Pakistani Chicken Karahi (Easy & Authentic)
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. Tested, perfected, and loved by thousands!
“This chicken karahi recipe is out of this world!”Talha
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.
Ingredients You’ll Need
This Chicken Karahi recipe requires simple ingredients commonly used in South Asian cooking. Here are a few things to note:
I’ve used oil for fluidity and ghee for taste. This recipe doesn’t require as much oil as most Karahis, but you can increase the oil or ghee as desired for a more restaurant-like finish.
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 can sometimes add too much moisture while cooking the curry. When in doubt, go for the tastiest tomatoes available.
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. This is often called karahi cut, which is 1 chicken cut into around 18 pieces. Basically, try not to use a large chicken (this recipe calls for 2-2.2 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 2-2.2 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.
How to Make Karahi
Here’s what we’re trying to achieve at each step:
- Heat the oil and brown the chopped onions. Sauté the onions until they’re lightly golden. Then add garlic, ginger, and green chili pepper. The onions will deepen in color as the aromatics cook.
- Sauté the chicken. This technique, called ‘bhunai‘ sears the meat and gives it richer flavor and color. A sprinkle of salt here helps layer the flavor.
- Add the tomatoes, spices, and salt. The moisture from all the tomatoes will be enough to cook the chicken while keeping it moist.
- Cover & cook. Allowing the chicken to slowly simmer while covered results in tender chicken and well-developed flavors. This also helps the tomatoes break down well.
- Uncover and stir-fry on high heat to sauté out the water content. You’re done once the chicken taking on a glossy appearance as the ghee/oil starts to separate.
- Stir in the yogurt. 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.
- Finish off with freshly ground black peppercorns and garam masala and stir to mix. Garnish with green chili peppers, julienned ginger, and cilantro.
More Tips for Making the Best Chicken Karahi:
- Even though no water is used to cook the chicken, if you’re using a smaller/narrow 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 (like Classic Chicken Curry) go well with both rice and roti, and curries with minimal gravy (like Mixed Vegetable Curry) go well with roti. Since chicken karahi is a ‘dry’ curry, it goes incredibly well with Tandoori naan, paratha, roti, or other bread.
More Pakistani Chicken recipes you may like:
Pakistani Chicken Karahi
- 2 tbsp ghee, See Note for dairy-free
- 2-3 tbsp neutral oil, or sub more ghee
- 1 small (~150 g) onion, finely chopped
- 8 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3/4 inch ginger, crushed
- 1-2 Serrano or Thai green chili peppers, whole
- 2-2.2 lbs (~907 g) skinless, bone-in chicken, cut up into small pieces
- 8 small (~600 g) 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 – See Note for dairy-free
- 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.
- Uncover and raise the heat to high. 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. (I usually need another 1/8 tsp.) 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.