Chicken Curry Recipe

Chicken curry with lemongrass and coconut milk

Sometimes my creative process starts with an ingredient (like this one and this one), other times it begins with a clear vision of exactly what I want. Such was the case with this chicken curry.

There’s nothing innovative, or even creative about this curry, it was just a craving I had one afternoon for something very specific. I suppose most people would go out and buy themselves dinner at a Malaysian or Indonesian restaurant, but I had a pretty good idea about the flavors I was looking for and I had all the ingredients in my pantry already.

I’m not going to try to pin this chicken curry recipe onto a map anywhere, other than to say it was inspired by a rumbling somewhere just south-east of my tummy. Its only claim to authenticity was in its ability to cure my curry craving.

Chicken curry in coconut milk, caramelized onions and lemongrass

Loaded with umami and full of spices, but neither cloying nor overbearing, it’s a soul satisfying meal when paired with a mound of hot coconut rice. This is one of those dishes that comes together fairly quickly, and yet its ease of preparation belies the many layers of complex flavours constructed by the browned meat, caramelized aromatics, coconut milk, fish sauce and spices.

Going light on the coconut milk and using a lot of lemongrass gives this chicken curry a lightness that makes it perfect for the warmer weather we’ve been having in New York. If I’d had some, I probably would have garnished this with cilantro, but I didn’t, so I just sliced up some scallions to make the colours pop a bit more.

Chicken Curry Recipe

6 whole chicken thighs
5 cloves garlic grated into paste
1″ knob of ginger grated into paste
2 Tbs garam masala
3 medium onions sliced thin across the rings
1/2 stalk lemongrass cut into 3 pieces
1/2 can of coconut milk
1 C water
2 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2″ piece of cassia bark (aka saigon cinnamon)
1/2 star anise pod
cayenne pepper to taste

Heat a heavy bottomed pot that’s big enough to hold all the chicken in a single layer over medium high heat until it’s hot. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place the chicken skin-side down and let some fat render out of the skin. Continue frying undisturbed until the skin is brown and crispy. Flip the thighs over and brown the second side.

Transfer the chicken to a plate then quickly add the garlic, ginger and garam masala and stir to distribute in the oil. You want to fry it just long enough to caramelize the garlic and ginger, but not long enough to burn it. Since the garam masala is brown it’s a bit tricky to tell when it’s done, but I’ve found that the mixture gets sticky when the sugars in the garlic and ginger have caramelized. By this point this mixture will be very fragrant and it’s where this curry gets its base layer of flavor from.

Add the onions and lemongrass to the mixture and fry, stirring occasionally until it’s reduced to about 1/4 of its original volume and takes on a sticky texture (this could take as long as 40 minutes). The caramelized onions give the curry sweetness and depth. By cutting the onion thin, they caramelize faster and by cutting them against the grain (rings), the onions will dissolve into the sauce.

Add the remaining ingredients and return the chicken to the pot. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for about an hour, or until the chicken is very tender and falls off the bone.

Garnish with something green (such as cilantro or scallions) and serve with coconut milk rice.

  • Peter Minaki

    Yum, that sauce is…saucy and I'm a sucker for coconut milk. Is the Basmati rice ready yet?

  • Rasa Malaysia

    Wow Marc, you made it from scratch. Truth be told, I hardly make it from scratch, it's too much work but Malaysia produces loads of instant paste that is so good. I need to hook you up with one of those. Good job, looks really delish and I will need some roti to sop up all the sauce. :)

  • Claudia

    This is awesome, and always better made with ingredients you know, put together to your own taste. I've got it on my cooking to do list for this week.

  • Peter G

    Never say no to a chicken curry! Your dishes always look amazing Marc…and always very creative!

  • Peter G

    Never say no to a chicken curry! Your dishes always look amazing Marc…and always very creative!

  • Sook

    Oh I love the thickened curry sauce! Looks delicious.

  • thelacquerspoon

    Lovely recipe! Curry is a timeless temptation and fun to adjust spices to add in our various moods :)

  • Chef E

    You are so right on Marc! Beautiful dish…

  • Trissa

    Great Marc – I love any dish that is full of umami! This one looks particularly delicious and comforting. Can I substitute regular cinnamon bark for cassia?

  • Jan

    Now this looks like a really good curry! LOVE the recipe Marc.

  • norecipes

    Yep, cinnamon would work just fine. If you can find it (in indian or
    asian grocery stores) cassia has a sweeter spicier taste and I use it
    almost exclusively in place of cinnamon.

  • Jenn@slim-shoppin

    Hi Marc!

    Love your picture of your dish, it sounds wonderful!

  • Cherine

    sounds great!

  • Girl Japan

    Oh what a fab, fab photo! It looks perfect, nice lighting, and contrast.

  • Chitra

    I don't even eat meat and am really drawn to this recipe. I love the combo of indian spices and coconut milk.

  • Manggy

    I love this – chicken curry is a weekly thing for us. Ours just involves coconut milk and not an elegant spice mix like yours, but run-of-the-mill yellow curry powder from McCormick, haha! :) (I do love it though.)

  • best bread machines

    Very yummy looking pictures! I gonna try this later for sure, thanks for sharing.

  • Mike

    Do you make your own Garam Masala or do you buy it pre-made?
    Just curious, since mine came out more brown than yours… yours has a more yellow tint to it, like it has a lot of Tumeric in it .

    Just curious :) Thanks

  • norecipes

    Yea, the problem with garam masala (which literally means “hot
    mixture”) is that it varies by region, so every brand has a different
    blend. I buy mine from a shop that roasts and blends their own and
    they sell 3 different kinds. I could list out a recipe for making your
    own spice mix, but it makes the recipe a little too long. My
    suggestion is that if your mixture isn't quite working out, to try and
    augment with other spices. Some flavours that I find work well with
    this are cinnamon, cloves, and turmeric (cumin is an obvious one, but
    it's included in most garam masalas). Hope that helps.

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  • Jrcloutier8

    We just finished eating this recipe and the best way to describe it is AWESOME.  I did not have Lemongrass, anise, or bark and still amazing flavour.  My daughter’s comment was “next time – double it”

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Glad to hear you liked it. Thanks for leaving a note!

  • Kathleen Zevallos

    I love cooking but if there is one thing I’ve never made in my life, it’s curry. I love curry, which is why I would like to try making it on my own. This recipe seems very simple so I’m really excited to get started. I do have one question: is it possible to substitute coconut milk with something else?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      This recipe really benefits from the creaminess of the coconut milk. You could make it with chicken stock, but it will make it a totally different dish.

      • Kathleen Zevallos

        Thanks a bunch. I’m going to make it with coconut milk another time since I don’t have any right now. Good to know.

  • Dawn

    I’m not a big fan of hot curries in fact I’m a bit of a curry wimp but I like to try new flavours and fear my dislike of heat is making me miss out on a world of fabulous food. So I thought I would be brave and give this a go as it didn’t mention chillies anywhere and WOW I’m so glad I did this is so tasy and the heat isn’t hot it’s warming and doesn’t take away from the flavours by burning off your taste buds. I will be making this a regular in my meal plans :-)

  • Ernest

    I tried this and the color was nowhere near yours. Now did you mean to write curry powder instead of the garam masala.
    My five year old asked for seconds so it did pass the taste test.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Garam Masala simply means spice mixture, so there’s no set recipe. The one I used for this probably had more turmeric than yours which probably accounts for the color. Curry Powder is the british version of garam masala and tends to be a little more standardized (though quantities of individual spices vary by brand). As long as it tasted okay, I wouldn’t worry too much about the color. If you really want to get it closer to the photo, just add turmeric.

      • Ernest

        I should have read Mike’s comment above. But I actually learnt something today. The turmeric does explain a lot
        It tasted great!!
        Thanks Chef Marc.

  • ann

    Oh Mark, this curry is terrific! My blunder was that I used regular salt instead of kosher salt. Am I correct to assume that kosher salt is not as salty as regular salt? I had to use a big cut up potato to absorb the excess saltiness. Other than that, my whole family enjoyed it very much. Thank you for another winner.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Glad to hear it:-) Kosher salt has half the salinity of regular salt, so if you use regular salt, you need to halve the amount. The problem with Kosher salt is that different brands have different levels of salinity (Diamond Crystal is half as salty as Morton’s), which is why I’ve started using table salt measurements in more recent posts.

  • James

    Hi can you tell me what 1 c of water is, I live in ireland and not sure what that is, also can I just use a cinnamon stick , cheers.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi James, 1 US cup = 236 milliliters. Yep, a cinnamon stick would work.

  • James

    Thanks a million , look forward to making it tomorrow for dinner.

  • Jo

    Hi Marc, if I was to cook this with 2-3 cut up chickens for a crowd, would I multiply the spices by 3-4?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      6 whole thighs is probably about 1 whole chicken, so you should be able to just multiply the whole recipe by the number of chickens you use. You’ll need to split the browning up though and do it in batches.

  • Jen

    Can you list the ingredients for the garam masala? The one I got (mild) was just too spicy for my kids…they tolerate no heat. Your dish look so tempting…I would love to try making it again for my kids. Thanks.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Jen, the spices in garam masala vary widely depending on who makes it but it usually includes black pepper, cumin, coriander, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, black and green cardamom, and nutmeg. I usually like adding some turmeric, fennel seed and fenugreek to it too.


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