Chicken Karahi, or Kadai chicken, is undoubtedly one of the most popular curries in and out of Pakistan and India. This is a restaurant-style Pakistani Chicken Karahi recipe that can be prepared quickly and easily with no finicky steps.
What is Chicken Karahi?
Karahi is named after the pan in which it was originally cooked – a heavy, often cast-iron pan that’s similar to a wok, but rounder with a flatter base. Traditionally, meat would be simmered and stir-fried in this karahi in an open fire.
I’ve read in multiple places that karahi originates in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly Northwest Frontier) province of Pakistan, which makes sense given the cuisine’s heavy use of meat and black pepper.
Chicken karahi’s distinguishing features are its rich, tomatoey base and a fragrant finishing of green chili peppers, cilantro, and slivers of ginger.
Does chicken karahi include onion?
Most would agree that traditional Pakistani chicken karahi does not include onions. But, when I polled my Instagram community, I found that the majority preferred it with the onions.
After several trials, I decided to include a small onion simply because I just can’t get enough of karahi’s ‘masala’ and onions help produce more of the good stuff. Nonetheless, it is totally up to you if you want to add onions or not, so feel free to omit.
Type of Tomatoes Used in Karahi
The tomatoes are the star ingredient in chicken karahi, so it’s important to use ripe, tasty ones. I’ve tried this recipe with both Roma and vine tomatoes and they both work well. However, I prefer Roma because vine tomatoes will often add too much moisture and sometimes you’ll have to sauté it out separately.
Chicken Cuts and Using Boneless Chicken
Traditionally, Karahi is made from a cut up whole chicken. One tip regarding the chicken cuts is to make sure your chicken pieces are small. That is – try not to use a large chicken (this recipe calls for 2.2 lbs), or large cuts.
You may use boneless chicken as well, though you’ll cook the chicken for a shorter time and spend a longer time sautéing out the moisture.
Note: This recipe calls for around 2.2 lbs of chicken. Adjust salt, spices, etc. according to the amount of chicken you have. Also, if you’re only serving 2-3 people, you can use around 1 pound of chicken and halve the rest of the ingredients.
More Tips for Making the Best Chicken Karahi:
- Even though no water is used to cook the chicken, if you’re using a smaller pan, you may end up with too much liquid after the chicken has cooked. If that’s the case, carefully take out the liquid into a smaller saucepan and cook it down. Then add the reduced liquid back to the chicken. This will prevent the chicken from getting too tender and falling off the bone.
- If you don’t like julienned ginger in your curry (but why?), add more crushed ginger in the beginning and less, if at all, at the end.
- Freshly ground black pepper is an essential finishing touch and helps bring together the beautiful depth of flavors. Try not to use pre-ground black pepper, unless you’ve ground it yourself…fresh..preferably minutes ago. Heh. You get my point.
What to Serve with Chicken Karahi
Typically, curries with lots of gravy go well with both rice and roti, and curries with minimal gravy go well with roti. Since chicken karahi is a ‘dry’ curry, it goes incredibly well with Tandoori naan, roti, or other bread.
More Pakistani chicken recipes you may like:
Pakistani Chicken Karahi
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 2 tbsp neutral oil or sub more ghee
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 8 garlic cloves crushed
- 3/4 inch ginger crushed
- 1-2 Serrano or Thai green chili peppers whole
- 2.2 lbs skinless, bone-in chicken
- 8 small (around 600 grams) tomatoes (I use Roma or Vine) diced
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp red chili powder or to taste
- 2 tsp kosher salt divided
- ¼ cup plain whole-milk yogurt whisked
- 1 tsp black peppercorns freshly ground, or more to taste
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 2-3 green chili peppers slit in half
- 1-2 tbsp fresh ginger julienned
- 1 tbsp fresh cilantro chopped
- Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan over high heat, and add the ghee and oil. Once hot, add the onions and sauté for 5-6 minutes, or until lightly golden. Add garlic, ginger, and whole green chili pepper and sauté for about a minute.
- Add the chicken and ½ tsp salt and sauté for 5 minutes, or until the color of the chicken changes and it has stopped releasing water. Add the tomatoes, coriander, cumin, red chili pepper, and remaining salt and sauté for another minute.
- Lower the heat to medium, cover, and allow the chicken cook for 20 minutes, stirring once in between.
- Raise the heat to high and continue to sauté for 10 minutes to finish cooking the chicken and reduce excess liquid.* You will notice the chicken taking on a glossy appearance as the ghee/oil starts to separate.
- Lower the heat to medium, add in the whisked yogurt, and gently sauté for 2-3 minutes. Taste and add more salt, if needed. Add freshly ground black peppercorns and garam masala, and stir to combine. Top with green chili peppers, julienned ginger, and cilantro. Serve hot with roti, naan, bread, or rice.