Chicken Curry with Gentle Spices

Mette Nielsen
The term curry conjures images of sturdy sauces dense with spice, and some are just that. But they can also be light, fresh and surprisingly gentle in their spicing.

For we of the Western world, yogurt plays a new role in this recipe. We westerners don't think of simmering down yogurt into a sauté the way we'd reduce wine or stock, but it's an old technique in India. Yogurt calms and softens the nip of chile, black pepper and spice.   

Make the fresh curry paste in the food processor, and there is no need to pre-brown the chicken. 

Cook to Cook: Whole milk yogurt is essential here. There are three dependable organic brands I look for: Brown Cow, Seven Stars and Stonyfield Farm.  

Also essential to the curry are steps two and three in the recipe -- sautéing the curry paste until the sauce "breaks" (when the oil separates out from the rest of the sauce) and reducing the first addition of yogurt. Please follow the instructions to the letter, in these two steps lie the success of the curry.

Curry reheats well and keeps 4 days in the refrigerator. 

Curry Paste:
  • 1 large onion, cut in half
  • 6 large garlic cloves
  • 1 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1-1/2 generous teaspoons Crossover Spice, or a blend of ground coriander, cumin and fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, or 3 to 4 canned tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 jalapeños, stemmed and seeded (or not, if you like it hot)
  • 1/2 cup water 
  • Cold-pressed vegetable oil
  • 2 cups organic whole milk yogurt
  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces (organic if possible)
  • Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup water 
  • 2 tight-packed tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
1. In a food processor, puree together half the onion, all the garlic, the ginger, Crossover Spice, salt, cinnamon, tomatoes, jalapeño, and the 1/2 cup water. Set aside.

2. Thin slice the other half onion. Film the bottom of a straight-sided 12-inch sauté pan with the oil. Heat over medium high, add the onion, and sauté until it begins to color. Add the curry blend, reduce the heat to medium, and sauté 10 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spatula, until the oil separates from the curry. Don't rush this step. Thoroughly sautéing the curry paste sets up the foundation of the dish.

3. Blend in 2/3 cup of the yogurt into the curry sauce, and simmer, stirring and scraping up the curry paste from the bottom of the pan until the yogurt thickens and then nearly cooks away, 8 to 10 minutes. 

4. Stir in the chicken, adding the remaining yogurt and 1/3 cup water. Bring the mixture to a slow simmer. Cook, uncovered, 8 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.

5. Lift the chicken out of the pan with a slotted spoon into a serving bowl. Raise the heat until the sauce is boiling. Boil it down until once again it is so thick that the oil separates from the curry paste. Taste the sauce for seasoning, and pour it over the chicken. Sprinkle the curry with the coriander and serve with rice. 

From The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, Clarkson Potter, 2008.

Prep time: 
15 minutes
Cook time: 
25 minutes
Total time: 
40 minutes
Serves 4 to 6
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