Here's a spicy, restaurant-style recipe for chicken karahi. The kind of Murgh karahi curry you get on Dhaba (street restaurants) of Karachi. Karahi is the most famous among all curries of Pakistan, like Ginger chicken curry or keema curry, and very easy to make.
The basic technique of making chicken karahi is bhunna or cooking on high heat until oil separates. You need a large cooking surface that allows searing.
Also, avoid crowding the pan and cooking karahi in bulk as the moisture won't evaporate easily and you will miss the rich karahi taste. If you need to cook for a large group, consider cooking in two separate works.
The Secret to Best Karahi
I fried the chicken first in kadai just like they do it on Dhabas in Karachi. Why? We all know chicken karahi has a short cooking time compared to Lamb karahi. So if you cook chicken in tomato puree it gets either over-cooked or chicken flesh comes falling off the bone.
Sometimes tomatoes could have a raw taste if chicken karahi is cooked on high flame. Both conditions will spoil the taste and delicacy of Karahi. So frying chicken and then adding to tomato later helps overcome over-cooking of chicken.
The ingredients of the karahi or kadai chicken recipe are more or less the same what makes all karahi different is the technique. Authentic chicken karahi is made in ghee with the main ingredients of meat, tomato chilies, and ginger. A lot of stir-frying, in the end, is a key factor in making karahi.
A visual of chicken karahi ingredients is always helpful. But I won't list all the ingredients which are clearly visible and labeled too.
- Chicken: Bone-in chicken is best for karahi. Boneless chicken can also work but the fats from bones add more flavor to karahi.
- Ghee or oil: I used oil in this recipe to keep it simple and healthier. But the dhabas use ghee and I must confess ghee AKA clarified butter tastes much better.
- If you don't have ghee consider using a mix of oil and butter. Lastly, Dhaba karahi is loaded with fat and I'm using bare minimum fat. You can't reduce it further or karahi would taste watery and not as good.
- Fresh tomatoes: Fresh, flavorful, deep red, fully ripened, and firm tomatoes add a lot of flavor to the recipe. I used freshly made puree because we don't like tomato skins in a karahi.
- But sliced tomatoes also work very well and are easier too.
- Ginger: Chicken Karahi means a load of ginger garnish and more ginger in the curry. The depth of taste comes from fresh ginger.
- Black pepper: Freshly grounded pepper tastes far more intense than bottled pepper. So the extra effort of grinding is worth it.
- Green chilies: Just like ginger, green chilies are a must for karahi. And the aroma of chilies plays a big role in the overall Karahi look and flavor.
- Look for thicker and less spicy chilies for garnish. While in the curry goes smaller spicier chili paste.
- Dried fenugreek, optional: This adds a very Punjabi or Lahori touch to the karahi but you can skip it. Get more info about fenugreek here.
- Kashmiri chili powder or paprika: This ingredient is mainly for the color of chicken karahi. But if your tomatoes have rich red color, you can do without it.
Tomatoes Pureed or sliced
Using tomato puree instead of sliced tomatoes is also helpful to get an even texture with the skin. But if you cook long enough sliced tomatoes work well too and dissolve quickly.
Cooking tomatoes for a long is necessary because tomatoes release lycopene upon slow cooking. So if you don't give the tomato enough time to cook. It gives a raw taste to a chicken karahi.
Why add onions?
Authentic chicken karahi doesn't have onions. And you can skip it if you like less gravy. I added a small onion so I have enough masala to be enjoyed with naan. Alternately, you can add 1 extra tomato to skip the onion.
How to make it?
I posted this chicken karahi recipe many years back and today when I update the recipe with new photos, I have simplified it by skipping the grinding of spices. The rest of the recipe remains the same.
- In a wok fry chicken in oil or ghee with salt and pepper for 2-3 minutes until color changes.
- Color has changed and few golden marks are visible. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon leaving oil in the pan. Set aside.
- In the same wok, fry finely chopped onions for 3 minutes until onion is translucent. You can skip onions if you like.
- Add the spices and for a minute until spices sizzle.
- Add tomatoes pureed or sliced and cook for 3-5 minutes. Cover the wok.(To make tomato puree in blender, I also added little water in blender to keep the machine rolling.)
- Cook until oil separates and the color of gravy darkens, keep stirring on medium-high heat.
- Now, add fried chicken with juices in the wok again. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes on low flame until chicken is tender. (You can add ¼ cup water only if required and if the chicken feels uncooked.)
- Add a dollop of butter (if using) for a makhni flavor. Garnish with ginger and chili. ( Seeds of chili removed and cut length-wise)
- Chicken Karahi is ready. Garnish and serve.
What to serve with karahi?
Karahi curry literally refers to any curry cooked in a karahi. Usually, Karahi is a tomato-based curry with very few spices like ginger, garlic, green chilies, cumin, coriander, and pepper. It is usually made of lamb or chicken. White karahi, a dairy-based is another variant.
A karahi is a moderately spiced curry with spice levels similar to tikka masala. Usually, green chilies are added to karahi in the end for spicy touch and tempting aroma.
While Karahi vessel is absolutely essential for getting that restaurant-like taste in Karahi curry.
If you don't have a wok or karahi then look for wide-based and thick bottomed vessels like a frying pan that can help you sear easily, but I highly recommend making this recipe in a traditional Karahi.
Hungry for chicken curry? Try these!
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Chicken Karahi Recipe
- ½ kg chicken, cut into pieces
- ⅓ cup oil
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 small (100 gram) onion, very finely chopped
- ½ tablespoon chopped garlic
- ½ tablespoon green chilli paste
- 1 teaspoon kashmiri red chilli powder, or paprika for red color
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- ½ teaspoon dry fenugreek leaves, optional (kasuri meethi)
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala powder, optional
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper powder, freshly grounded
- ½ teaspoon red chilli, (skip red chilli if you like less spicy food)
- 3 tomato , sliced or pureed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon butter, (optional)
- 1½ piece ginger, thickly grated
- 2 medium chillies
- 1 lemon, sliced in wedges
- Heat oil in a wok, add chicken, salt, and pepper. Fry for 3 minutes until color changes. Then remove chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- In the same oil, add onions and cook for 3 minutes until translucent.
- Next, fry spices for a minute until it sizzles.
- Now mix in tomatoes and salt. Cook on high for 3-5 minutes until oil separates.
- Add chicken to the gravy and cover. Cook for 10-15 minutes until chicken is tender. (Add ¼ cup water, if required).
- Add 1 tablespoon butter (if using) chilies and ginger. Cover the karahi for a few minutes to let the chillies soften. Chicken Karahi is ready. Garnish and serve.