Food is not only a way to feed the body, but also the soul, and that is what this Sri Lankan Curry does… it feeds your need to explore. With an easy-to-prepare homemade roasted Sri Lankan curry powder, juicy chicken pieces, and a thick gravy, all you need is a bowl of rice and a few flatbreads!
I may have to admit that marrying an Indian guy made me a bit of a curry snob, but in my defense, when you start enjoying the real deal, why would you settle for anything less?
This Sri Lankan chicken curry is a dish I've been making for a few years and was thought to me back in 2010 when Jay and I rented the 'room in the rooftop' [definitely not a loft, that would have been posh!] in a Sri Lankan family's house.
After months of smelling the curry all the way up to our room, I walked straight down the three flights of stairs and asked the landlady what she was cooking, and she was more than happy to share her traditional homemade curry powder recipe along with every other step.
Don't fear! All you need is to dry roast some whole spices and grind them, marinate the chicken in it with some tamarind pulp, and then cook everything in a rich onion-based curry sauce, and voila': Sri Lankan Chicken Curry!
NEXT TIME! If you enjoy making your own homemade masala, then next you should try this Kolhapuri Chicken Curry Recipe and compare the two.
Sri Lankan Curry Ingredients
- Green Cardamoms, Cloves, Cumin Seeds, Coriander Seeds, Fennel Seeds, Cinnamon Stick, Star Anise, and Black Peppercorns: These are the whole Indian spices [or Asian spices] required to prepare the homemade masala. You may find pre-prepared curry powder in Asian markets, but if you do have the ingredients, I recommend preparing this yourself, as it is very easy!
- Tamarind Pulp: It is part of the chicken marination. If you don't have fresh pulp, you can use tamarind paste instead.
- Red Chili Powder: This is optionally roasted till it turns dark, that's why the curry is not a usual bright red in color, but the step is not necessary for flavor. If you like your curry spicier you can increase its quantity, but if you prefer it a bit milder but still with a kick, you can either reduce the amount used or swap for Kashmiri chili powder instead.
- Turmeric Powder
- Chicken: Opt for bone-in pieces if possible, as these tend to give the most flavor. In Sri Lanka [like in India], they tend to prepare the curry using a whole chicken, so if this is an option for you, give it a try! Ensure the chicken is skinless.
- Coconut Oil: It elevates the dish and is one of the main ingredients of this curry. Should you not have it or like it, swap it for a flavorless oil, such as sunflower or vegetable oil.
- Onions, Fresh Garlic, Fresh Ginger, Curry Leaves: Typical curry ingredients. If you don't have fresh ginger and garlic, you can use paste instead, but make sure you adjust the quantity used.
- Water, and Salt to Taste
How to cook Sri Lankan curry?
- Start by dry roasting the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, the cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise, cardamoms, and cumin seeds.
- Once the smell of the spices is fragrant, move the whole spices to a plate to cool down.
- Once these have cooled down a bit, add them to an upside-down grinder together with the whole peppercorns, and grind until fully powdered.
- This is your Sri Lankan Black Pepper Masala ready, so set it aside.
- Note: This next step is OPTIONAL, as its main purpose is to maintain the color of this curry as black as possible; should you wish to follow this step, I’d recommend opening the windows and extractor fan. This second step of the recipe involves dry roasting the red chili powder until it has browned and gone dark, without burning it; once this is done as well, set it aside to cool down.
- Step three (or two if skipping the second one) is the first marination of the chicken; deseed a tablespoon of tamarind and, make a paste of it in a blender using a bit of water.
- Using this pulp of tamarind paste and a bit of salt, coat the chicken, ensuring it is fully covered. If you do not have tamarind pulp, you can use some tamarind paste instead.
- After 5-10 minutes, proceed with the second marination of the chicken, by coating it with the black pepper masala, roasted red chili powder, and turmeric powder. Set the fully coated chicken aside and start preparing the curry.
- In a pan, add the coconut oil and once this is warm, add the curry leaves, onion, ginger, and garlic and allow to cook until brown.
- While this cooks and browns, blend a small raw onion on the side.
- Once the curry base is cooked, add the onion paste to it and allow the onion to cook thoroughly, which will take 4-5 minutes.
- Once this is cooked too, add the marinated chicken, ensuring all of the masalas go in the pan as well; mix the chicken well and allow it to brown on all sides, while the spices continue to cook as well.
- Once the chicken has been browned on all sides, add two cups of water to the pot where the chicken was marinating, so to get all the spices, and add it to the curry; mix the chicken curry well and put a lid on the pan and allow this to lightly simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.
- Serve with steamed rice, parathas, rotis, or any flatbread you like and enjoy!
People Also Ask [FAQs]
Yes, traditional Sri Lankan curries are spicy and quite dark in color.
Sri Lankan food traditionally features meat or fish curries, and vegetable curries, accompanied by pickles, sambols, and chutneys. Meals are usually served with steamed rice and/or flatbreads, such as parathas and chapatis.
How to store Sri Lankan curry?
Sri Lankan chicken curry can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days.
This chicken curry can be also frozen in an airtight container, and it will keep for up to 4-6 weeks.
Before serving, always ensure the curry had been reheated thoroughly.
Tips and Tricks for Sri Lankan Curry
- Ingredients: If you can, try not to substitute or skip any of the ingredients, as the end result will definitely change.
- Coconut Milk: Many Sri Lankan and South Indian curries use coconut milk, but not this one. Should you be particularly fond of the ingredient, you can add half a cup during the last 5 minutes of cooking, but ensure it is of good quality. This will offer a sweeter tone and will make the curry a little bit milder.
- Chicken: Bone-in chicken is preferable when cooking most chicken curries, as it makes for a tastier gravy and moister chicken. Should you prefer or only have chicken breast, you can use that instead, but ensure you marinate it properly and don't overcook it [but always ensure it is thoroughly cooked before serving!].
This Sri Lankan Chicken Curry without coconut milk is tasty and traditional, as well as unbelievably easy to prepare!
If you are looking to travel from your kitchen, cook a dish you tried in a restaurant, or simply try something new, this is the recipe to try... and please, make sure to let me know your thoughts on how this curry tastes once you've tried it!
🥗 Looking for more chicken curry recipes?
The Best Chicken and Black Pepper Sri Lankan Curry
For the homemade Sri Lankan Black Pepper Masala
For the curry: other ingredients
Prepare the Sri Lankan Black Pepper Chicken Curry Masala
- Start by dry roasting in a pan on a medium flame the green cardamoms, cloves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cinnamon stick, and star anise until they smell fragrant and have turned golden; once this happens, remove them from the flame and put them on a plate to lightly cool down.
- After five minutes add the roasted spices to an upside-down grinder together with the black peppercorns and blend until you have a fine powder. This is your Sri Lankan Black Pepper Chicken Curry Masala, which you can set aside.
- OPTIONAL: this is an optional step, but if following it, I’d recommend turning on the extractor fan and opening the windows. Roast the red chili powder on a low to medium flame until it browns, without burning it; as soon as this is done, remove it from the heat and set it aside.
Start preparing the chicken
- For the chicken’s first marination, deseed the tamarind pulp and blend it with a couple of tablespoons of water until a rich paste is achieved; using this paste and a little bit of salt, coat the chicken in what is its first marination and allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes. Should you not have tamarind pulp, you can use tamarind paste instead to coat the chicken.
- After 5-10 minutes have passed, pass to the chicken’s second marination and coat it with the Sri Lankan Black Pepper Chicken Curry Masala, roasted red chili powder, and turmeric powder and set it aside.
Start putting the Sri Lankan Black Pepper Chicken Curry together
- In a deep saucepan, add the coconut oil and allow it to warm up on a low to medium flame; do not allow the oil to overheat.
- Chop one of the two red onions thinly and add it to the pan with the ginger, garlic, and curry leaves; mix well and allow to cook until the onion turns golden in color and the smell of rawness of the garlic has gone.
- In the meantime, bled to a paste the other onion and add it to the saucepan once the ingredients have cooked.
- Allow the onion paste to cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the marinated chicken.
- Mix the chicken well, browning it on all sides of it and allowing the spices to coat the onions as well; this will take 4-5 minutes on a medium flame.
- While the chicken browns, add two cups of water to the bowl where the chicken was marinating, trying to take all of the spices in, then add it to the chicken curry.
- Mix the curry well, put a lid on the pan and allow it to cook until the chicken is thoroughly cooked, which should take about 20 minutes.
- Allow the curry to rest for 5 minutes, serve and enjoy!