Chicken Karai – a BIR Curry with Plenty of Ginger and Chili

chicken karai One of my all time favourite restaurant curries is chicken karai. I found it by accident, as a friend had one during my hot chicken Madras phase. It looked pretty good and he let me have a taste. And that was that. Everytime I went to that restaurant afterwards, it was the karai for me.

This curry is medium hot, not as hot as a Madras, but the sauce is just concentrated flavour. It’s mainly loads of garlic and ginger, and in that curry house at least, packed with chicken. Really, it was just the best. I also liked how it was garnished with fresh ginger, chilies and chopped coriander.

Anyway, before I get withdrawal symptoms and dash over there, here’s my take on a lovely chicken karai you can make at home.

As for the majority of the BIR curries, get yourself sorted out with your Mix Powder (or at a distant second best, use store bought Madras curry powder). You’re also going to need your Base Curry Sauce.


  • Medium sized onion, finely chopped
  • Garlic-ginger paste, approx 1 tsp
  • Fresh green chilies, chopped (I used 3 rocket chilies)
  • Dried methi leaves (fenugreek), 1 tsp
  • Tomato paste, 1 tbsp (made from 50:50 tomato puree and water)
  • Tomatoes, 2 chopped into wedges
  • Base Gravy, 3 ladles
  • Chicken, 1 breast, diced
  • Extra ginger, cut into sticks (use half near end of cooking, the other half to garnish)
  • A clove of fresh garlic
  • Chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) to garnish (approx 1 tbsp)

You can use your favourite chilies for this recipe. I like it quite hot so I use fiery chilies. But use the stubby green mild ones if you prefer. Use about half of them during the cooking and the rest for garnish at the table.

I love this recipe because it builds layers of repeating flavours. Read the instructions carefully as some of the ingredients are added in portions at different stages of cooking.

Cooking the Chicken Karai

Add 2 tbsp of cooking oil to a hot wok or pan followed by the onions. Stir fry for a minute or two to soften them.

frying finely chopped onions

Then add the garlic ginger paste and stir it into the onions. Next add the chopped green chilies and cook them together for another few minutes, until the onion is beginning to go brown.

frying onions with green chilies

Add the methi leaves, stir to combine and then add the tomato paste. Stir on a high heat to cook out the tartness of the tomato.

karai base with onions and tomato paste

After a minute, add the first ladle of Base Gravy. Stir it in and bring to a simmer.

karai base gravy

Some versions of a chicken karai vary the ingredients. They might include red and green bell peppers for example. If you fancy that idea, now is the time to add your peppers!

The souring agent can also vary from one recipe to another. I have seen this curry made with soured milk (a 50:50 mix of milk with plain yoghurt). In this recipe, I use fresh tomato.

So, now add the fresh tomatoes (NOTE: just use one-and-a-half tomatoes. Reserve the final half for later). Stir them into the sauce until they’re cooked and incorporated.

cooking fresh tomato in karai base gravy

Finishing Off the Curry

Once you’ve got this final karai sauce, nicely simmering away, add the chicken pieces and stir to coat. Keep it simmering to seal and cook the chicken.

chicken added to karai sauce

Once the surface of the chicken is white (sealed) then slowly begin adding the rest of the Base Gravy one ladle at a time. Simmer hard to cook the chicken through and begin to thicken the sauce before adding the third and final ladle of gravy.

karai curry simmering

Lower the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Final Touches

Once the chicken karai is cooked and you can see the red oil beginning to rise to the surface, add the fresh crushed garlic and stir it in. Follow this with a few small “sticks” of fresh ginger and the remaining half of tomato. Stir gently to combine and heat through.

adding extra tomato ginger to karai

The idea is to retain some visible pieces of tomato in the final curry, rather than cooking them so much they disintegrate. It adds a little extra visual interest to the dish. And it also goes well with the pieces of bell pepper too if you added them to your version.

And that’s it! A lovely chicken karai curry. Plate up and garnish with chopped fresh coriander, green chili pieces, and more raw sticks of ginger. Serve with rice or Indian breads for a delicious flavour-packed curry.

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