chicken curry and many other chicken curries is the ‘shorba’ or ‘salan‘, which means gravy or curry. It has a thinner, soup-like consistency, so it’s perfect for dipping your roti or naan or scooping up with rice.
Notes on the Ingredients
This curry requires common ingredients used in Pakistani and Indian cooking:
- Oil: A thin layer of oil on the finished dish is a distinct feature of authentic curry. Plus, you need the oil to brown the onions, sear the chicken, and to ensure the spices don’t stick and burn. I’ve used a full 1/3 cup, which is just enough to give it the traditional look and taste. If you really want to make it the traditional way, you can even go up to 1/2 cup.
- Chicken pieces: This curry is typically made with a whole, skinless chicken that’s cut up into pieces. A mix of bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks would also be perfect here, especially since they’re more readily available.
- I recommend making this with bone-in chicken (tender + deeper flavor!), but you can use chicken breast or thighs. See below for how to make this curry using boneless chicken.
- Tomatoes: I typically use Roma, but you can also use Vine. If using Vine, you may need to add less water because Vine tend to have more water content than Roma.
- Garlic & Ginger: You can use a mortar and pestle to crush them or run them through your food processor until they’re finely minced.
- Kosher salt: I like to use kosher salt, but you can use whatever salt you have on hand. If using table salt, you may need a tad less than what’s called for in the recipe. Since this is a soupy curry, a good amount of salt is essential to adequately flavor it.
- Green Chili Peppers: Used for subtle heat and flavor. Use Thai chili peppers, Serrano, or any slender green chili you’re able to find.
- Whole & Ground Spices: This recipe uses standard whole spices and spice powders used in South Asian cooking. If you’re missing a few, feel free to omit. You can also try adding whole spices such as cinnamon sticks or cardamom pods.
- Red chili powder: I’ve used a teaspoon, which makes a medium-spicy curry that my toddler handles well. Feel free to adjust the spice level to taste. You can also substitute it with a smaller amount of cayenne pepper.
- Garnishing: A good, preferably homemade garam masala and cilantro are all you need to finish this homey curry.
On using a Food Processor
This type of curry typically doesn’t have visible sliced onions or chopped tomatoes floating around. That’s why I’ve used a food processor to help get the right consistency.
- For the onions: Use the pulse function to very finely chop them. Make sure not to blend them or else they’ll release water and it’ll be harder to brown them.
- For the tomatoes: A rough tomato purée will help them meld into the curry. I’m not super picky about not having bits of tomato skin in the curry, but feel free to blend it even further if you want.
Don’t have a food processor? Just use your knife to finely mince the onions and tomatoes.
How to make Authentic Chicken Curry
Here’s what we’re trying to achieve at each stage:
- Sauté onions: We’re going for golden brown. Keep in mind that they’ll deepen even more in color once you add the garlic and ginger.
- Sauté the chicken: This technique, called ‘bhunai‘ sears the meat and gives it richer flavor and color.
- Bloom the spices: This helps bring out their flavor. The moisture in the chicken & the oil prevents them from sticking. If you’re worried about them burning, feel free to deglaze the pan as needed.
- Sauté the tomatoes: The goal is to get them integrated into the curry. A good sign is when they’re no longer releasing water and the oil starts to separate from the curry base.
- Cover + Cook: Like a braise, a slow simmer will ensure tender chicken and well-developed flavors.
- Uncover and simmer: Oil rising to the top is key and an indication that your curry is done.
How to make this curry 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 (or any chicken curry, really) 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). (Step 3)
- Chicken breast releases more water, so you’ll need to add less water before covering to cook. If you’re adding 2 cups for bone-in chicken, try adding around 1 1/2 cup for boneless. (Step 5)
- 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. (Step 6)
Tips & FAQs
I’ve intentionally made the recipe easy to halve (lots of even numbers here!) for 1 pound of chicken. If you’d like to double it, simply double all the ingredients, but you may need to add a little less water before you cover + simmer the chicken.
If you’d like it less runny (with less curry or shorba), you can either add less water or sauté it down more after it’s cooked.
I actually have a very similar recipe for Instant Pot Chicken Curry with Potatoes that can serve as a guideline for making this in the Instant Pot. You would pressure cook it on High for 12 minutes and use the lower amount of water.
Cubed potatoes are a classic addition in this curry. If you cut them into large cubes, you’ll add them with the water before you cover to cook. If using smaller cubes, wait about 5 minutes so the potatoes can cook for a total of 20-ish minutes.
As I discussed in my Korma recipe, I understand that nothing is wholly authentic and this is my (or more accurately, my mom’s) take on the recipe. When I call a recipe authentic, I mean to help you identify that it’s a recipe made with traditional Pakistani and Indian methods and ingredients. As a comparison, here’s a modern take on chicken curry by the brilliant Nagi at RecipeTin Eats.
What to serve with this Chicken Curry
To add some crunch and freshness, chop up some vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions to serve alongside.
More chicken curries you’ll love
Authentic Chicken Curry (Easy Chicken Salan)
- 1/3-1/2 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed or avocado
- 2 small to medium (~320-350g ) yellow onions, quartered
- 6-8 (~1 tbsp) garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 inch (~1 tbsp) ginger, crushed
- 2 lbs (907 g) bone-in, cut up, skinless chicken, cleaned and excess skin removed (See Note 1)
- 2 1/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 1-2 small green chili peppers (such as Serrano or Thai chili), stems removed and thinly sliced
- 2 small (~200 g) tomatoes (I use Roma), quartered
- 1 tsp whole coriander seeds, roughly crushed
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 5-6 whole black peppercorns
- 3-4 whole cloves
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 1/2 tsp crushed chili flakes, optional
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4-1/2 tsp garam masala
- 2-3 tbsp cilantro leaves, chopped
- Place the onions in a food processor and use the pulse function to chop finely but not blend.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven over medium-high or high heat (depending on your stove). Once hot, add the oil and chopped onions. Sauté until the onions turn golden (~12-15 min). Meanwhile, in the same food processor, add the tomatoes and pulse to chop into a rough purée. Deglaze the pan with 2 tbsp of water.
- Once the water dries up, add the garlic and ginger and sauté until the raw smell disappears and the onions deepen in color (~1 min). If needed, deglaze the pan again with 2 tbsp of water. Add the chicken and 1/4 tsp salt and fry it until it changes color, about 5 minutes.
- Add the whole spices, ground spices, remaining salt (2 tsp), and green chili pepper. Sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Deglaze the pan if the bits start to stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the tomatoes and sauté for another 2-3 minutes, until you can see the oil separating from the curry. Add 1 3/4 – 2* (see Note 2) cups of water and stir to mix. Cover the pan to bring to a gentle boil.
- Once it begins to boil, lower the heat to a simmer (low or low-medium). Cover and allow the curry to cook for 25 minutes, stirring once in between. The chicken should be very tender. Taste and add salt, if needed. Uncover and continue to allow the chicken to simmer for 3-5 minutes, until the oil rises to the top.
- Turn off the heat. Garnish with garam masala and cilantro. Serve with rice, roti, or naan.