Malvani-Style Chicken Curry

Malvani-style chicken curry isn’t challenging to make but comes through with a complex and satiating dinner. Perfect for weeknights, or Indian food beginners—and you can make it as spicy as you like.

A cast iron pan filled with a tomato based chicken curry on a trivet, on a purple background with a linen napkin.

Adapted from Chetna Makan | Chetna’s 30-Minute Indian | Mitchell Beazley, 2021

I love chicken curry, and it is high up on my list of favorite comfort foods. This recipe is inspired by Malvani chicken curry, which comes from a coastal region in the southwest of India, and is well worth trying.–Chetna Makan


Malvani refers to the people of Maharashtra, on the western coast of India. Home to numerous coconut plantations and fishing villages, Malvani-style cuisine is known for celebrating those two ingredients. They also have a few signature masala blends that form the base of most of their dishes, vegetarian and meat-based alike.

Malvani-Style Chicken Curry

A cast iron pan filled with chicken curry on a trivet, on a purple background with a linen napkin.
The many spices used here add aromatic warmth and heat to the chicken. I like this with very little sauce, so it’s ideal served with any flatbread but feel free to serve it with rice instead.

Prep 20 minutes
Cook 25 minutes
Total 45 minutes
4 servings
129 kcal
5 / 3 votes
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For the masala

  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • Seeds of 4 green cardamom pods
  • Seeds of 1 black cardamom pod
  • 1 cinnamon stick broken up into small pieces
  • 1 star anise
  • 6 dried red chiles such as arbol
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled
  • 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
  • Generous 3/4 cup water

For the curry

  • 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
  • 2 (14 oz) onions finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chile powder
  • 4 (2 pounds) boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm) slices


Make the masala

  • In a small skillet over low heat, combine the spices, chiles, garlic, and coconut and dry-roast until you can smell their aroma and they start to color, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Pour into a spice blender and blitz to a powder or use a to finely grind them. In a small bowl, combine the spice powder and the water and mix well to form a slurry.

Make the curry

  • In a medium skillet or Dutch oven with a lid over medium-low heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and cook until lightly golden, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the spice mixture and cook for 1 minute more.
  • Add the salt, Kashmiri chile powder, and chicken, cover, and cook until the chicken is cooked through, stirring once, about 10 minutes. Uncover and increase the heat to high. Cook for 1 minute before removing from the heat and serving.
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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 129kcal (6%)Carbohydrates: 5g (2%)Protein: 1g (2%)Fat: 13g (20%)Saturated Fat: 10g (63%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 18mg (1%)Potassium: 103mg (3%)Fiber: 2g (8%)Sugar: 1g (1%)Vitamin A: 206IU (4%)Vitamin C: 2mg (2%)Calcium: 52mg (5%)Iron: 1mg (6%)

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Recipe Testers’ Reviews

My husband and I both love curry so we were excited to try this Malvani-style chicken curry that used chicken breasts rather than the usual thighs.

I toasted the spices and made the paste in the afternoon so that it would come together quickly at dinner time. To toast the spices, I used a stainless-steel pan so I could keep an eye on the color and I started from cold. On medium-low heat, they took 5 minutes to toast. Next time I’ll make a double batch to keep on hand so the curry will come together even faster.

We like a bit of heat and the árbol chilies that I used added the perfect amount. I cooked the paste for about 3 minutes to increase the depth of flavor. I cut the recipe in half so my chicken was in one layer and cooked quickly. We prefer dry curry with naan and I had some in the freezer ready to go so dinner was on the table in no time.

I really liked this Malvani-style chicken curry—it has all the flavors and spices that I love. The spices add warmth but not an overpowering spiciness, with layers from the coconut and fried onions.

The spice mixture itself was easy to pull together and the smell while toasting it is divine. I thought the best way to handle the garlic was to use my garlic press and then roast it with the rest of the spices. This isn’t a particularly “wet” curry and I found that the spice mixture stayed a little too grainy for my liking. I would suggest grinding it down as much as possible—it might just be that my grinder isn’t as sharp as it should be. As well, I’d try using water that’s at least warm and letting the spices soak longer. The pre-cooked sauce mixture isn’t visually appealing but it’s saved by the incredible aroma.

I used ghee in place of the sunflower oil but that’s the only change I made. The curry was enjoyable and I actually preferred it the next day; the flavors had developed more and the graininess of the spice mixture had subsided significantly.

Making any night of the week a curry night is a fair goal—but I find the most daunting aspect usually is making the spice mixtures so I’m not turning to a pre-made curry sauce or powder and making the same vaguely curry meal.

This Malvani-style chicken curry was inviting and looked like a good beginning dish–and with just a tiny bit of tinkering, it is now one we really like. The heat can be as bold as you wish but I was happy to start with a mildish dry chile I was familiar and comfortable with (chile de árbol) and the recommended amount of the Kashmiri chile powder since this was the first time I had cooked with it. That all was a good decision, but after preparing this, there was something else I felt would round the flavor some.

When I tried this a second time, I added a tablespoon of fresh ginger (Microplaned to a fine mash). Patiently taking the time to get a red onion nearly caramelized worked well. The other thing, really the bigger thing was to add brining the chicken breast, which helped keep it extremely tender (or you could use thigh meat). I recommend making the masala ahead, and even if you only are cooking for two, the masala paste/slurry will survive fine for another meal (stir if settled).

I found there were a couple of pieces of star anise that still were in chunks after going thru the grinder, but you can check for those or smash them a bit more before the grinder—nothing you really mind finding in a freshly made meal though.

Definitely serve with a chutney or two, and maybe offer a bit of yogurt, and if you feel brave, make naan.


#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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