Pepper Chicken Masala


  • 4-5 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 dried indian bay leaves
  • 5 green cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick, 2.5cm/1 inch long
  •  1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tsp urud dal/ bengal gram, rinsed and dried
  • 3 sprigs of curry leaves, rinsed and dried
  • 2 red onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 large tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1 kg/ 2.25 lb free-range, bone-in chicken, cut into medium-large pieces
  • 500 ml/2  1/4 cup water
  • 50 ml/3 tbsp evaporated milk* (optional)
  • 4-5 baby potatoes, halved
  • a few tsp of sea salt

For the spice paste / masala

  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 8-10 dried long, red chillies
  • 3 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp white poppy seeds*
  • 1  1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 5 medium garlic cloves
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, 2.5 cm/ 1 inch
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt


  1. In a large bowl, marinate chicken pieces with a pinch of ground turmeric and salt. Set aside.
  2. To make the spice paste,dry roast all the spices in a heavy-based pan over low heat, except the ginger,garlic and turmeric, until they turn a tad shade darker.
  3. Cool the toasted spices on a plate immediately. Once cooled, transfer to a spice grinder and grind till finely ground.
  4. Add about 1 tbsp of oil , 1-2 tbsp water, salt and the ginger, garlic and turmeric. Process to make a finely ground paste.
  5. In a large pot/dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add bay leaves, cardamom pods, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cloves and urud dal and fry for 1 minute until the urud dal becomes light brown.
  6. Add the curry leaves. The oil will splutter a little.
  7. Add the onions and fry until onions turn light brown, about 2-3 minutes. The caramelisation of onion is important for flavour and colour in many Indian dishes.
  8. Now, add the spice paste and continue to stir-fry for about 10-15 minutes. Keep stirring to prevent the paste from burning and sticking to the pot. Sprinkle a little water if paste starts to burn. The spice paste should turn a shade or two darker and it will start to smell aromatic.
  9. Add tomato and 1 tsp salt. Stir-fry for about 2-3 minutes until the tomato pieces turn to pulp.
  10. Add the chicken pieces to the pot with the spice mixture together with the water, evaporated milk (optional), baby potatoes and 1/2 tsp salt.
  11. Reduce heat to low and simmer the curry till the chicken pieces are cooked, about 20-25 minutes.
  12. Remove smaller and boneless chicken pieces once they are fully cooked. The thigh and drumstick pieces can be left in the pot.
  13. Increase heat to medium-high to thicken the sauce to your desired consistency. Add all chicken pieces back into pot.
  14. Check for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
  15. Serve with plain rice.


1. The original recipe calls for skinless chicken. But I didn’t want to waste the good stuff. Skinless or not, the taste of the dish is the same.

2. I’ve added evaporated milk as I liked how it lent a slightly creamy finish that also mellowed the spiciness of the dish. However, the dish is also very good without evaporated milk.

3. You can omit poppy seeds if you’re unable to get them but they do add more texture and taste to the gravy.

4. When making curries, I add a pinch of salt at every major step (Steps 1,7,8 & 10) rather than a heap at the very end. I think it brings out the flavours of each component more.

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