Mea or Chicken Curry
Beef,  Chicken,  Indian,  Lamb,  Pork,  Techniques & Ingredients,  Turkey

Classic Indian Curry with Meat or Chicken

Call it “Curry 101.” This recipe taught us how to blend aromatics and spices into a savory paste—the secret to a classic Indian curry. This paste can flavor meat or chicken, and makes a bright sauce with chopped tomatoes or a smooth and tangy sauce with yogurt. No matter which variation—whether red or golden brown—this curry rivals authentic Indian take-away.

We say “take-away” because that’s what they do in the UK, the source of this recipe. Brits love Indian food (some say chicken tikka masala outsells fish ‘n chips) and this recipe comes from Cooking the Indian Way published in London in 1962. And as much as we idolize Madhur Jaffrey, the Godmother of Indian Cooking, (see Spinach Cooked with Onions (Mughlai Saag), this remains our favorite curry recipe.

Curiously, the lead author of the cookbook, Attia Hosain, reminds us a bit of Jaffrey. Like Jaffrey, Hosain was born in India and wrote and acted in England in the 1950s and 60s. But she found her calling as a novelist, journalist and political activist. Unlike the prolific Jaffrey, Hosain wrote only this one cookbook, never hosted a cooking show, and never acted in major motion pictures or TV series.

My dad got this cookbook for my mom while visiting London on Navy business in the 60s. My mom used it mostly for inspiration, because back then, where could she find garam masala in North Carolina?

Fortunately, garam masala has become a mainstream spice mix. We like it so much that we pour it in at the end, using much more than Hosain recommended. If you don’t have any on hand, you can find a recipe online. Or just throw in some cinnamon, cloves and cardamom while pumping up the other spices. 

No matter what new recipes we try, we keep coming back to this classic meat or chicken curry. And you know what? We bet it even works with veggies.

Serve with Basic Yeasted Flatbread, or Basmati Rice with Peas and Carrots (Mixed Vegetable Pulao) and Apple-Raisin Chuntney.

Classic Indian Curry with Meat of Chicken

Adapted from Cooking the Indian Way
By Attia Hosain and Sita Pasricha, Spring Books, London,1962

  • 2 pounds lean meat, or 2 ½ pounds chicken parts (about 5 large thighs)
  • 1 pound onions (about 4 medium)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ – 2 teaspoons ground Indian chilli, depending upon how much heat you like
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 2 teaspoons white hulled poppy seeds (optional, available at an Indian market)
  • 4 ounces ghee, or 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ½ cup yogurt or 8 ounces fresh tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala (or more to taste)
  1. Wash, dry and cut meat into 1-inch cubes or use chicken thighs or other parts.
  2. Slice 8 ounces of onions finely.
  3. Grind the other 8 ounces of onions, the garlic, and the poppy seeds (if used) in a blender or mini-prep food processor. Add 1 tablespoon of water to the paste and mix in the ground turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, chili and paprika.
  4. Heat the ghee or butter/oil alternative and fry the sliced onions until golden brown.
  5. Lower heat, add the spice paste and fry for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring.
  6. Add the meat and salt and increase the heat. Fry for 5 minutes.
  7. Add the yoghurt or quartered tomatoes, mix thoroughly, cover and simmer until the meat is almost tender.
  8. Add garam masala and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Cover and simmer until ready, stirring often so that the curry does not stick to the pan. If the liquid dries up during cooking, add hot water, a couple of tablespoons at a time. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with rice or bread (see suggestions above).
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