Chettinad is a region in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu famous for its fiery hot cuisine. Chettinad cuisine relies heavily on the use of fragrant and aromatic spices such as black peppercorns, star anise, fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves… all of which are ground fresh daily just before use.
Chettinad Chicken is as famous as it is delicious. Traditionally, this dish is very spicy but feel free to adjust the heat level according to your own personal preference.
2 lbs of boneless skinless chicken, cut into 1˝” pieces
1 large onion, finely diced
4-5 large garlic cloves, rough chopped
1˝” piece of ginger, peeled and rough chopped
4-5 fresh small green Thai chilies, rough chopped (to taste)
1 large tomato, finely chopped
10-12 fresh curry leaves
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp white poppy seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp fennel seeds
4-5 dried red chilies, broken in half (to taste)
3-4 cardamom pods, crushed
1˝” cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
1 star anise
1 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
juice of ˝ lime
˝ cup freshly grated coconut (you can use frozen or unsweetened desiccated coconut)
2 tbsp oil, vegetable or canola
In a dry skillet on medium heat, dry roast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, poppy seeds, peppercorns, fennel seeds, dried red chilies, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. If you are using desiccated coconut, you can add that to the skillet as well. Stir and let roast for a few minutes until fragrant. Remove quickly from the heat so as not to burn the spices and let cool. Using a clean spice grinder or coffee mill, grind the spices and the desiccated coconut into a fine powder.
Now using a blender or small food processor, grind the garlic along with the ginger and the fresh green chilies into a paste adding a little water if necessary. If you are using freshly grated or frozen coconut, you can add it to the blender. Next, add the freshly ground spice powder to the blender and blend everything together into a smooth aromatic paste adding a little water if needed.
In a large deep skillet on medium heat, add the oil. When hot, add the bay leaves and star anise. After a minute or two, add the curry leaves and the onions. Stir fry until the onions have just turned slightly golden brown around the edges. Add the spice paste and the turmeric. Mix well and let the spices fry for a few minutes until fragrant.
At this point you can now add the chicken pieces to the skillet. Stir well to coat the chicken in all of the spices. Add the salt, tomatoes, lime juice and a little water (˝ cup or so). Stir to combine all of the ingredients, cover, reduce the heat and let simmer for 8-10 minutes. The chicken should be completely cooked yet moist and tender. The curry should be slightly thick and very fragrant. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro leaves and serve with chapatis and fragrant Basmati rice.
Feel free to make this dish using baby potatoes for a completely vegetarian version.