Easy Sri Lankan chicken curry

I made this on Wednesday night for a dinner party after work. I did something which I never normally do (but will now ALWAYS do), which is do loads of prep the night before. I had seen a recipe in the Sunday Times Mag for an Easy Sri Lankan Chicken Curry which looked delicious. It didn’t only sound delicious, it was super tasty – the (very discerning) guests have already asked for the recipe which is an excellent sign.

The ingredients list for the roasted curry powder is LONG. But it’s worth it, and then you’ll have them for next time. Also this is the bit you can do in advance the night before. Just plan ahead, ideally go to a great corner shop/vegetable shop (easier if you live in London) or massive supermarket where they’ll be about a quid each.

The only slightly strange thing about the recipe was that it involved almost no liquid, yet the picture looks juicy and saucy. As I didn’t want a dry curry, we were slightly liberal with the amounts (added loads more than suggested – see my annotated italic notes below). I also served it with wild rice (from M&S, which my Mum always gives me when I go home to the Lakes, in my ‘back to school’ Red Cross parcels) rather than steamed white rice because then it actually tastes of something, plus is good (ish) for you. Recipe is below the curry – it’s really very easy not to eff up rice, I promise – just follow my Dad’s rules as below.

Easy Sri Lankan chicken curry

This is a basic Sri Lankan curry. You can buy Sri Lankan roasted curry powder online or make it yourself. The harder spices will take longer to toast than the more delicate ones.

Serves 3-4

For the roasted curry powder
½ tbsp uncooked rice
A 2.5cm piece of cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods, seeds removed
½ tsp black peppercorns
2 cloves
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp black mustard seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
½ tsp turmeric powder
A 5cm piece of pandan leaf (optional)
1 curry leaf
For the curry
1kg jointed chicken
1 tsp red chilli powder
1½ tbsp coconut (or cider) vinegar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
A knob of ginger, chopped
A sprig of curry leaves
A 5cm stalk of lemon grass
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
A 2.5cm piece of cinnamon stick
25ml coconut milk
1 tbsp black mustard seeds

To make the roasted curry powder, toast the rice, cinnamon, cardamom seeds, peppercorns and cloves in a large dry frying pan for 30 seconds, stirring often. Add the fennel and cumin seeds, then toast for another 15 seconds. Add the remaining spices and toast until lightly browned and aromatic. Remove from the heat, cool and grind until smooth in a coffee grinder or mini processor. You may need to remove the cinnamon stick if it is too hard. (Nutribullets are REALLY good for whizzing up spices with the two-prong whizzer- including the cinnamon stick)

In a large bowl, marinate the chicken pieces in 3 tbsp roasted curry powder, the chilli powder and 1 tbsp of the vinegar for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, curry leaves, lemon grass, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick. Fry until the onions are golden.Add the marinated chicken and fry until brown all over. Add 2 tbsp water to the bowl that contained the chicken, then add the liquid to the pan with the chicken. Add loads more water at this point – probably about half a pint, if not a bit more… Cover and cook on a medium heat for 20 minutes.

Stir in the coconut milk (loads more than they said – I added about 3/4 of a tin), season with salt, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Grind the mustard seeds with the remaining vinegar and add to the pan. Cook for a further 2 minutes. Serve with steamed rice.


I always use wild rice (M&S is best)

  1. Chop up an onion into small pieces. Boil a massive kettle of water at the same time.
  2. Rinse the rice in a sieve to remove the starch. I always used to skip this stage for laziness but honestly, it is worth it. Shake it to dry as much as possible.
  3. Heat a large saucepan and put an enormous, long glug of olive oil in it. Heat it, add the onion, soften the onion gently until it’s translucent and yellow but not brown around the edges (if it goes brown, the pan is too hot)
  4. Add the rice to the onion, stir it around well so that it mixes with the onion and the oil. Keep stirring, over a medium heat – don’t let it stick. In a couple of minutes, it will start to sizzle.
  5. When it starts sizzling, pour in the boiling water. I aim for 1:2 (one third water in the pan, two thirds water). Sometimes, I put a bit more water in and it’s delicious and sticky. Sometimes I put a bit less in, and it’s more textured and al dente. Both are tasty. Make sure the heat under the pan is such that the water is just bubbling. Add an enormous, over-generous pinch of sea salt (Maldon is best) then give it a big stir, then bugger off and leave it alone.
  6. Put a pinger on for 15 minutes. It’ll take 18 mins probably, but check that it’s ok for water after 15.
  7. It shouldn’t need to be strained – the rice should have eaten all the water, and it should be perfect. Give it a big stir and serve.

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