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5 things I learnt while making a simple chicken curry

Plus a few tips from music editor and home cook, Alex Isaacs.

by: Alex Isaacs | 12 Nov 2019
chicken curry recipe

Food holds memories for me. The smell of chicken curry and rice means home. It’s one of those dishes that means love because it's the little details that make the whole beautiful picture.

For the first time in my life I decided that I would, in the middle of an argument with my girlfriend, make her a dish filled with love – that my mother has always made me – because even though I was mad (and so was she), eating together at the end of the day is important. Food is love in our little flat.

On that journey, there were some things I learnt that might help you make a pretty easy chicken curry.

1. Set everything out ahead of time

That includes ingredients, but also a bag or bowl that trash can go into. This is an easy recipe – the hardest part of it just giving yourself a neat and organised workspace so that things flow easily when you're ready for the next step. 

Unwrap the chicken, season it with a pinch of salt and a generous grind of pepper, and then set it aside. Peel your ginger, garlic and onion and have everything ready to go, including your spices. Trust me, things move faster than you might think, and you need to be prepared.

onion on a chopping board

2. No chopping needed – just grab a food processor or a blender

If your chopping skills are anything like mine (aka nothing to write home about) then use your food processor or blender (or even your neighbours'). There's nothing wrong with speeding everything up. You're going to be making a curry paste so the finer and smoother the mixture, the better. You'll want to peel everything and cut the onion into quarters, then blitz it all up with about half a cup of water and put it into a clean bowl on the side.

3. The browner your chicken, the better the curry

One of the biggest mistakes I made the first time I was doing this was not cooking the curry in the same pot that I browned the chicken – all those browned bits in the pan after you cook the chicken are full of flavour! So get a large pot and put about two tablespoons of oil in it. Then put your chicken in, placing all the pieces skin-side down with a bit of space around each. (I like making chicken curry with bone in because I feel like it adds more flavour, but boneless is also totally fine.) Brown the flesh on all sides and then set aside to rest while you get started with the curry paste. 

4. Always awaken your spices

There’s nothing I love more than the smell of spices in a hot pan with a bit of oil. In that same pot, throw in all the spices (with a splash more oil, if you need to). Let those spices get fragrant for about 30 seconds before letting your onion, garlic and ginger mixture go in and cause a bit of a splutter. Let those brown (it usually takes a few minutes) then throw the tomatoes in and season to taste. Then throw your chicken back in, making sure it's covered with the sauce. Keep the lid off and let it simmer on a medium heat.

spices in a bowl

5. Patience is a virtue

I have no patience. I made the mistake of starting this curry late on a weekday during one of the toughest weeks of my life and gave it the bare minimum time it needed. The longer you leave this curry, the better it will be. At forty-five (ish) minutes, the meat will start to fall off the bone and you're good to eat it with whatever side you like. But, if you do have the time, give it over an hour. Put your feet up and just let the world's best aroma fill your house.

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