How To Make Authentic Chinese Curry Sauce For Use In A Chicken Curry

Updated 20th Feb 2017
Some people are very keen to point out that there’s no such thing as Chinese curry sauce despite the fact that I’ve been getting them from Chinese takeaways for years, and I love them! I normally tell such people that, actually, there’s not really any such thing as an Indian curry either. In general, a lot of what gets called “curry” in the West doesn’t really exist in China or India.

It’s one of those situations where fusions occur via immigrant populations bringing their culinary ideas with them, and merging them to accommodate local tastes and ingredients. It is even alleged that one of the most famous curries in the UK – chicken tikka masala – was invented in Scotland. Crazy, huh?

So what I’m planning on doing here is to give you a great recipe which mimics the flavors of an authentic Chinese takeaway curry. I actually don’t know what the takeaways use, but the ingredients in this recipe are all readily available, and include a little bit of spice alchemy, mixing up five powders to get what amounts to a Chinese curry powder.

This will be added to a simple roux – a cooked butter and flour mixture – and then chicken stock is added to produce the final curry sauce. I think it tastes great, and it is very comparable to sauces I’ve had from takeaways.

I’ll go on to give you a quick recipe for a Chinese chicken curry, but you can experiment as much as you want once you have made the curry sauce. This sauce can just as easily be used for a mixed meat curry, or a vegetable curry, or you can even just use it as a dip for your chips (fries).

How Do You Make Chinese Curry Sauce?

Making the sauce comes in three parts: firstly, make the curry powder; secondly, make a roux; and finally, add the spice mixture to the roux and then gradually whisk in chicken stock. Easy peasy!

The Spice Mix Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp hot Madras curry powder
  • 1 tbsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 tsp hot chili powder (or to taste depending on how hot you like your curries)
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder

In a small bowl, thoroughly mix the powders until nicely homogenized. At this point, the mixture starts to take on that sweet Chinese curry aroma – even though the curry powder at its heart is an Indian Madras powder. Next, it’s time to make the roux:

  • 2 oz (approx 55 g) butter or margarine-style spread (as long as it is suitable for cooking)
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour (plain flour)

Over a low heat, melt the butter in a saucepan. Then take off the heat, add the flour and use a whisk to combine the ingredients to form a paste – or roux (beurre manie). Once well-combined, return to the heat and cook through just for 2 minutes before removing from the heat.

Finishing the Sauce

The final ingredient is 1 cup (250 ml, 8.5 fl oz) of chicken stock, either homemade or from a bouillon cube. So, to finish making the sauce, take the roux and add the Chinese curry powder mix to it and then add approximately one third of the stock.

Gently whisk to combine all the ingredients, and get the white roux to dissolve into the stock. Continue adding the stock a third at a time until it is all added and stir with the whisk until there is no residue of solid left on the bottom of the pan. That is your authentic Chinese style curry sauce.

marinating chicken making white roux chinese curry sauce

Here is a quick video showing the general technique of making a white roux, followed by – in this case – how to make a white sauce with cheese. (So there’s a freebie, as you can use this for lasagnes or cauliflower and cheese!)

Remember that here, you should use stock instead of milk. And also that you’ll be incorporating the spice mix. But not cheese!

Chinese Curry Chicken Recipe

Making a curry recipe is very simple once you have prepared the sauce. You can use whatever you have to hand in the kitchen. For this one, I chose to use chicken breasts, scallions, green bell pepper and bamboo shoots. Here is the list of ingredients:

  • 2 large chicken breasts (sliced into strips)
  • 4 scallions – spring onions (cut into 1 inch pieces)
  • 1 large green bell pepper – or use a red one if you prefer (sliced)
  • 1 small tin of bamboo shoots
  • 1 inch cube of fresh root ginger (finely chopped)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil (optional)

While you are making the curry powder and sauce, it is a good idea to marinate the chicken in the garlic and ginger, together with a little light sauce and sesame oil. This lets the flavors permeate the chicken, but it is not essential, and you can add these ingredients during the cooking process if you prefer.

First heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a wok or pan, and add the chicken. Stir-fry until the chicken is sealed (until is has turned white).

Then add the finely diced garlic and ginger and stir fry for 1 minute. Finally add the spring onions, green pepper and bamboo shoots, followed by the soy sauce and stir fry for 5 minutes to soften the vegetables and ensure the chicken is cooked through.

cooking chicken ginger garlic stir fried chicken green peppers chinese chicken curry

To finish off the curry, add the pre-prepared Chinese curry sauce, stir to combine and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened; make sure to stir occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the pan and burn.

Serve with steamed or boiled rice. Or try my Chinese egg fried rice recipe. This recipe will serve 4 people (with rice).

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19 Responses to “How To Make Authentic Chinese Curry Sauce For Use In A Chicken Curry”

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  1. Marlene says:

    You can also make the roux for quality oil instead of butter or margarine. I would recommend avoiding margarine, it’s proven not good for you.

  2. Justlisac says:

    Just made this for tea it was amazing. I had no bamboo shoots though so used the stalks from a white cabbage it seemed to work. Served with egg fried rice too.

  3. Dave says:

    Great recipe! Really simple and the results were fantastic! A very authentic takeaway Chinese curry!

  4. Lisa M says:

    Hi! I’ve been searching for a recipe for a mild to medium Chinese curry sauce for chicken curry that tastes like the one I get from my Chinese restaurant but they all taste more like Indian curry then Chinese. The sauce we get is dark brown in colour and smells of cinammon though when you taste it, it is perfectly balanced and delicious..doesn’t taste at all like there’s too much cinammon. Do you have any ideas or know of any Chinese curry recipes that sound like that?

    • Neil says:

      Hi Lisa! That’s an almost impossible question to answer, unfortunately. Many restaurants will have their own secret blend of spices, and jealously guard the exact formula. It might be down to the restaurant itself, or even down to the chef. I’ve spoken to a friend who owns a Chinese takeaway, and he says there’s about 20 ingredients in their curry sauce, so mine shown here is a simplification – though, of course, Madras powder and 5-spice powder are combination mixes in their own right.

      Some places will dispense with using their own mixes and buy commercially available wholesale sauces (eg. http://www.tradewindsorientalshop.co.uk/acatalog/Original_Chinese_Curry_Sauce_-_12_Tubs.html ). I imagine others will take commercial sauces as a starting point and then add to them for an individual taste.

      If you want to take my recipe here and modify it, you can get a darker sauce by cooking out the roux for longer – be careful, both because it will be easy to burn it (I might suggest using a mixture of butter plus vegetable oil), and also you won’t want to get this on your skin if it splashes. It’s like napalm, oil based so it’ll stick to your skin and burn! There are plenty of Youtube videos on making dark roux, and this is good for some of those Cajun style recipes as well.

      You might want to use a darker stock (eg beef stock) instead of chicken or vegetable stock also, as a way of darkening the sauce. Cinnamon, as I’m sure you already know, is a very strong tasting spice. You could experiment yourself, by adding just a touch to the sauce and tasting it to see how close you can get to your favourite restaurant. Like salt, add little by little, so you can always add more, whereas you can never take it out if you add too much.

      I do hope you manage to reproduce the flavour you’re after. If you do, please post again, so we can share it with other readers! Sorry I can’t provide a simple fix to help you – I’ve also tasted many different Chinese curry sauces, some delicious and the occasional one like drinking seawater, it was so salty! Yuck. But I digress. Good luck in your quest!

      • Lisa M says:

        Thank you so much for all your wonderful suggestions. I will definitely keep on trying and let you know if and when I succeed! Lol.
        Much appreciated!

        • Alan Gee says:

          Best and easiest way to replicate a Chinese chippy curry.
          Two sachets of cream of chicken soup. About the same amount of Clive of India curry powder, pinch of salt.
          Place ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add boiling water ( don’t make it two thin) Stir.
          Job done.
          ( I have found that if you micro wave the curry for about 60 secs it thickens nicely)

  5. Dean M says:

    Great Curry Sauce recipe! I used vegetable oil instead of butter and it was great. Then I used chicken, peppers, onion and bamboo shoots. Delicious! Thanks Neil for supplying the recipe.

  6. Paul says:

    For the curry sauce use Mayflower curry sauce ready mixed or powder to make your own (just add water) £1 from Jack Fultons it’s the biz. Google it

  7. Chris says:

    I followed this recipe to a tee….. my result was an extremely strong pungent horrible flavoured mess.
    Looked right, smelled nice….. but. What could I have done so wrong? Only thing i can figure is a bad spice, but all were sealed new. Thanks!

    • Neil says:

      Wow! That’s bad news. I wonder if you burned the roux. That’s the only thing I can think of unless one of the spices you bought had the wrong stuff in the packet (and that’s a LONG shot). Was the roux still white when you began adding the stock? It’s common to cook the roux for longer for recipes like gumbo – that roux has a totally different (and more intense) flavour and is almost a melted chocolate-brown colour. I hope you manage to sort it out and cook up a decent batch. I’ve made this recipe tons of times without it going wrong. (I should say, and this goes for any curry really, if you burn anything onto the pan during the early stages, you’re best off starting from scratch – it’s almost impossible to mask the burnt taste otherwise. Onions are the usual culprits, but cooked at the beginning so it’s not such a pain to bin the lot and start over!)

  8. Lorraine says:

    Can this be frozen?

    • Neil says:

      Ooh, that’s a good question. I don’t actually know because I’ve never tried. But I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to freeze it. Sometimes, I find I can taste the difference between frozen stuff and freshly cooked; not a “bad” taste. I just know it’s been frozen. What I do with my Indian curry base sauce recipe is freeze portions of just the sauce. Then, whenever I want to make a Madras or something, I just defrost the sauce and assemble with fresh chicken, veg, or whatever. But (again) I’ve never tried even freezing the Chinese curry sauce by itself.

      If you go ahead and try freezing, it should be okay – as long as it’s just the curry and not rice (I think rice can be dodgy if frozen and then reheated). Standard rules apply: let it go cold before freezing, and if you asked about freezing because you’re making a large batch, then best to cool it to room temperature as quickly as possible after cooking (this is usual for large batches of soups and stocks, which can go sour if they’re cooled really slowly). When you use it later, defrost fully, and cook until piping hot all the way through, etc.

  9. Denny (the Netherlands) says:

    Nice recepi, I added a little to much peper in it. I solve this adding some coconut milk. I will use this every next time, great!

  10. Mike G says:

    Top recipe, thanks. The Mrs can’t stand chilli so I made this sauce with a homemade curry powder blend using turmeric, fenugreek (a must), cumin, coriander and yellow mustard seeds put through my spice grinder.
    Turned out great, I just added some chilli powder to my portion.
    Jamie Oliver also puts out a similar recipe and he uses coconut oil, which I did as well, the Aldi organic one.

    Also, flame suit on, half a tsp of MSG – it’s used in nearly all Asian cuisines and the old “scare” about MSG which is naturally present in seafood, mushrooms, tomatoes and your own body, has long been debunked. Available from Asian stores in half kilo bags.

    • Neil says:

      Cheers! Yes, it’s one of the best reasons for concocting our own spice mixtures using individual spices – that we can add what we like. Some people prefer not to use MSG or salt simply for health reasons (ie reducing sodium intake for people with blood pressure probs, for example).

      I read a tip a long time ago that a little pinch of ordinary sugar will lift up flavours just like MSG, so if anyone’s still a little nervous about MSG, try sugar (but not too much! Literally, just a pinch between your index finger and thumb per person). This is particularly good for “knocking the edge off” tomato-based sauces, though you may also see a small drop of milk added at the end of cooking tomato-based pasta dishes, as it takes away the tart acidic edge and sweetens slightly while also producing a “silky” sauce”. (Sounds like a terrible idea, but I’ve tried it and it works just perfectly!)

      In fact, I didn’t read about the milk trick somewhere; it was on one of Gordon Ramsay’s shows for Bolognese sauce:

  11. Liz Wright says:

    Hi
    I am living in France and longing for a Chinese curry sauce as I cannot find one where I live.
    I found this one (see link below) for Expats living in China; it is very easy and very authentic I could not believe how delicious
    it tasted. I am a vegetarian so substituted the chicken stock for vegetable stock and rather than adding flour at start to thicken the sauce I added cornflour towards the end.
    I am cooking Chinese chicken curry for my husband tonight so will use chicken stock.
    Highly recommended!

    http://www.china-expats.com/HowTo_ChineseCurrySauce.htm

    Lizzy

  12. J MOORE says:

    Just tried this really easy recipe – had all the ingredients in cupboard and wow it just tastes amazing – so like the takeaway taste but much less gooey.

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