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Chicken and yoghurt curry - AKA Christmas lunch part 1

Written By Reena on 11 Dec 2009 | 09:00

Growing up in an Indian household meant that a roast turkey dinner on Christmas day was not an option; instead my mum cooked chicken biryani.  The preparation of biryani is incredibly time consuming and quite physically tiring but the results are delicious.

The recipe here is the first stage of the biryani process.  Steve and I like to stop cooking at this point and eat it as a curry; it is probably our favourite chicken dish with intense flavours and a lovely tanginess from the yoghurt and tomatoes.  My mum thinks this is heresy and even now (when I'm cooking!) limits the amount of curry that we can set aside from the biryani.
It is up to you whether you try this dish or wait for next week's recipe and cook it as a biryani.  I have of course ensured that the quantities below provide sufficent biryani for your guests as well as enough curry to sate your appetite!  Personally I would try both - you won't be disappointed.

Serves 6


For the marinade
  • 200 ml organic, natural yoghurt
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons coriander-cumin powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 3 cloves garlic - crushed
  • 10 grams root ginger - peeled and grated
  • 3 small green chillis
  • 4 organic chicken breast fillets - skinned, washed and cut into bite sized chunks.  If you prefer, you can use other chicken pieces such as drumsticks and thighs; these pieces have more flavour and the bones will help retain moisture - you need enough meat to serve 4 people if you were serving it as part of a roast dinner.
For the yoghurt and chicken curry
  • 2 tablespoons of light tasting vegetable oil
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • 3 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic - crushed
  • 5 grams ginger - peeled and grated
  • 1 large onion - chopped
  • 525 grams canned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 teaspoons chilli powder
  • 4 teaspoons coriander-cumin powder
  • 11/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • A handful of coriander - chopped (only required if you are eating this as a curry.  If you are preparing this dish for use in the biriyani, then omit the coriander at this stage.)
Method - for the marinade

  1. Pour the yoghurt into a large mixing bowl.  
  2. Add the cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, salt, coriander-cumin powder, garam masala, garlic and root ginger.
  3. Using a sharp knife, cut a slit along the length of the green chillis and add to the mixing bowl.  Stir well.
  4. Now add the chicken to the yoghurt.  Mix again ensuring the chicken is fully coated with the marinade.
  5. Cover the bowl with cling film and put in the fridge to marinade overnight. 
Method - for the yoghurt and chicken curry
  1. Empty the entire contents of the bowl containing the chicken and the marinade into a saucepan.  Cover and using a medium heat cook for ten minutes.  
  2. Now remove the lid.  You will find that some water will have been released by the cooking process.  Turn down the heat a little and let the chicken simmer for about 15 minutes.  Stir the contents of the pan regularly during this stage to prevent it from sticking to the bottom and to stop the chicken pieces on the top of the pan drying out.  If the liquid reduces by more than 50 per cent, stop cooking as you do not want the chicken to become dry.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan.
  4. Now add the star anise, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves and peppercorns.  Let them heat in the oil so that they release their flavours.  
  1. After a minute or two add the garlic, ginger and onions.  Stir and let them cook until the onions are translucent.
  2. Now add the tomatoes, tomato puree, chilli powder, coriander-cumin powder, salt, garam masala and turmeric.  Stir well, cover and let the contents of the pan cook on a low heat until the contents of the first pan (containing the chicken) are ready.
  3. When the contents of the first pan (containing the chicken) have finished cooking, add them to the second pan (containing the tomatoes and onions).  Stir well, cover and let it cook for 10 - 15 minutes on a low heat.   Taste a piece of chicken to check that it is cooked and add more salt if required.
  4. Garnish with coriander and serve hot with fresh bread or naan bread and salad (tomatoes and onions work particularly well).

About Reena


  1. This is a fabulous recipe and the flavours were perfect. Raf is already asking when can we make it again :-)

  2. Hi Claire and Raf. I am so pleased that you enjoyed it! Take care. Reena

  3. Hi Reena,

    I made this dish for the fourth time this evening, and it's been awesome on every occasion. Very spicy yet with perfectly balanced flavours, it's by a long way the tastiest thing I've cooked myself.

    Two minor issues I've found - 1) my experience is that the cooking times are too long for succulent chicken (35+ mins is a fair bit for chicken, am I just using too much heat?) and 2) I only use one cinnamon stick rather than 2. No flavour reason, just they come in jars of three and buying one every 2nd curry is a bit pricey.

    Thanks so much for the recipe - Patak's sauce is now a long distant memory.


  4. Hi Charlie
    Fourth time! Wow - you have been busy. I'm not sure why your chicken is drying out. It may be too much heat but if you think the chicken is ready before the suggested cooking time I suggest you just stop cooking and eat. With regards to the cinnamon you are paying too much for your spices. Track down your local Indian or Middle Eastern shop and you will find cheap cinnamon. Glad to hear that you are no longer using sauces from nasty jars! Take care. Reena

  5. I love your blog and am looking forward to trying more Indian cooking! I haven't made this recipe and plan to do so very soon, but I have a question - in the past when I've made curries with tomatoes and yogurt, the tomatoes have cause the yogurt to curdle. Have you ever found this to be an issue? It might be the order in which they are added - I've always made the tomato sauce, then stirred in the yogurt, but I see you have yogurt first, then tomatoes. Any thoughts on this?

  6. Hi Amanda. Thank you for your comment. It's a relatively simple recipe with consistent results. I don't find that the yogurt and tomato curdles as such. But it is more of an emulsion than a complete mixture. I'm not sure how much difference it makes but I always use full fat yogurt. Let me know how it turns out. Reena

  7. Week 4: Another hit, will this ever stop? Cooked this as part of the Biryani but put enough aside for lunch today and loved it, my colleagues were all very jealous

  8. Hi Andrew! Wow I'm impressed by your organization. You'll have to pass on the blog details to your colleagues... R