Monday 3 March 2014

Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

Most of us love a good curry...

...although it's quite easy to get into a bit of a curry 'rut' and end up eating the same curries over and over again. There's nothing wrong with that if you've found the ones you like, but it's always pleasure to find a new one that's really good and add it to your repetoire (and your friends', if you're feeling like sharing!).

If you want a really authentic experience, go for chicken on the bone either chopping up a carcass yourself, or using chicken thighs. I've given a recipe with the choice of using this or chicken breast meat, to cater to different tastes (and those wishing to reduce the fat content).

Serves a generous four (to six), easily halved or doubled. The curry powder makes more than you need, but will keep for months in an airtight container or jar (and you’ll definitely want to make this one again, or even make it in bulk as gifts! You can also use it in my delicious Spiced Sweet Potato and Tomato Soup).
Now don’t be scared by the ingredients – look how simple the method is, and this really is delicious!

Calories per serving: 264 if using chicken breasts and light coconut milk; 337 if using chicken thighs (without skin) and light coconut milk; 305 if using chicken breasts and full fat coconut milk; 377 if using chicken thighs (without skin) and full fat coconut milk;. The most authentic way to cook this is with chicken thighs on the bone (and keep the skin on for flavour if you’re being really naughty!).

Depending on whether you’re cooking this for a fast day, or a non-fast day, you can choose to use chicken breast (on or off the bone, lower fat than leg meat), or thighs/legs/drumsticks. On a non-fast day you could even leave on the skin for flavour. You could even make this using leftover chicken/turkey from a Sunday roast, making the curry sauce first and just adding the diced cooked meat to heat through at the end. On a fast day, you could serve it with a small serving of boiled/steamed rice, or plenty of cauliflower ‘rice’. If you’re not able to grind spices to a powder to make the Sri Lankan curry powder, feel free to use pre-ground spices – just remember to ‘roast’ them in a dry frying pan until fragrant (but don’t burn them, or it will taste bitter), to release the oils and flavours.

For the roasted Sri Lankan curry powder (see notes if you don't wish to make it yourself) [379 calories in total, approximately 19 calories per tbsp/6g]
  • 25g cumin seeds [94]
  • 50g coriander seeds [149]
  • 25g fennel seeds [86]
  • 1 cinammon stick (about 3 inches, or if you won’t be able to grind it use 1 tbsp cinnamon powder) [15]
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds [7]
  • ½ tsp cloves [1]
  • Seeds from 10 green cardamom pods (discard the pods) – about ½ tsp [3]
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds [9]
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns [5]
  • 4 dried long red chillies (shake out the seeds first, if you want a milder curry powder) [10]

For the chicken curry
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (or use ghee/clarified butter, or vegetable/sunflower oil if you prefer) [135]
  • 500g chicken breast fillets (4)/mini-fillets/tenders/chicken thighs (skinless, on the bone) or drumsticks or whole legs, skinned and trimmed of all visible fat (you could buy a whole chicken for this if you wish, and portion it up into eight) – cube the chicken breast meat, and if you’re using skinless thighs (or drumsticks) you can leave them whole if you prefer – if you’re not fasting, you can choose to leave the skin on for flavour, and brown it in the oil [550 skinless breast/840 skinless thighs]
  • 200g (half a tin) chopped tomatoes (or paleo, fresh, skinned and chopped) [50]
  • 1 tbsp ground roasted rice (dry fry raw rice in a frying pan, until deep golden, then grind to a powder, for Paleo substitute ground almond/cashews, lightly toasted in a pan) [20]
  • 1 sprig curry leaves (about 20) [3]
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped [41]
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed [24]
  • 3 tbsp Sri Lankan roasted curry powder [57]
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric [8]
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (or less, to taste) [6]
  • 8 cloves [- not eaten]
  • 8 cardamom pods, bruised [- not eaten]
  • 1 cinnamon stick [- not eaten]
  • 3 inches ginger root, peeled and grated [11]
  • Salt to taste (1- 2 tsp – remember, you can start off with one, and add more, but you can’t take it away!)
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar (for Paleo use apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice) [6]
  • 200ml (half a tin) coconut milk/light coconut milk [308/146]

If you’re not using pre-made curry powder, then make this first. Gently roast all of the whole spices, by putting them in a dry frying pan, over a low to medium heat and keeping them moving until they become fragrant. Once you can smell the spices roasting it’s time to remove them elsewhere (out of the frying pan) to cool down. You may wish to do this in batches, and do the dried chillies on their own. Once the spices are roasted and cooled, grind them to a powder (easiest done in an electric spice grinder - you can pick one of these up for about £13, e.g. Andrew James, and I've found it very useful and reliable). This will store for at least three months in an airtight container.

To make the curry
Heat the oil in the pan, and add the curry leaves, stirring for a minute. Add the onion, garlic and ginger, continuing to stir, frying gently until the onion is translucent. Add the curry powder and all of the ground spices and cook out for a minute or two. Add the chicken (skin side down, if you’re using chicken with the skin on) and brown lightly, taking care not to burn the garlic/onion/ginger.

Add all of the other ingredients except for the coconut milk (using 1 tsp salt, initially), and stir to coat the chicken. If necessary, add a little water to just cover, and put the lid on the pan. Bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for 30 minutes to one hour (depending on which cut of chicken you’ve used, and whether it’s cooked – you will need less time for chicken breast chunks so it doesn't dry out - test the largest piece for done-ness - and more for chicken thighs on the bone). Once the chicken is cooked through and tender, stir in the coconut milk, taste, and add some/all of the extra salt if necessary. This curry is also delicious warmed through the next day, and freezes beautifully.

If you're cooking gluten free, and you buy curry powder rather than making your own, make sure you check it's gluten free.

If anyone (in the UK) is interested in buying some Sri Lankan curry powder, I buy the hot version from this lovely Sri Lankan lady I know, called Gayani - you can contact her here for more information about purchasing it (it's called Gold Dust, and I buy the hot version) -

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