Pakistani Chicken Curry

Currying Favour with the Portuguese

The great Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, King of the World (1592-1666), died in confinement, in Agra Fort, imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb.

As he lay dying, he looked down from the balcony of the Musamman Burj tower at the pearlescent dome of the Taj Mahal he created for his beloved wife.

Shah Jahan’s reign marked an age of opulence; as a great patron of the arts and architecture, he commissioned the creation of intricate architectural wonders in present day Pakistan, such as the Wazir Khan Mosque, Lahore, built in seven years with its architecture influenced by the popular Thatta mosaic work of the 16th century…

…and the Shalimar Gardens, Abode of Bliss, eight years in the making, also in Lahore. Built in 1642, the garden boasted 410 fountains, emptying out into wide marble pools.

Centered among the fountains, was an area created for musicians- a mahtabi; the moonlit gazebo. Into the night the tabla, sitar, sarod and sarangi would play.

Like the architectural splendors of this era, Shah Jahan’s Imperial Kitchens were known for their excesses, similar to those of his predecessors.

Hundreds of dishes were prepared every day; decadent meat pilafs fragranced with jade-green pistachios, golden sultanas, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom were served to portray the glory of the Mughal Empire.

Innovation and discovery of new dishes was encouraged, with chefs brought in from Persia, Central Asia, and the Ottoman Empire to create dishes encompassing all the different regions.

Who says fusion cuisine is a 20th century phenomenon?

Pastries and cakes were prepared in the European style by cooks previously enslaved by the Portuguese in Goa.

A little over a century after the arrival of Vasco da Gama on the shores of Calicut in May of 1498, the chili pepper- introduced to Goa by the Portugese– found its way into the Imperial Kitchens.*

I cannot imagine my world without the chili-pepper, thank you, Vasco da Gama.

A homemade curry without the fiery quality of the chili pepper is to me, insipid at best.

That brick red chili pepper powder, as if by some form of alchemy, binds itself to the tomatoes, onions, garlic and ginger, creating a luscious, unctuous curry. 

Whether you are from West Bengal, eating the curry and rice smothered with your fingertips, or from the Punjab, dipping into it with your light-as-air-chapati, or an Afghan-Pakistani like myself, dousing a steaming mound of Basmati rice with the curry, or from ‘Brum’ (Birmingham, UK) having it with pillowy naan and ‘a pint’ with your mates… you’re tucking into that unapologetically spicy curry because curry speaks one universal language for chili-heads.

This is the way I was taught to prepare it by Ami, my mother, who learnt it from Nani Ami, her mother.

No fancy ingredients or masalas (spices) here, just some good techniques which were taught to me and a few good ingredients.

The cardamom pods at the end add a subtle, lovely fragrance.

Ami and I have made life easier for ourselves by using a blender, but you’re welcome to use a pestle and mortar a la grandmum.

I like to serve it with a kachumbar, a chopped salad of cucumber, tomatoes, onions, (feel free to omit the onions) and squirts of lime / lemon with some salt.

The kachumbar adds another textural dimension with the acidity of the lime juice cutting nicely into the fat content of the curry.

I have tried to make this with less oil, but I feel you have to go the whole hog with a curry- use the 3 tbsps of oil and if not, have an omelet or salad for dinner instead.

And make the curry the next day when you’ve done that 5k run.

*The exact date the chili made its way to the Northern plains of India is controversial. Some believe it was two centuries after Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut; and some say the chili pepper made its way up from Goa to the North during Shah Jahan’s reign.

Photo credit Wazir Khan Mosque: TMDTUBE
Photo Credit Shalimar Gardens: Flickr

Photo Credit Chilies: Wikipedia

Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Pakistani Chicken Curry

Yield: 4
Author: Shayma Saadat


  • 3 tbsp canola oil (or any other neutral oil like grapeseed or sunflower)
  • 2 lb chicken, (I use chicken breast with bone and ask my butcher to cut it into 3in pieces or you can use a whole chicken, jointed )
  • 1 medium-sized onion, roughly chopped (this will be blitzed in the blender later, so don't worry about cutting it perfectly)
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced thin (can substitute with 1 tsp garlic paste)1
  • 1 thumb-size knob of ginger, sliced thin (can substitute with 1 tsp ginger paste, if ginger not available, can omit)
  • 28 oz can chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce or 4-6 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
  • pinch haldi (turmeric powder)
  • 1 1/2 tsp red chili powder (I would start with 1/2 tsp)2
  • 1/2 +1 1/2 cups water (1 cup = 250ml)
  • 2 cardamom pods


  • Turn the heat to medium and place a heavy-bottomed pan, (I use a 6 qt stockpot) on the stove. To really bring out the nutty golden colour of the onions, it is preferable to not use a non-stick pan.
  • Add oil and allow pan to heat up for 2 minutes.
  • Add onions and saute till they start to turn golden.
  • At this point, add the fresh garlic and ginger and continue to sauté.
  • The onions will start to darken more, don't worry, this is what will give the curry its dark, intense colouring. The garlic and ginger will also begin to caramelise at this point.
  • This will take a total of 15 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes, salt, chili pepper and turmeric and turn the heat to medium or medium-high, start to "fry" (bhuno) this mixture. Be careful, the tomato sauce may splatter, in that case, turn the heat down. It will take approximately 15-20 minutes.
  • By the end of it, you should see the sauce has reduced and looks jammy.
  • Let the mixture cool a bit and transfer the chunky ingredients with a slotted spoon, to a blender.
  • Blitz it all to a smooth paste, add some water to the blender if you want to get all the sauce off the walls of the blender.
  • Transfer mixture back to the pan.
  • Add chicken pieces and 1/2 cup of water and turn the heat to medium-high.
  • "Fry" (bhuno) the chicken till you start to see the oil separating from the sauce. This is an indication that it is almost done. This will take approximately 15-20 minutes and rigorous stirring.
  • Add the remainder of the water- 1 1/2 cups and cardamom pods, turn the heat to low, cover with a lid and let it simmer for 20 minutes. The oil should have floated freely to the top of the curry by the end of it.
  • Serve with a garnish of fresh chopped coriander/cilantro, (both leaves and sweet stems), kachumbar and chapati or Basmati rice
  • Note: If using garlic and ginger paste, add the paste once the onions have fully darkened, otherwise the paste will burn.


1. If using garlic and ginger paste, add the paste once the onions have fully darkened, otherwise the paste will burn.
2. In fact, you can use red chili pepper flakes, dried Calabrian chilies, whole dried red dried chilies, fresh green chilies like thai bird, serrano or jalapeno- play around with any chili you have at hand.

Similar Posts


  1. hi s, what a great website you have, i love making currys as i was lucky to grow up with pakistani family next door and the would teach me by actions or an interpretor son(my best mate still to this day at 40year old, happy days the 70,s and 80,s…i followed this recipe to the word just didnt come out somehow like yours,so i added spinach and fresh corriander,with a tsp of massala powder,and hey presto…yumyum;-)

  2. Hello,

    Should I use green or black cardomans in this dish?I am anglo Indian and have long searched high and wide for a dish that can match my Nans home made curries. I think this could be the one!
    Many Thanks- the picture looks beautiful.


    1. @Rob You should use green cardamom. I hope this dish matches up to your Nan’s standards. This is my mum’s recipe, so I hope it works for you. Thanks for the kind words.

  3. My music teacher (who is also a dear family friend) requested I cook murghi ka saalan for him, we share the punjabi connection. Your recipe is almost the same as my mom’s that I made her text to me. I find your blog the thesaurus of recipes, regular food as well as fine dining. Go Spice spoon.

  4. Hi,I’m 15 I had to cook since my mom wasn’t home. I loved your recipe for “Chicken Salan” specially because that’s exactly how my my mom make’s it. But, one difference I noticed was you didn’t add green chili and didn’t fry the chicken and my mom does that. Either way, thank you.

  5. Hey there. i Really like the way you have made what we call Chicken Curry or Murghi ka Salan, my mum makes it the same way but she also used sliced green chillies. However your dish looks absolutely delicious.

    Food Connection Pakistan

  6. i tried to implement this recipe but as i tasted the curry its a bit bitter… 🙁 i think i burnt the friend says its fine..anywayz thanx 4 da recipe!

  7. Hi, yeah I was desprate and I wanted to cook somthing with chicken so I came to this website and I’ll tell you this is by far the WORST dish I have ever made I mean it look like it’s dead and it smells like dead chicken. Don’t get me wrong I followed the recipe to the ‘T’ but it was just so horrible and the worst part was that I wasted all that ingredent sigh the worst

    Thank you

    1. @Riku Sorry to hear about your experience – not all recipes work for everyone. May I remind you rather sternly that this is my personal website and therefore some courtesy is required? Next time I will not publish your comment unless it is polite (you are free to criticise, but not in such an obnoxious manner).

    2. Riku this is the simplest chicken curry recipe I’ve ever read and is nigh on impossible to get wrong. May I suggest the end result may have something to do with your skills in the kitchen rather than the actual recipe?

      1. I guess Rikus chicken curry was not to her standard probably spices used were
        not a quality one and also may be chicken was a bad one This the best curry i have ever had Good job author

  8. Just made this and it’s delicious. Thanks for the recipe.
    I added a cinnamon stick and also I didn’t bhunn the meat- just added it to the pot with water and cooked for 40 min.

    1. @Ballal Thank you – it’s lovely to read / see how we can take a recipe and make it our own – that’s the beauty of cooking 🙂 The cinnamon stick must have added another layer of flavour.

  9. Just made this with my own variations – I used boneless chicken thigh, added a green chili and also did not blend the onions and tomatoes. I simply let them cook down it all naturally blended into one paste during the “bhuno” process. Looks great so far and I can’t wait to try it. Thanks for the recipe!

  10. Just followed your recipe for a davaath tonight!
    Brave i know, but your recipe is so easy to follow. I am really pleased with the results (more telling is thatso is my husband!).
    Will be following your blog for more inspiring and authentic tastes of home

    1. @Sameenah Thank you so much. My mother was visiting and left to go back home today, so your words really warmed my heart.

  11. I have followed your recipe every time I make curry chicken, it always comes out fantastic. The only thing I include are bay leaves and cinnamon. I have followed other recipes before, but I must say I really enjoy yours over any others I’ve tried. Great recipe, thanks for sharing!

  12. So glad I found this recipe. Had a friend from Pakistan that used to make it for me. I’ve missed it so much. Used to eat it with palak and yogurt sauce of some kind. One of my favorites. Thanks again:)

  13. I just made this yesterday and the elaichi makes it divine! I have been trying to make this for the better part of the past year and I googled tons of recipes but it never tasted like home (neither did it look like it).. I get major cravings for salaan after every exam and the past year had its fair share. I dont have a blender (grad student life) so I chopped the onions superfine and added the tomatoes and they melted pretty nicely.

    I had this morning with couscous and it made me unbearably happy!

    1. @Zain Thank you so much for your message, I love getting comments from students who love to cook!

  14. I just happened to come across your blog whilst i was looking for chicken curry recipes. I tried this and I loved it . the kids loved it !! I added a bit more onion as i wanted more gravy. I too added cinnamon sticks. it was lovely and easy 🙂

  15. Would it be ok to use already fried onions (packet ones) instead of frying the onions? If yes then would I directly mix in the garlic and ginger?

    1. @Zarlasht Hello – yes, try it with fried onions – I suspect the taste might be different, but go ahead and try it 🙂 I would love to hear about how it turned out. x s

    2. @Zarlasht Hello – you will note that the fried onions impart a different taste to the curry – but if you do want to use them, yes, you would mix them with ginger and garlic. x s

  16. Absolutely loved the taste of the curry. Only change made is fried the chicken. Thanks for the recipe and keeping sharing more.

  17. your recipe is really wonderful. i really enjoyed the recipe, i am not much good at cooking but i really learned a lot through this, it was simple and easy to understand. keep up the good work.


  18. Hi, the recipe looks yummy . I will try it. Wanted to ask that do we put the whole masala in the blender or only the chunky stuff ? Thanks

    1. @Fatima Thank you. I put all of it in the blender. But if you like, you can put just the chunky portion of it. x shayma

  19. Thankyou I Just Made This and it’s Lovely. I Wondered Why My “Gravy” Was Never Thick now i Shall Always Blend Stage 1. lovely Thankyou. denise x

    1. @Denise Thank you so much. I feel so happy when I read comments from cooks who enjoyed making a dish I grew up eating at home.

  20. Hi, I was born in Trinidad West Indies and later migrated to the U.S where I met my Pakistani husband. He loves my mothers cooking but I also know that he loves the cooking of his beloved Pakistan. I absolutely suck at cooking East Indian foods! Every time I’d try it would be horrible and end up in the garbage. One day I came across your website and chicken curry recipe and thought this doesn’t seem so difficult and have it a try. Let’s just say that night my husband licked every finger clean. It was amazing, we both enjoyed our dinners immensely. Thank you so much for putting back some confidence in my cooking. I’ll prepare as many dishes as I please because with your help it can be done.

  21. Shayma,
    Thank you so much for a wonderful recipe!!
    It was simple and easy to follow – I used a hand-held blender for easy cleaning. My parents, aunt, brother, and sis-in-law were licking their fingers!!
    Reminded me of home 🙂

  22. Hi
    Im not a cook but thought Id try this recipe.
    It turned out well but a bit homogenous. Next time I’m going to not blend it as it then looks like every brothers “Butter Chicken”, of which Im not a fan. The colours are rich but we lack texture in the sauce. Still a good effort on my part i thought.


    1. Hi Hemant, Sorry this wasn’t to your taste, but traditionally, a curry has a “homogenous” sauce/base, which is supposed to be velvety smooth. The recipe is not written in stone though, and if you don’t want to blend it, that is fine, too. In that case, my advice would be to remove the skin of the tomatoes by blanching. Best, Shayma

  23. i like this. its simple and quite delicious. i make it quite often and my family really enjoys it

  24. Made this today and followed your recipe almost exactly, with the addition potatoes (that’s how mum makes it). It was awesome! Best chicken salan recipe I’ve come across online. Thanks very much!!

    1. Thank you, Ahsan, I love hearing feedback from my readers. I am glad you enjoyed it. I like the idea of adding potatoes, thank you for that tip.

  25. Made this a few times now and the more closely I follow your recipe; the better it becomes. Just like Ami used to make. Thank you!

  26. It’s bubbling away as I type. I’d previously been on a course but needed a refresher about the ‘bhunajee’ process I had previously learned – yours was the only one that I could find that even mentioned it! I loved this curry last time and this one is looking great already. Question – during the bhuna process is the idea to reduce it down so that all the water has evaporated? Should the sauce by frying in its oil? I don’t want to burn it!

    1. Hello, Olly. You don’t want the liquid to completely evaporate, what you want is something which has reduced – you will also visibly note droplets of oil. If you feel that the water is evaporating too fast, turn the burner to a lower heat, or add a little bit of water (maybe about quarter teacup). Hope this helps. All best, Shayma

      1. Thanks Shayma. It turned out really well but the oil didn’t separate as much as I think it should have. We were impatient to eat and I probably didn’t keep reducing as much as i should have! It was still delicious though. Thanks for the help. 🙂

        For comparison, my recipe used a lot of garlic and ginger – 10 cloves crushed garlic with an equal amount of diced ginger. It also used a teaspoon of coriander powder – I dry roasted seeds in a pan and blitzed them to a powder – the smell was mind blowing! It added a great flavour to the dish.

        I can’t wait to try it again!

  27. hi!,I like your writing very much! proportion we keep in touch
    more approximately your article on AOL? I need an expert
    in this house to unravel my problem. Maybe that’s you!
    Having a look forward to look you.

  28. Thank you for your beautiful writing and photography, and for sharing your wonderful cooking. I am especially interested in the food of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and also in the people who make and eat it, and its context in their lives whether they be at home or abroad. Your site is therefore perfect for me.

    Your pages sing with celebration of life and humanity. Every recipe is a temptation I have no intention of resisting. I also love the balance you strike between precision as to the essential components of a dish, and the range of possible variations. Very useful for those of us who like to understand the core of what makes the dish.

    I shall definitely be trying this chicken curry – I never tire of this northern style of dish. I am also beyond help with my addiction to yakhni pulao; thus I look forward to trying your version with more than a little enthusiasm.

    Many thanks and warmest greetings from London.



  29. Hi,

    Thank you for the recipe. 🙂
    I however found it hard to read as its quite a light coloured font with a light background. May I suggest using a darker font colour please?

    Thank you,

  30. I tried the chicken curry and it was the best curry ever! Thanks for sharing the recipe. I will look into other recipes and try as well. Thanks. Ami

  31. Ever since they found cocaine in the tombs of the ancient Egyptian pharoes, I don’t believe that Euro-centric claptrap about post-Columbian gifts arriving from the so called ‘new world’ with Vasco da Gama. I believe that there were a lot of vegetables introduced in the pre-Columbian era by the Chinese, Moroccans, west Africans and even the Danes. All of whom had been to the Americas centuries before Columbus. To illustrate further, those so called experts even thought the Gingko was an extinct fossil until it was found growing in China.

  32. This is one lifesaver! 😊 not only is this tasty but also takes very less time to prepare.
    Whenever I can’t think of what to make and my husband is starting to get hungry this is my go-to recipe now 🙂

  33. Dear Shayma: I was looking for Pakistani curry recipes and found your

    Thank you so much for giving this recipe. You’ve provided the step by step guide for when to add the different spices. And it helps so much to be told that a non Teflon frying pan gives a better flavor to sautéed/fried onions, and that to prevent burning the ginger and garlic these must be added towards the end of the onion frying process.

    Someone lamented that they’d tried this recipe and were unhappy with the results.

    All I can advise is, check to make sure that all ingredients are top
    quality — and that the chicken or butcher’s meat must be fresh.

    Thanks, so much.

  34. I am a doctor and cookING is one of my hobbies tried this the other day n it came out very good indeed … added a bit of garam masala in it aswell… my wife n family loved it …

  35. Love your blog! I was looking for authentic pakistani recipes and these are just like I have been taught 🙂

  36. Hi! Just found your blog and I love it. Trying this tonight. I have a whole 3.5 lb chicken. Would you recommend doubling the sauce and the spices?

  37. Ever since I tried this recipe, I’ve been hooked. I’ve made this dish sooo many times and it just gets better and better the more I make it, thanks to you. Love simple, south asian recipes, reminds me of home. Thanks!!! Love your blog.

  38. What an absolutely delightful find this was. Here I am, sitting in Canada, waiting for spring to show up. I am reliving old memories of a simple, wholesome childhood in Lahore filled with these aromas and fond memories. Thank you so much. This was the easiest and by far the best meal I have ever prepared.

  39. Thanks for this lovely recipe, full of flavour. This is honestly the first time I’ve successfully made this dish and the fact that hardly any was left was evidence of that – will definitely be making it again! My husband really enjoyed it too and he can usually be quite discerning about his food, so I’m very glad!

  40. Absolutly love this curry! I make it exactly how you say except i add corriander and it is beautiful. Everybody i have made it for says how lobely is it. So thank you 🙂 will deffo be trying some other reciped.

  41. very happy to see that it very helpful because my Chinese friend want to make Pakistani style food so I suggest that
    i think there is some to improve when you write recipes just show in points mean in steps lik that step 1 step 2.not in paragraphes.
    Thank you so much

  42. This is by far the worst recipie i have ever come across. No spice, just tomatoes and chicken. I had to add 2 table spoins of Pataks paste to get any flavour. Such a waste of an expensive free-range chicken

Comments are closed.