Our super-spicy chicken curry has its fiery roots in the world’s leading chili-producing region, the state of Andhra Pradesh in south-east India. Andhra chicken curry (also known as Andhra kodi kura) is a hot, richly spiced dish that’s beautifully balanced by a gentle cinnamon and coconut milk sauce. There are some twists to the traditional dish in this recipe, but they all make for a more accessible ingredients and even more depth to the flavor.
Then there are fresh green chilies and dried, ground red ones. Add in lime leaves, ginger, garlic, onion, and bay leaves, and you’ll be on your way to creating an Andhra chicken curry that you won’t soon forget.
Poppy seeds? Yep. Now, they might not be a spice that’s classically associated with curries — fair enough. But when these minuscule blue-gray seeds are lightly toasted and ground, they give a subtle array of flavors that are slightly citrusy, a little nutty, and with a distinct, umami savor. As an added bonus, they also give a lovely darkening color to this fine curry.
A word about the chilies and their preparation
I used fresh green serranos for their lovely color, bright flavor, and subtle fruitiness. Plus, they have a pretty fair amount of heat (10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units). I left them whole but slit them open lengthwise just enough to expose their full run of seeds.
To turn the fire up a lot, lot higher, I gave some dried bird’s eye chilies (Thai peppers) a good pestle-and-mortar grinding until I had a combo of small-ish flakes and fine powder. I do have an electric grinder, but like a lot of modern time-saving conveniences, that hyper-efficient little gizmo denies me one of the simple, hands-on pleasures of prideful, happily time-consuming cookery. And it also makes a truly awful noise.
Are these two chilies really authentic in our Andhra chicken curry? No, they’re not. But, what they conveniently are is readily available — unlike the chili for which Andhra Pradesh is probably most famous — the intensely red Guntur Sannam.
So, do these two chilies work really well in our kodi kura? Oh yeah. This is a really fab chicken curry. Period. And I’d be just as happy swopping the dried bird’s eye chilies for, say, dried habaneros. It really depends on who you’re serving and how hot they like their curries.
Don’t spare the spices
Andhra Pradesh is famous for being the heartland of India’s spiciest cuisines. And in our kodi kura, the amounts of spice are lavish. That’s partly to make sure their flavors shine through against the bright background of the chili pepper heat. But it’s also because you want to create a deeply rich sauce that will pair exceptionally well with rice.
Here’s why that pairing matters. Chilies are not the only top crop that Andhra Pradesh is famous for. Even though it’s not the country’s biggest rice-producing region, the state is tagged as the ‘rice bowl of India’ because of the quantities it grows. And rice is most certainly a cornerstone of the region’s cooking.
Now, kodi kura is very much a chicken curry — with the emphasis on chicken. There aren’t any nicely filling vegetables in it like, say, potatoes or carrots. So, it makes sense that a generous helping of plain rice is the perfect partner for that rich and fiery sauce.
Choosing your chicken
A mix of thighs and drumsticks is ideal for this curry. Free-range is the way to go, and for maximum flavor you definitely want to choose skin-on, bone-in pieces. Skinless chicken breasts have a far too delicate flavor for a big, robust curry like this.
Andhra Chicken Curry — Spicy Kodi Kura
For the Andhra chicken curry
- 8 dried red bird’s eye chilies finely ground, seeds and all
- 8 serrano peppers left whole but slit open along their length to reveal the seeds
- 2 1/2 pounds chicken pieces free-range preferable, patted dry with kitchen towel. I used a fairly even mix of skin-on, bone-in thighs, and drumsticks.
- 2 yellow onions medium-sized, peeled, and roughly cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and very finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons fresh root ginger grated
- 4 bay leaves
- 6 lime leaves fresh is dandy but dried leaves are just fine
- 6 green cardamom pods slightly crushed
- 6 cloves ground
- 1/2 ounce fresh cilantro finely chopped, stalks and all
- 2 sticks cinnamon I used sticks about 3 inches long
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cilantro
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 heaped teaspoons blue poppy seeds lightly toasted and finely ground
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil I used the odorless cooking variety
For the rice
- 2 cups brown basmati rice I used brown basmati because it’s got a distinct nutty flavor, but any good quality rice will be just dandy with this curry.
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
Cooking the curry
- Over a medium-high heat, melt the butter and coconut oil in a big deep skillet — I used a 12-inch one. As soon as the butter/oil mix starts foaming, add all the chicken pieces in a single layer. Drop the heat to medium, and let the chicken fry for about 5 minutes, then turn all the pieces over for another 5 minutes’ frying. You’re looking to get a nice darkish golden color on the chicken, with just a few spots of sparse char. Good.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken and transfer them to a good size saucepan. That pan needs to be big enough to hold the chicken and all the other curry ingredients. You also want to leave as much of the buttery oil as you can in the skillet — it’s about to be used again.
- Return the skillet to a medium-high heat and stir in the onions, garlic, ginger, ground bird’s eye chilies, cardamoms, ground cloves, turmeric, bay leaves, lime leaves, and salt. Stir well so the mix all gets coated in the buttery oil and drop the heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes on that medium heat, with a few regular stirs until the onion starts to pick up a little browning colour. Turn off the heat and tip the mix and all its oil into the saucepan with the chicken.
- Pour a little water into the still-warm skillet — a couple of tablespoons will be fine — and stir it around so that it picks up any stray little oily pieces still remaining there, and then add the lot to the saucepan.
- Time to toast the poppy seeds. Use a small saucepan for this, and set it onto a medium heat for a minute or so. Add the poppy seeds, and swirl them around in the bottom of the hot pan. Turn off the heat and let the seeds sit in the pan for 60 seconds. Toasting done. Quickly tip the seeds into a pestle and mortar and grind them to a powder. You’ll find this is really easy — the toasted seeds are not at all hard — and will only take you about thirty seconds to grind down.
- Now add the serrano peppers to the saucepan, together with the chopped fresh cilantro, cinnamon sticks, cumin, ground cilantro, ground poppy seeds, salt, and coconut milk. Give the pan a thorough but gentle stir — so as not to break apart the serranos — and set the pan on a medium high heat. As soon as the pan comes to a bare boil, drop the heat to low and cover the pan with its top slightly ajar.
- You now want your curry to simmer very gently — and I mean very gently — for 40 minutes. Give the pan a few gentle stirs whilst it’s simmering away, and do check it for saltiness after 35 minutes’ simmering — adjust according to your taste.
- Turn off the heat and let the covered pan sit while you sort out the rice. Letting the curry sit like this really helps all the flavors meld together. You’ll then heat the curry so that it’s nice and hot for serving as soon as the rice is cooked.
Cooking the rice
- I like to soak my rice for at least 30 minutes in cold water before cooking it. I then drain it, add salt and fresh water, and cook it as per the instructions on the pack.
- That usually means just barely covering it with salted water, bringing it to the boil, covering the pan, and then turning the heat down as low as possible. As it slowly cooks on that very low heat, the rice will soak up the water, sort of double in volume, and be just cooked through when all the water has been absorbed.
Serving the curry
- Turn the rice and the curry into warmed serving bowls, and let your delighted fellow diners happily help themselves.