If you’re looking for the BEST chicken curry recipe, then this authentic Sri Lankan Chicken Curry recipe will tick all the boxes! I’ve also provided some tips on how to cook this incredibly flavorful chicken curry and how to adapt it to your taste!
The BEST Chicken Curry recipe you’ll ever need!
If there’s one dish that I could quite literally make with my eyes closed, this is it. This Sri Lankan Chicken Curry is one that I make and have made AT LEAST once a week for many years now. It’s quintessential comfort food for K and myself, and we are instantly reminded of Sri Lanka, of our childhood, of home, of full and comforting meals, every time we eat this Sri Lankan chicken curry.
We do like any kind of curry, but this chicken curry really is our go-to. Besides, chicken curry is probably the most common type of curry eaten in Sri Lanka and any other part of the world for that matter.
A great Sri Lankan chicken curry is a very versatile and easy to make dish. Sure, there are plenty of slow cooker versions and quick versions of this chicken curry that you could find online with a google search. These recipes mostly employ the “dump and cook” method of adding all the ingredients into one pot at the same time and then cooking all the way through. That’s how you get the difference between a mediocre chicken curry and a truly mind-blowingly flavorful curry! HOW you cook the curry determines the flavors just as much as the ingredients.
So here I’ll share the inside scoop, some of the well-known “secrets” to cooking a fantastic chicken curry. Plus, I’ll also share some variations to standard Sri Lankan chicken curry as well.
Sri Lankan chicken curries (or other curries) can be made in one of two ways.
- “කිරට” (kirata = milky) – a chicken curry made with coconut milk, and can be less spicy, richer in taste because of the creamy coconut milk component. OR
- “මිරිසට” (mirisata = chili/spicy) – chicken curry made without coconut milk, so can be spicier, and lighter.
You can easily adapt this same chicken curry recipe to make either of these versions of chicken curry. We prefer the “kirata” style with the coconut milk that is a richer tasting curry because of the coconut milk. However, we make the “mirisata” style more often so that I don’t use too much coconut milk in everyday cooking.
Can I make a whole chicken curry or can I use boneless chicken?
You can make this chicken curry with bone-in pieces from a whole chicken, or just bone-in pieces of just legs/thighs. Or for convenience, you can just use boneless pieces of chicken. Obviously, boneless chicken will cook faster, and is my choice when I want to cook a quick curry. BUT, a GOOD chicken curry uses bone-in chicken pieces because the bones flavor the gravy/sauce.
Some choose to remove the chicken skin to lessen the fat in the chicken curry as well. I have always loved eating the skin, so I compromise and add half with the skin, and half without. So that’s totally up to you!
Curry Powder for this Chicken Curry
Arguably, curry powder is the most important ingredient for this chicken curry. So, I use my own homemade ROASTED Sri Lankan curry powder to make this delicious chicken curry. It’s got a robust flavor and is the perfect combination of spices for any curry, especially for classic Sri Lankan curries. And since it’s not a very spicy curry powder, you can control how much chili powder you add as well.
I would highly recommend making this curry powder for this curry. You can use store bought curry powders too, but remember that you may need to adjust the amount you add depending on how strong/weak the curry powder is. Some supermarket curry powders are really quite weak, and makes your curries taste extremely bland. So taste and adjust if that’s the case.
Is this Sri Lankan chicken curry spicy?
Yes, we usually add 2 tsp of cayenne pepper (yup! that’s TWO teaspoons, we really do like it spicy), and 1 tbsp of regular (not sweet or smoked) paprika. In Sri Lanka, you’d only use chili powder that is pretty strong, and very vibrant in color, so it flavors the curry while making it beautifully red colored as well.
BUT, you can adjust the spice level in this curry.
If you’re not a fan of spicy, you can adjust this level to suit your preferences.
You can add less black pepper to the curry powder. Don’t eliminate it completely because black pepper is an important part of this Sri Lankan chicken curry.
If you want that characteristic red color of the curry, but not the heat, then increase the paprika and reduce the cayenne pepper. But if you can handle spicy curries, or prefer them that way, then go ahead and add 2 tsp of cayenne pepper as I do.
And if you choose not to add chili powder/cayenne pepper OR the paprika, that will be fine too. The result will be a very mild Sri Lankan chicken curry, that’ll be mostly brown in color, with a slight red tinge (from the tomatoes), but it will still be just as delicious without the heat.
To me and my family, a basic, authentic Sri Lankan chicken curry,
- is spicy (and therefore more red in color than brown),
- there’ll be some oil floating on top (especially, if the curry is made with coconut milk. The coconut milk is cooked with the chicken to the point where the coconut milk splits and the oil separates from the milk).
- The gravy is just so damn flavorful, you can drink it on its own!
This Sri Lankan chicken curry ticks all the boxes! It’s a versatile recipe that you can adapt to your taste and still be absolutely delicious.
Here are some tips + variations to follow to make the BEST Sri Lankan chicken curry.
- For best results, use a whole chicken cut into pieces, OR bone-in chicken (like legs or thighs).
- Use Sri Lankan curry powder. If you can’t find it, you can easily make your own following this recipe. Lots of recipes will say that you can use madras curry powder, but that tastes different from Sri Lankan curry powder, and will not give you authentic results. Sri Lankan curry powder has a lot of coriander seeds, and doesn’t have turmeric. You can substitute Sri Lankan curry powder with madras curry powder if you really must, but just remember that the taste will be different. I recommend making your own Sri Lankan curry powder, which genuinely tastes better and is quite versatile too.
- Use coconut oil and good quality coconut milk whenever possible.
- After you cook the chicken curry, let the chicken curry sit for a while. This allows the chicken to absorb the flavors of the curry gravy. This is why this chicken curry tastes even better the next day.
- Curry leaves are preferred for curries, but if you can’t find them you can use bay leaves or pandan leaves.
- Layer the flavors for best results – don’t dump in all the ingredients at once. Soften the onions and garlic and ginger first before adding the spices. This lets different flavors grow and strengthen. Using roasted spices adds an extra layer of flavors.
- For an added twist (which is not traditional) – roast the chicken curry in the oven towards the end. It caramelizes the chicken (which you cannot do on the stove-top), giving it an extra layer of texture that enhances the flavor.
Sri Lankan Chicken Curry
Learn how to make authentic Sri Lankan chicken curry with these tips and variations for the best ever chicken curry, made with or without coconut milk. Spicy, flavorful and fragrant!
- 2 - 3 tbsp coconut oil
- ½ onion yellow or red
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 inch ginger minced
- 6 - 7 curry leaves or 2 bay leaves
- 2 ½ tbsp roasted Sri Lankan curry powder
- 1 cinnamon stick or 1 small regular cinnamon stick
- ½ tsp salt plus more to taste
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper or chili powder (less if you like it less spicy. PLEASE SEE NOTES)
- 1 tbsp paprika not smoked or sweet paprika
- 2 lbs chicken, whole chicken cut into sections OR any bone-in chicken thigh or leg pieces (large thigh pieces should be cut in half)
- 2 serrano peppers (or regular green chili) cut length-wise, with or without seeds
- 3 roma tomatoes cut into cubes (or 2 medium-sized regular tomatoes)
- 2 tsp brown sugar see notes
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup coconut milk PLEASE SEE NOTES
- ½ cup water
Add the coconut oil in to a large saucepan and heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger to the heated oil and cook until softened.
Add curry powder, chili powder/cayenne pepper, paprika, cinnamon, curry leaves and mix to combine. Cook for a few minutes until you start to smell the spices.
Add the chicken, serrano peppers/green chili peppers, salt, 3 roma tomatoes, 1 tsp sugar, and mix to coat. Cook for 10 minutes with the lid off, on medium high heat. Stir frequently to make sure the chicken or the spices don’t burn.
Add coconut milk, water, vinegar, and bring the curry to a boil. If you want less gravy, add less liquid.
Lower the heat, and let it simmer with the lid closed, for 15 - 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste. The chicken should be completely cooked by this point. Taste the curry and season to taste if needed. You can add the rest of the sugar or more salt, or vinegar to your taste. Remember that curries can be adjusted to your taste!
If the chicken curry gravy is too thin, or there's too much of it, uncover and simmer the curry for a further 10 minutes or longer. This step is optional, but it will allow the water to evaporate and the gravy to thicken.
- Turn off the heat and let the chicken cool down slightly. Serve with rice or roti.
NOTE 1 - if you want a less spicy curry, you can reduce the cayenne pepper to 1/4 - 1/2 tsp. If you like an extra spicy curry, you can add up to 2 tsp of cayenne pepper. DO NOT use Mexican chili powder for this curry. You should be able to find regular chili powder at any Asian grocery store.
NOTE 2 - you can replace the 1/2 cup of coconut milk with water. If you're not adding coconut milk, this chicken curry will be spicier. The coconut milk softens the heat.
NOTE 3 - if you want the curry to have a thicker gravy, you can reduce the amount of liquid by half.
NOTE 4 - The sugar is added to balance out the spices, and bring out the saltiness of the curry. If you're using a different curry powder, or you're making curry for the first time, add only half of the sugar initially, and then add the rest of the sugar, if you feel like you need it at the end. I always add both 2 tsp of sugar when I make this curry with my homemade curry powder.
If you have chicken curry leftover, here is my absolute favorite way to re-purpose them! Turn it into Sri Lankan Chicken Kottu Roti – a very popular Sri Lankan street food!
If you’re a fan of curries and Sri Lankan food, then you may love these recipes too!
- Sri Lankan Crab Curry
- Sri Lankan Shrimp Curry (Prawn Curry)
- Authentic Black Pork Curry
- Cashew Curry (VEGAN)
- Mango Curry (VEGAN)
- Sweet and Spicy Apple Curry (VEGAN)
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