Create flavorful chicken curry at home

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

For most people, curry is a spicy, yellow, creamy sauce that can be used indiscriminately with chicken or fish.

The word curry is actually an anglicization of the Tamil word “kari” which does indeed mean “sauce.” There is no curry powder in India, though. Instead, the sauce for each dish contains a distinctive blend of spices called a “masala.”

To make the masala, whole spices are ground together using a mortar and pestle. Zingy, tangy, sweet or funky, each dish has a unique flavor profile. To make their original flavors more intense, at the beginning of the cooking process the ground spices are fried in a bit of oil.

To add to the confusion, there is the curry tree (Murraya koenigii), whose leaves are used as a culinary herb. Used fresh and usually added at the end of the dish, they impart a flavor reminiscent of lemongrass and anise. In addition to their use in cooking, they have a wide range of medicinal benefits.

If you like Indian food, your best option is to make it at home so that you can blend the masala to your tastes. I generally find food in Indian restaurants to be formulated to please everyone, which results in an understated version of the dish.

To make the chicken curry below, no mortar and pestle is required. Because buying spices in jars at the supermarket can be expensive, I recommend Kramer’s at the New Eastern Market. You can buy the spices you need in small amounts at prices that won’t break the bank. It also will ensure that your spices are always fresh.

Although you can use any cut of chicken you like, I prefer thighs, as the result is richer and more succulent.

Chicken Curry

2 pounds boneless chicken breasts and/or thighs

3 tablespoons oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1½ teaspoons fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon hot pepper (or to taste)

¼ teaspoon fennel seeds

½ cup water

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons fresh coriander, finely chopped

½ cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garam masala

Cut the chicken pieces in halves or thirds, depending on their size. Sprinkle with salt. Heat 3 table­spoons oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces. Cook about 4 minutes, turning the pieces until they are white and somewhat firm. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

In the same pan, add the onions, garlic and ginger. Fry until the onions are soft and golden brown, about 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the spices except for the garam masala, and 1 tablespoon of water. Stir and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes, fresh coriander, yogurt, salt, and remaining water. Add the chicken pieces and any juices that have accumulated in the plate. Sprinkle with the garam masala, and toss the chicken pieces to coat with the sauce. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook on low for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is tender but not falling apart. Sprinkle with chopped coriander before serving.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.